Quebec French nasal vowels.

Stephane Goyette s455152 at
Sat Aug 21 21:20:11 UTC 1999

See comments below.

Stephane Goyette.

> As the original culprit I'm responding to this.

> With all due respect, I can testify from my repeated experience that people
> in shops in Quebec (and I heard the same pronunciation in TV messages)
> clearly distinguish the nasalized e and a in words like 'cent' and 'sans',
> both when speaking and when listening. When I asked a shop attendant for a
> film of 100 ASA ('cent ASA', pronounced /sa~/), she thought I said 'sans ASA'
> and replied :  'c'est toujours avec'; when I pointed to the 100 on the
> package, she said: 'Oh, vous voulez dire /se~ng/!' [or something like Fr.
> 'saint' with a vaguely English -ng sounding ending]. I heard these
> pronunciations over and over again.

Nasals in Quebec French are subject to some variation in pronunciation,
especially in the case of stress/unstressed differences due to emphasis,
and I would venture to suggest you misperceived some such variation,
especially when I read the above about an English-like 'ng' ending: no
variety of Quebec French has consonantal increments after nasal vowels
(unlike, for example, regional French in Southern France). I say this both
as a linguist who has done some work on diachronic French linguistics and
a native speaker of Quebec French.

> I don't know if this is uneducated speech, or whether the Quebecois actually
> think they pronounce it the same way even if they actually pronounce it
> differently. To my European ears, Quebec French 'cent' and 'sans' (and
> similar words) sound differently, and apparently to the Quebecois themselves
> too, otherwise the type of misunderstandings I mentioned couldn't have
> happened. In France they wouldn't.

Non sequitur. Such misunderstandings could be due to other factors. For
example, when asking for film "cent ASA" versus "sans ASA", there is an
intonational difference which may have been misperceived; the salesperson,
upon realizing the mistake, would naturally repeat the word, STRESSING it,
emphasizing it, which would have lead you to conclude you were dealing
with two phonologically distinct words.

> As Larry Trask mentioned, this is original and authentic (but archaeic)
> French pronunciation that got lost by convergence elsewhere.

This is unbelievable. Arguing from authority is the weakest argument of
all, and since the authority himself (Larry Trask) was open and
honest enough to begin his posting on the subject by writing "I know
nothing of Quebecois", I fail to see the purpose of quoting him on the
subject. His comments on the dating of the en/an merger are quite correct,
by the way --he certainly knows something of French.

> Sometimes people make distinctions they don't perceive consciously, often as
> a consequence of school indoctrination.  In Spanish Castilian, e.g., I often
> hear people insert very short vowels in consonant clusters, but they all deny
> doing so, because of the written image they learned at school. E.g. I
> recently heard 'equilipse' for 'eclipse'.  All Spanish speakers (like the
> 'Afrae aures') think all vowels, and in all positions, have the same length,
> but in actual speech this manifestly not so; on the other hand, they find it
> very hard to hear vowel length differences in other languages (shit/sheet!).

Another non sequitur. Why then am I denying that I or other quebecois make
a distinction present in writing?

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