As a student growing up in Toronto, Canada, learning French was mandatory in the educational system since French is an official language of Canada. During my educational journey, I studied French in elementary school, and when I attended high school, I took French courses up to grade 12. My high school French teacher spent a significant time in France, and she would always tell me how the French language we learn here in Canada is drastically different from French spoken in Europe or even in Québec.
I recently took a trip to Paris, France, and honestly, I was scared that I would not understand anything since it has been about four years since I last studied French, and the French language I learned here is different from French spoken in Paris. Luckily when I did go, I was able to read signs, ask basic questions, as well as understand simple questions. However, I remember there were moments when I was following every word someone was speaking, and then suddenly, I understood absolutely nothing. These moments finally made me realize what my high school teacher meant when she talked about how French is spoken differently based on where you are, as she enlightened us on dialects.
Dialects and Accents
Dialects are a variety of languages distinguished from other varieties of the same language by features of phonology, grammar, vocabulary, and its use by a group of speakers who are set off from others geographical or socially. Although accents are part of a dialect, it is notable to mention that it only refers to one’s style word pronunciation.
- Regional Dialect: This type of dialect is associated with speakers living in a particular geographic location. The evolution of languages into various dialects is influenced by factors including time, place, and socio-culture. Even within France itself, there are multiple dialects based on geographic location as seen below:
On the map, we can see all the different dialects spoken in the country. Each dialect has unique features, and while French is spoken in each region, it is quite possible to find two individuals within France who speak French fluently, but cannot understand each other entirely due to the differences within the dialects. Some words are not translatable as they refer to things only a person from that particular region can understand, but existing words could also have a different meaning.
- Social Dialect / Sociolect: This is a type of dialect that is associated with speakers belonging to a given demographic group, whether it is gender, age group, religion, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class. For example, individuals who attend different educational institutions have learned different ways of speaking, including grammar, words, formality, and syntax. In addition, various professions have their own expressions, including technical terminology and other casual words that might be difficult for someone to understand if they do not work in the same field.
Languages are beautiful as they are created and assembled through events shaped by experiences and historical moments, and they are constantly evolving through time! Dialects are a part of our culture and make us unique and stand out from others around us. Our traditions, history, words, voices, and everyday life are all embedded in our language and reflect who we are.
To read more about the languages, please see some of our other blogs: