The good conversation in Quebec

I was doubly fascinated by Davy Bigot’s book Good use in Quebec† The professor of linguistics at Concordia University examined a very little-considered topic: the way the Québécois dialect conforms to a norm.

His study allowed him to conclude that in Quebec, sustained speech more or less meets the French standard, despite some quirks.

In fact, I found our conversation so stimulating that I will make two chronicles: this one is about her research as such, then a second that is more about the thoughts she provokes in me about the idea of ​​​​the norm and attitude of Quebecers in the direction of this great myth.

As a “variationist” linguist, Davy Bigot studies language on a sample and statistical basis. Therefore, he devoted himself to establishing a corpus, that is, a database of 107 interviews broadcast from 2003 to 2005 as part of the television news magazine Point

Why this choice? First, because Quebeckers view Radio-Canada as the measure of sustained speech, and second, because: Point was state television’s most prestigious stand. In addition, the period and dates chosen for the analysis correspond to the period when the author, a native of Tours in France, came to Quebec to do his doctoral thesis – his book is in fact an expanded version of this thesis.

The rare studies of Quebecers’ persistent speech focused on the work of journalists; Davy Bigot preferred to take into account the 107 people interviewed by the hosts of the Point† The guests all belong to Quebec’s socio-political elite. We hear from doctors, politicians, civil servants, entrepreneurs and professors.

The researcher therefore transcribed 16 hours of recordings to verify, among 132,000 words, the frequency of 18 language variables identified by other researchers in Quebec’s vernacular (the everyday spoken language). These variables, which are very widespread, are quite typical, but they are all considered flawed with regard to the regulations of the good use, famous grammar of Maurice Grevisse.

The 18 Quebec Variables Selected by Davy Bigot

  1. The periphrastic future (which combines several terms) in positive sentences: “I will walk” instead of “I will walk”.
  2. The generalization of the presenting “it is”: “They are beautiful cars” rather than “these are beautiful cars”.
  3. The substitution of “what” in partial direct interrogative sentences, which are not answered with yes or no: “Qu’esse (qu’ossé) tu dis? »
  4. The addition of “you” in total direct interrogative sentences, which are answered with yes or no: “Does he want to come back?”
  5. The change from the present of the indicative from the verb “to go”: “J’vas” instead of “I’m going”.
  6. The replacement of “dont” with “que” in indirect relatives: “That’s what I’m talking to you about. †
  7. The neutralization of “done” into “done”, regardless of gender: “He was injured”, “the job is done”.
  8. Strong pronouns: “We others, you others, those others”.
  9. The “that” followed by the non-etymological “the” (that is, this “the” means nothing): “It increases it too much”, “it happens often” (but not “it does”, where the ” l‘” is the elision of “the”).
  10. The double denial: “Nobody came to help us. †
  11. Expressing the limitation with the word “only”: “There are only 10 people. »
  12. The double use of the conditional: “If I had known, I would have done it” instead of “If I had known”.
  13. Using the auxiliary verb “avoir” for verbs of movement: “I descended” instead of “I descended”.
  14. The change of “what” in indirect interrogative clauses (which are relative in a sentence, without a question mark): “I wonder what you say” instead of “I wonder what you say”.
  15. The addition of “that” after “when”: “When will dinner be ready?” †
  16. Using “toute” to replace “tous” or “tout” regardless of gender: “Toute est dans tout”, “nous est tout là”.
  17. The expression of the consequence with “done that”: “Fa’que, I’m going. †
  18. The neutralization of the demonstrative pronouns “this, this, this” in “c’te” or “ct'”: “C’te femme”, “ct’animal”.

These 18 particulars do not summarize the entire vernacular of Quebec in terms of grammar, but they are very widespread. Some are passed down from generation to generation: ‘merely’ expressing limitations has long been typical of people under 30 who have aged. “J’vas” or “c’te” are more associated with the working class, while higher educated people are more inclined to “I’m going” and “this, this, that” (and again, it depends if they have a glass the nose or not).

Some may be surprised not to see the negative propositions without “ne” in this list, such as “I don’t take my phone with me”. However, Davy Bigot explained to me that this expression was universal in the French vernacular, not just in Quebec.

When analyzing his corpus to determine the prevalence of these 18 variables, the professor took into account several factors, such as the gender, age and job category of the speakers.

It turns out that only two vernacular variants are highly preferred in a formal context: the periphrastic future tense and the generalized presentative “it is”.

Speakers prefer the peripheral future in 78.7% of their positive formulations. They will therefore say “I will walk” much more often than “I will walk”.

The presenting “c’est” is used in 60.4% of the shapes that would require “c’est” according to the standard.

In about 20% of cases, three variables are used (the two forms of direct interrogative clauses and “I’m going”), and five other variables fluctuate between 8% and 10% in frequency (“that” instead of “whose”, “made”, the strong pronouns, “it’s got it”, the double negation). All other variables do not exceed 6%. The forms “c’te” and “fa’que” are even 2% or less of the cases.

Joselito to the rescue

Since 16 of the 18 most common vernacular forms are rarely present in sustained speech in Quebec, Davy Bigot concludes that it follows the French standard for writing very closely. We should consider the result as a strong trend, but not systematically, says the author. “The same people will talk differently with their co-workers, with family, or in a more intimate conversational setting,” he says.

This is revealed by the work of linguist Anne-José Villeneuve, of the Saint-Jean Campus of the University of Alberta, who applied the same analytical framework to a corpus consisting of 32 intimate interviews conducted by the host Josélito Michaud for the show. A train for the to live.

The two linguists referenced their data to refine their observations. Eight of the 32 people interviewed by Josélito Michaud also appear in the corpus of the Point, which allows for an even finer comparison. The two researchers jointly published the findings of these cross-references in three studies.

“Of course the degree of formalism plays on the level of self-control of the speaker, but it is sometimes very subtle,” Davy Bigot sums up. “The simple fact of using familiarity or formality will encourage the production of familiar forms. The theme too. This is clearly visible with verbs that are conjugated in the future. †

In other words, speakers use the periphrastic future more to answer a personal question and the simple future when their expertise is requested. The two researchers observed this very clearly with verbs that are conjugated in the future, and the same thing happens with the other variables, to varying degrees.

“It shows that the formal frame is not the only thing at stake and that people in the same context will speak differently when the subject is intimate or when the question is asked in familiarity rather than formal ways. †

Obviously, even when it comes to the norm, usage in our mouth varies considerably depending on the subtleties of the conversation.

Leave a Comment