The language of French conversation
In this part two of our study of a real-life example of Quebec French, I want to draw the readers’ attention to some details of the language used. Many of the common features of spoken French in general are discussed in my post on how to use these real-life examples of unscripted French conversation. Here I’ll look at some features of this specific sample.
Unlike most of the examples in this series, there is not much conversational interaction between speakers here. However, I’ve included this sample because it has a wide range of voices and accents.
Notice the striking contrast between the very well-articulated and clear pronunciation of the Radio-Canada journalists and the other speakers. The two journalists use the speaking style typical of on-air journalists in French. Radio-Canada is known for its more formal and sort of upper-class style of speaking although it is not as snotty as it used to be.
In a few places there is a distinct phonetic difference between older and younger speakers, especially in the pronunciation of “a” and “r.”
Notice how all the speakers spontaneously use the feminine grammatical gender forms “elle” or “la” throughout the recording when referring to ice cream “la crème glacée.” They say “la Haagen Dazs” or “la rouge” or “la jaune” when referring to the dot or sticker because those dots represent the ice creams. It’s also possible that people are referring the the word “la couleur” when speaking of “la verte” or “la bleue.” English-speaker readers, please take note how French-speakers spontaneously keep track of gender!
(1) “être à nos portes” is a nice way to say that something is nearly here or around the corner. Used only with “nos.” One could say: “Noël est à nos portes” (Christmas is around the corner.)
(2) Notice the use of that common pronoun “on” here for “nous” or “we.” “Avoir envie de” is an expression with “avoir” and here means “desire” or “want to.”
(3) Notice that that “crèmes glacées” is plural here although it sounds exactly like the singular “crème glacée.” The singular would not have made sense here.
(4) Also notice that “au chocolat” is how “chocolate flavour” is rendered in French. Other flavours would be all based on this model. For example, we would have “à la vanille”.”aux fraises”, “aux cerises”.
(5) Notice that the speaker says “elles” when referring to the “crèmes glacées”
(6) This is a very elegant phrase that plays on the the word “crème glacée.” Notice that in the more formal Radio-Canada style the “ne” is pronounced whilst in the more informal language this has nearly disappeared.
Note that the speaker says “de la crème” because of the presence of “toutes.” Otherwise she would have said “elles ne contiennent pas de crème” meaning “they do not contain cream.” But since some of the ice creams do contain cream, the speaker is saying “not all the ice creams contain cream,” and therefore inserts “toutes” followed by the partitive construction discussed in note 10.
(7) The marché Jean-Talon the Montreal’s largest outdoor market. If this were written French, most French teachers would probably say that ” Identifiée par le point rouge” is not in its right place because it would seem to refer to “les gens ici présents” and should go after “la Haagen Dazs.” The spoken language is much more tolerant of this sort of thing.
(8) Notice how the speaker says “la Haagen Dazs” because it is “une crème glacée.”
(9) “Bonne dégustation” that I translated as “Enjoy” follows the pattern of “bon voyage”, “bon appétit”, “bon spectacle”, “bonne soirée”, “bonne journée”, etc. In English, we often use a verb to convey this wish, as in “have a good trip”, “enjoy the meal”, “enjoy the show” or “have a good evening.”
10) This enumeration of the ingredients in ice cream uses something that is called the partitive construction in French grammar. Totally unlike English which drops the articles and says “…the basic ingredients are milk, cream, sugar and egg yolk.” French says “of milk, of cream, of sugar and of egg yolk.” We see the same thing in note 6,
Similarly, “Would you care for some wine or water?” is “Désirez-vous du vin ou de l’eau?” This is a very important point of grammar and a cause of much grief for English speakers.
I should add that the speaker could also have said, “Les ingrédients de base de la crème glacée sont le lait, la crème, le sucre et le jaune d’oeuf.”
(11) Note that the speaker did not pronounce the “f” in “œufs”, telling us that he is using the plural form. Compare with the pronunciation at note 20.
12) The speaker here is an older gentleman and speakers a more informal and less educated variety of French. He drops the “Il” in “Il y en a” to produce “Y en a.”
What is also noteworthy is the use of “tu” with the verb in “a-tu” and “peut-tu” to indicate that this is a question. This has absolutely nothing to do with the second person pronoun “tu” of “tu as” or “tu peux.” This is somewhat unique to Québécois French. It is very widespread in the informal spoken language although most Radio-Canada journalists would not be caught dead using it on the air. You will hear things like: “C’est-tu fini ?” (Is it over?), “Ça marche-tu?” (Is it working?).
(13) In addition to the -tu form note here the pronominal form of “se pouvoir” in the sense of “to be possible.” This exists only in the third person as in this example.
(14)The speaker refers to “la rouge” because he is talking about “la crème glacée.” Notice that he does not say “Je dirais que” (I would say that). In popular speech the “que” is often dropped. The same thing happens in English when we say. “He said he wasn’t coming.” Be aware that in French this dropping of “que” is considered bad grammar.
(15) “pis” is a very informal form of “puis” and here means “and.”
(16) The speakers changes his mind here and refers back to “la rouge.”
(17) The speaker use the imparfait form here “j’aimais” (I liked) whereas most people would use the present “j’aime” (I like). This is common in popular speech.
(18) The speaker who owns an ice cream business uses the term “une glace chocolat noir” instead of “une crème glacée au chocolat noir.” Maybe it is a simply an abbreviation.
(19) Notice that the “ne” has disappeared in this negation. Also, the “on” here can mean”nous” or just people in general.
(20) The speaker pronounces the “f” telling us that “œuf” is singular.
(21) In spoken French, this is a very common construction. Instead of saying “le chocolat est”, the speaker says “le chocolat, c’est…” Do not confuse this with “le chocolat s’est” that sounds exactly the same. The only way to tell the difference is to listen to the entire phrase.
(22) Notice that use of the adjective “chocolatée” that is derived from the past participle of the verb “chocolater.” In reality the verb is quite rare whilst the adjective is very widespread. You also see this in “une boisson alcoolisée” (alcoholic beverage) whereas the verb “alcooliser” is rarely used.
(23) The “y “here refers to the ice cream. Literally, the speaker says, “The taste there is distinctive.”
(24) The speaker here changes his mind and decides to use a different construction.
(25) “comme un” translates “like a” or “sort of.”
(26) Notice the rising intonation to indicate a question. The speaker says “la jaune” because she is referring to “la crème glacée” or maybe to “la couleur.”
(27) Notice the distinctive sound of the vowel “a” in “chocolat.” This is typical of older less educated speakers.
(28) A few things to notice here. First, the journalist switches to the second person “tu” form because she is speaking to a young child. Second, she uses an informal question form “Pourquoi tu préfères…” instead of the more standard “Pourquoi préfères-tu…” Most interrogative words like “pourquoi”, “comment”, “combien” and “quand” require the inversion of the verb and the pronoun.
(29) Notice the construction. “La texture, c’est…” instead of “La texture est…”
(30) In “…il y a de l’eau” we have again the partitive construction that we saw in note 10. Also notice how the “e” of “de” in “de l’eau” is hardly audible. In fact, what happens is that in fast informal speech the unstressed “e” nearly disappears. This is very striking in words like “petit”, “autre” or “tenir.”
(31) I’m pretty sure I hear “Quand qu’on” instead of “Quand on.” This “quand que” construction if very widespread in informal Québécois French. Later on in the sentence . the speaker probably realizes that he couldn’t do anything with “une glace qui a…” and changes his phrasing to ” où on a l’impression…”
(32) Here “Elles” refers to the coming subject “les glaces commerciales.”
(33) The “y” here is not very clear but most likely refers to “les crèmes glacées” generally speaking.
(34) This is very interesting because the speaker does not make what would normally be a strong liaison in “d’autres éléments.” The majority of speakers would say, as recommended, “d’autres-z-éléments.”
(35) It’s not quite clear from the sentence who the “ils” (they) refers to. Here the speaker is referring to producers of ice cream.
(36) The speaker uses the plural verb form “vont” but if he is referring to “gélatine,” it should be the singular verb form “va.”
(37) This is a great use of the verb “tenir” in a pronominal form “se tenir” (to hold itself.) Here it means “to keep its texture.”
(38) The speaker here is of European origin and uses the space filler “et voilà” that is common in France.
(39) The speaker seems to have dropped the “que” in “J’ai l’impression que c’est…” as in note 14.
Applying this material to your French conversation speaking skills
As outlined in my post on using these real-life samples, it is very important to listen to this recording many times. It is very short. You could listen to this five times a day for a week or more. And why not listen to the entire recording?
In terms of vocabulary, expressions or phrasing that one could take away, I highly recommend the language of the two journalists. It is impeccable French. A few things come to mind:
Bonne dégustation ! (Enjoy!)
On a eu envie de … (we wanted to)
D’abord et avant tout (mainly and above all”)
Pay attention to that partitive construction: “de la crème. du lait, des œufs, de l’eau, etc.” English-speakers often run afoul of this.
As with all our examples, you should listen carefully and decide what you want to incorporate into your individual French conversation speaking style.