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I speak English, I swear.
When I first came to Québec, landing (of all places) in Rivière-du-Loup, my love affair with Québécois French began. It later translated to a love affair with a Québécois, which is why I now call Montréal home. Upon arrival, with my BC-learned, high school French in my pocket and some Canadian dollars (my Nana was concerned about the exchange rate over in Québec…), I stocked up on books like Le dictionnaire pratique des expressions québécoises. As a matter of fact, I won that particular gem as the strongest member of my French class at the summer language exchange program in RDL. Seven years later, I am a fully assimilated Québécoise de souche, and I revel in the astonishment of my interlocuteurs (I don’t think there’s such a succinct, idiomatic way to say that in anglais) when they learn that I am, in fact, a BC born-and-raised anglo.
Now that my focus is back onto my native tongue, after about 15 years spent perfecting my French, I am noticing the amusing and fascinating phenomenon of Québécois English. A lot of my colleagues at the Montréal English private school I call my day job are either born-and-raised Québec anglos, or anglos from other corners of the country who have slowly (like me) adapted to this particular type of English that I think is unique to la Belle Province.
At first, it was just using French words with an English accent, and not realizing that they were not, in fact, English words at all. During a heated shouting match with my younger cousin, I threatened her with a punition. This did not have the desired effect. Instead, she looked at me quizzically and asked, “You mean, a punishment?” Well, yes, I did mean a punishment, and in either language, she was still going to get one. To the delight of my west-coast family (always eager to mock me) and my own surprise, Québec English is more and more my own, and this interferes with my translating, since nobody likes a Gallicism! I know my classmates translating into French have it infinitely worse. There are anglicisms everywhere, and based on teachers’ reactions, they must be the little-known eighth deadly sin. The problem is that as native speakers translating into our native tongue, we are supposed to have the ear— the instinct— for what is idiomatic in our language. The cohabitation of English and French, and the frequency of near-perfect bilingualism in Québec, make things that sound bizarre to any other native speaker sound perfectly normal to us lot!
- I pass the vacuum.
- I close lights and open televisions.
- I go to the dep when I run out of milk.
Other things that I have assimilated that confuse my non-Québécois family members are the chain store names that have French equivalents: Bureau en gros, Pharmaprix, Couche Tard, etc.
Then, there are the things that are perhaps unique to my couple. My husband unabashedly speaks his own version of English that I think could perhaps qualify as its own dialect, with different grammar and different vocabulary. And sometimes only comprehensible to its only native speaker…
- He makes parties and naps.
- He puts our cats’ necklaces on them before they go outside.
- He asked me to inscribe him in a bee-keeping class.
- He has many pairs of underwears.
- He comes at places. (Eg: “Tonight I’m coming at my Mom’s,” and I swear his intended meaning is not erotic nor incestuous.)
And then there are the Québec English terms that are simply not the same as those I am used to on the Best Coast. For example, I drink pop. I do not drink soft drinks. It’s pop. And, for P.E. class, I change into my gym strip. Not my gym clothes, my gym strip.
I know all of you have different Québecois English tidbits to share, and that’s what the comments box is for!