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From France to India: Types of French Spoken Around the World

Learning about different types of French will help round out your knowledge about the language of love.

If you’re hoping to learn French for a particular reason—such as travel, business or even love—it would be beneficial to tailor your learning to the French-speaking region you have in mind.

Read on for a brief history of the French language as well as overviews of major French-speaking areas of the world: France, Belgium, Switzerland, Eastern Canada, Haiti, North Africa, the Congo and India.

Contents


A Brief History of the French Language

Originally one of several local languages in France, French was spoken by the elites and royals residing in the Île-de-France Paris area. When these elites wanted to exert their power beyond Paris, a royal decree gave official recognition and status to the Parisian language in order to extend its influence.

The French language gained prominence in France following the French Revolution in the late 1700s. Individuals who spoke regional languages were severely punished, as the use of French was meant to instill in citizens the values of the new French Republic.

As the language took over France, French speakers were also setting up communities around Europe in areas such as modern-day Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg. The first settlement of Francophones outside of Europe was Nouvelle France (New France) in Eastern Canada in the 1500s.

Similarly, because French colonizers spent over a century on the African continent, French won out at the expense of dozens of local African languages. Today, it’s the language of administration and government in several African countries.

French is the fifth-most spoken language in the world, with over 300 million speakers. Let’s take a look at some major players in the Francophonie today.

France

When people refer to French from France, they usually mean the Parisian accent. Here’s a video example of some typical Parisian expressions:

Take note of these three in particular, because you’ll hear them everywhere in Paris:

  • la meuf (the girl/chick)
  • le mec (the guy/dude)
  • mais c’est énorme ! (it’s fantastic!)

You’ll also notice two features of Parisian French: It’s fast and it’s very expressive. Some even say that it’s a bit over the top. Everything is génial, énorme, trop bien (great, fantastic, really great) and so on!

Now check out the same Parisians, this time at work. If you watch this video, you’ll immediately notice the presence of English words in everyday work language:

  • la deadline (the deadline)
  • un feedback (feedback)
  • un brainstorm (a brainstorm)

But the French language in France is diverse and colorful! This video contains 28 different France-based French accents:

In the southern French city of Marseille, for instance, you can hear a classic Southern French accent, characterized by its unique tonality and open rhythmic intonation.

Marseillais, as it’s called, is also spoken very quickly and can be very difficult for the untrained ear to understand—for non-native and native French speakers alike!

This Marseillais is passionately expressing his opinion on the Parisians that come to Marseille and complain that it’s too hot. Many of the words are mangés (have their ends cut off; literally “eaten”), and eh is added at the end of many phrases.

Belgium

Around 45% of the Belgian population speaks French, which makes it a major Francophone country in Europe. As such, it has unique ways of speaking the language. Here are 10 Belgian Francophone accents:

You likely noticed immediately that Belgian French sounds firmer than the French of France. This is mainly due to the influence of Dutch, also an official language of Belgium.

Perhaps one of the most curious words in Belgian French is une chope, which means “a beer” or “a drink,” while in Parisian French, the verb chopper means “to grab” or “to get.”

If you look further into the inconsistencies, you’ll find some other differing vocabulary and a separate counting system, among other things.

Generally speaking, though, the Belgian French accent is very similar to the French accent of France, simply because of the two countries’ proximity.

Switzerland

Moving on to another European country, Switzerland is a polyglot’s heaven where French, Italian and German are all official state languages.

Native Francophones comprise about 20% of the Swiss population. Similar to the country’s political stance in the world, the Swiss French accent is quite neutral. There’s not much of a marked difference from Parisian French, and many linguists claim that Swiss French is indeed standard French.

This episode of Easy French showcases typical French phrases used by the Swiss:

Beyond the accent, you’ll probably also notice that Swiss Francophones tend to speak a bit slower than their French counterparts, which makes Swiss French sound and feel more relaxed than other versions.

Eastern Canada

Now stopping in Francophone North America, we’ll start with the first French settlement on the continent, La Nouvelle France in Eastern Canada, mainly the province of Quebec.

The language has been spoken in Eastern Canada since the early 1500s and is currently the mother tongue of about 95% of Quebec’s population, as well as some of the population of the bilingual province of New Brunswick on the Atlantic coast.

These Canadian variants of French don’t differ from their European counterparts in grammar or written expression, but do they ever at the spoken level! Listen to an example here:

Perhaps the most well-known and cited accent from Francophone America is this, the Quebecois accent, possibly because of its pleasant and charming tonality. Linguists have said that French from Quebec is a cultural treasure of sorts, because it retains much of the syntax and phonetics of Old French.

You’ll notice the influence of English in Quebecois French, as in the words:

  • blonde (girlfriend)
  • chum (boyfriend)
  • c’est cute (it’s cute)
  • c’est le fun (it’s fun)

An important note is to never use the word meuf (girl) in Quebec as you would in France, as it’s considered quite vulgar when referring to a female—better to opt for la fille instead.

A slightly different version of French is spoken in the coastal province of New Brunswick. Here, two young Acadians explain the history of their language:

Acadian French has a marked Anglophone/English tonality, and often the two languages are mixed together.

Louisiana

Still in North America, there’s a notable French-speaking population in the US state of Louisiana. The French spoken there is often called Cajun French.

Originally, there were three main dialects in the area: Acadian French, Colonial French and Louisiana Creole. The term “Louisiana French” refers to the modern-day dialect that grew out of the combined Acadian and Colonial forms, which you can hear in this video:

On the other hand, Louisiana Creole is a mixture of French and African languages. It’s very different from Parisian French and comes from Louisiana French as well:

Many Louisiana Creole speakers are older, since young people tend to speak English, the dominant language.

In fact, Louisiana Creole is an endangered language—it’s estimated that less than 10,000 people speak this creole today, and more dramatic estimates say it’s likely less than 7,000.

Haiti

Now it’s time to visit our southern Francophone friends, les Haïtiens (the Haitians)!

French is the official language of Haiti, but if you ever visit the country, you’ll notice that Haitian Creole—a mix of African languages, Spanish, French and more—is definitely the go-to language on the streets and elsewhere.

Here’s a speech that was made on Haitian radio:

Hear those French influences?

Also commonly referred to as Caribbean French, this language has similar intonation to African French because of Haiti’s abundance of African languages and dialects. It’s worth noting that it’s hard to pinpoint such linguistic roots, however, due to the history of slavery on the island.

If you’re studying French, you won’t be able to understand Haitian Creole completely, but you will likely be able to pick out the French vocabulary immediately.

And if you’re curious about Haitian Creole, here are the top 20 words you’ll need for a trip to Haiti:

North Africa

Speaking of those African roots in Haitian French, let’s hop over to the African continent itself, where French is an official language in more than a dozen countries.

It’s impossible to go into complete detail about African French in this post, considering the sheer depth and diversity, but we’ll start by reviewing Maghreb, or North African French. It’s spoken in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and even Egypt.

Here’s a native Algerian woman discussing her country in French:

Algeria, the biggest country on the African continent, is inextricably linked to France by a century of colonial rule.

The Algerian War of Independence, fought against France, lasted for eight years (1954-1962). As a result of this colonization, the French language has had major influence in Algeria and other North African countries.

Perhaps the most significant feature of Maghreb French, though, is the effect of Arabic on its pronunciation, including guttural phonetics and the use of Arabic words in French sentences, and vice-versa.

The Congo

Brought over by Belgian colonization, French in Central Africa is quite different from that of Northern Africa, since Arabic is not spoken much in the central countries.

For example, the official language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa is French, but it coexists with approximately 242 local languages… so you bet some mixing is going to happen! Take a listen:

French sentences in the Congo naturally have a different kind of flow, and many describe it as a bit choppy, or “cut short,” if you will.

Along with Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo actually has one of the highest proportions of Francophones on the African continent.

India

For our last look at different types of French, we’ll head over to Asia.

During the heyday of French colonization, France owned five colonies in India known as French India, mostly in coastal regions of the east and south.

To this day, the largest remaining influence of French India exists in the Puducherry area (once called Pondicherry), and it’s still an official language of the region. Here’s an interview with a young girl from Puducherry:

The French language there has had significant influence from English and local languages like Tamil. For those living in the region who choose to learn French, however, they may be taught by French expatriates, and therefore develop more of a standard French accent.

If you’re interested, this spotlight of Puducherry from France24 provides some more detail of French influence in India.

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So, want to keep exploring types of French? Check out this video compilation on the Daily Motion website.

À la prochaine fois les amis (until next time friends)!

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