French Conversation – Real-life Example 4 From Quebec – Part 2

Active listening for spoken Quebec French

With the transcript and the translation in Part 1, you should have a pretty good idea of what is happening in this excerpt. Let’s take it a step further by looking at some details of this sample of spoken Quebec French.

This recording is a study in contrast between two very different speaking styles. On the one hand, we hear the standard cultivated media French of Radio-Canada. On the other hand, we have the rare opportunity to hear the raw and uncensored street French of a female police officer.

This very colloquial French is nothing surprising as such. Many people speak that way. What is surprising here in the speech of a police officer is the combination of vulgar language and very negative attitudes or prejudices towards certain members of society. The fact that she was talking this way to her commanding officer would lead us to believe that this language is actually common police talk.

General observations

1. As in all forms of modern spoken French, the “ne” of the verbal negation pair “ne…pas” has nearly completely disappeared.

2. The third person pronoun “on” has replaced “nous” (we) in addition to having other uses.

3. As in all forms of spoken French, note that most common use of the verb “être” in the “c’est…” construction.

4. Here are some features of colloquial Québécois French that you will observe:

– the “l” in the subject pronouns “il”, “ils” and “elle” is often dropped. So, “il dit” and “elle dit” will sound like “y dit” and “a dit.”
– the “e” in words like “je”, “me”, “se” tends to disappear.
– “tsé” from “tu sais” (you know) is commonly used like the English “you know” as a filler or conversational flow marker.
– in “tout” and “bout” the final “t” that is usually silent is pronounced. For example, “pas en tout” (pas du tout) will be pronounced as “pantoute”.
– “là” is often used as a filler and flow marker. It can also mean “here”, “then” or “right now.”
– common swear words derived from objects used in the catholic liturgy include:
tabarnak (tabarnacle)
stie (hostie)
crisse (Christ)

Depending on the context, these words can have many meanings and are difficult to translate. A common use is to indicate importance or emphasis, as in “j’étais sur le bord en tabarnak” (I really effing wanted to). They are also used to indicate anger, as in “J’étais en crisse.” (I was really pissed off.)

Technical commentary

(1) The announcer says la policière matricule 728 ” but remember that “matricule” is a masculine gender noun. So, it is LE matricule like LE véhicule but unlike LA molécule. Think of “la policière au matricule 728” (the officer with badge number 728).

(2) The SPVM stands for Service de police de la ville de Montréal.

(3) Instead of using “la” and referring to “la policière”, the announcer is using “le” in a generic sense “it.” So, “on le voit sur ces images” is “as you can see in this video.”

(4) “le printemps dernier” is spring 2012 when there were major student demonstrations in the Montreal area.

(5) Note this inverted sentence structure in which the subject, Normand Grondin, is at the end.

(6) The singular “sur l’entrefaite” (in the meantime) is a very rare. The more common form is: “sur les entrefaites.”

(7) This the first of many “là” meaning “now” or “then.”

(8) The verb “crier après” Quebec French means “shout at.”

(9) The speaker imitates the pronunciation of the officer who said “toé” instead of “toi.”

(10) Here the speaker is probably trying to say, “papiers d’identité.”

(11) Note how in the same sentence the speaker uses “là” referring to “then” and “ici” pointing to the spot where he was pushed. But two sentences later he says. “Je retombe là” in which the “là” is the location.

(12) “la grosse” (the fatty, fatso) is an insult for the female police officer.

(13) “pis” is a colloquial variant of “puis” (then).

(14) Note that the speaker does not pronounce the “s” in “plus.” The pronunciation varies considerably. See my blog post in the subject.

(15) First of many swear words, this “tabarnak” is probably the most common.

(16) The speaker pronounces systematically “toute” where the standard form would be “tous.”

(17) This is another very vulgar term that varies between “ostie”, “astie” and “stie”.

(18) The “carrés rouges” (red squares) is the name given to students demonstrators in the spring of 2012 because they wore a small red square on their chest.

(19) In “ben là, y-z ont” we have the filler or flow marker “ben” and “là” (now) plus “ils ont” in which the “l” has disappeared, leaving what I have transcribed as “y-z ont”.

(20) “tsé” is the colloquial form of “tu sais.”

(21) She starts off want saying “on” (we) then changes her mind for “je”.

(22) “chu” is the colloquial pronunciation of “je suis”.

(23) “dins” is an attempt to transcribe the colloquial pronunciation of “dans les” where the “les” has been reduced to “s” to make the liaison with “escaliers.”

(24) Because she systematically drops the “l” in the subject pronouns “il” and “ils”, the speaker says “a fallu” instead of “il a fallu”. She also tends to drop the “e” in “je” as we can hear in the subsequent verbs.

(25) Note again how the “ils” is reduced to what we have transcribed as “y”.

(26) In colloquial French, the adjective “pareil” (identical, same) has become an invariable adverb meaning “still” or “all the same.” Here, “c’est des caves pareil.” means “they are still idiots.”

(27) “y en a pas” is “il n’y en a pas”.

(28) Agent 728 is notorious for using pepper spray on the students. She hesitates to pepper “poivrer” because she is worried about the bad publicity.

(29) “j’étais sur le bord” (literally: I was on the edge) means “I was about to”.

(30) “en tabarnak” emphasizes how close she was to using her pepper spray.

(31) “en crisse”, like “en tabarnak”, is here for emphasis.

(32) Note how the the announcer uses “on” in “le genre de police qu’on veut” to refer to people in general.

(33) This “Écoutez” is a very common filler that is used to start an answer.

(34) Starting out with “on a demandé” (we requested), the speaker decides to switch to a more formal “la direction a demandé”.

(35) The speaker started to say “en rapport” and changes his mind.

(36) “déontologie” refers to the Comité de déontologie policière or the Police Ethics Commission that hears complaints against police officers.

(37) The “elle” of course refers to the female police officer. This is why it is important to keep track of grammatical gender when speaking French

The next step: enhancing your French conversation skills

Remember the recommendations outlined in the blog post on using these real-life examples. If this kind of Quebec French interests you, listen to this example many times over a week or two until you know it by heart. Your understanding of this kind of spoken French should improve noticeably.

The key to improving conversation skills: repeat and imitate

In these posts I usually recommend that you imitate what you hear using voice-overs and role-playing. In this example, one has to be more cautious. As you have seen, some of the material is considered very vulgar. As interesting as it is, use at your own risk and peril!

That said, most of the excerpt is actually very good French that you should not hesitate to use. The language of the Radio-Canada journalists is typical media French that you could imitate if that is how you want to sound.

Stanley Aléong is a polyglot, author, musician and language coach in French, English and Spanish. He likes to share his passion for languages and believes that anybody can learn to speak a foreign language well with the right methods and tools. He has also invented a cool visual learning tool called the Language Wall Chart Calendar that is based on his own learning experience. Reach him at


French Conversation – Real-life Example 4 From Quebec – Part 2 — 1 Comment

  1. It was awesome. and I really love to learn more french language.. je vous allez en france un jour… I know its hard to go in france..but I love to go there..Au Revoir merci…