Caribbean French Creole and Quebec French
Most foreign learners of French in the 21st century have standardised Parisian French of the 21st century as their target variety (dictionaries, grammars, etc.).
Most foreign learners of French Creole (FC), with French in their academic background, also have 21st century French as their reference point. We would actually do better to have Quebec French as a point of comparison.
Even better for Caribbean (Lesser Antillean) French Creole, Antillean French and Quebec French, we can look to regional French from Normandy and Picardy* from bygone eras. (See more from Anne-Marie Brousseau.) Though these two varieties, Normand and Picard (and other source varieties), are obviously related to Parisian French of the 21st century and of bygone eras, there are distinct and important differences. These regional varieties were the ones to have had a strong hand in the development of French and French-influenced colonial varieties of the Americas, including French-lexicon Creole and Quebec French. (See more by Raphaël Confiant.)
Old French (9th to 14th centuries) > Middle French (1340 > 1611) > Modern French (early 1600s -)
Fact 1: Caribbean French Creole (Patois) is linked to French of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
(St Kitts was the first French settlement in the Caribbean from 1625. Almost a century before in 1538, French Huguenot refugees from Dieppe in Normandy established a town on the north coast of St Kitts, where Dieppe Bay Town is located today.)
Fact 2: Quebec French is linked to French of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
(New France was established in 1534 up to 1759, with other French visits even earlier. Modern Quebec was part of the New France of North America; so was Louisiana, sometimes called Acadiana/L’Acadiane. This is because of the numbers of Acadian exiles who left Acadia/L’Acadie in the north for Louisiana in the south in the mid-18th century. Acadia consisted of eastern Quebec, the Maritimes and part of Maine, most of which came under the British, hence the number of exiles. There in Louisiana, the descendants of the Acadians became known as Cajuns. Note that Cajun French and Louisiana French Creole are two different languages with two different histories and are not to be confused.)
Fact 3: Caribbean French Creole (Patois) is linked to regional Middle and early Modern French spoken in Northern Normandy and Picardy.
(The modern descendants of these regional, popular French varieties are often called patois in France, although Belgian Picard has been officially recognised in neighbouring Belgium.)
The name Patois, which was extended to include French-lexicon Creole varieties, has been rejected in the French West Indies (FWI), Haïti and St Lucia and Dominica by native FC speakers in those six territories, and by scholars generally. The name is, however, proudly used by native speakers and learners in Trinidad, Venezuela and Brazil, although Creole was used by Trinidadian John Jacob Thomas in his 19th century treatise on the language. In Trinidad, the term French Creole refers to Franco-Trinidadians, now extended to other Euro-Trinidadians, who would be called békés in the FWI. (The name Creole can also refer to English Creole or Dialect.)
Fact 4: Quebec French is linked to regional Middle and early Modern French spoken in northern Normandy and Picardy.
Fact 5: Normandy and Picardy are neighbouring regions, and are situated on the North-West coast of France.
(These two regions face the Americas to the West and border Paris to the South-East and South, respectively. Northern Normandy and Picardy belong to the linguistic zone francique (Frankish Zone) of French dialectology.)
Fact 6: Paris is on the River Seine, in the centre of the Ile-de-France region, not on the coast.
(Paris is in the Ile-de-France region, in the linguistic zone francienne (Francien Zone), that gave birth to what we know today as French, understood to be modern standard Parisian French. Both zones are part of the Langue d’Oïl area.)
Fact 7: Caribbean French Creole and Quebec French have a number of features in common (same era, same coastal regions of France in a new continent, the Americas).
Some examples, mainly in the areas of lexicon (vocabulary) and phonology (pronunciation) include the following:
- le morne – ‘hill’,
- tchimbé/tchimber – ‘to hold on’,
- mononcle/mononque/mononk – ‘uncle’
- and many more
- wa ~ we diphthong (wa is the francien reflex, and we is the normand reflex), e.g.,
- Croisée pronounced /kweze/ vs /kwaze/ (or /kRwaze/,
- the first person pronoun pronounced /mwe/ (nasalised because of the preceding /m/) mwen vs /mwa/ moi,
- lavwé or lavway /lavwe/ vs la voix /la vwa/
- ‘fish’ pronounced /pwesõ/ pwéson vs /pwasõ/ poisson
- ‘bird’ pronounced /zwezo/ zwézo vs /wazo/ oiseau
- syllable-final consonant cluster reduction with C2 being a liquid, e.g., table /tabl/ > /tab/, and four /katR/ > /kat/,
- and many more.
Read more by André Thibault on Français des Antilles et français des Amériques (more here on Français d’Amérique et créoles/ français des Antilles: nouveaux témoignages and on Francophonie et variétés des français), and by Ursula Reutner on a sociolinguistic comparison between Quebec and the French Antilles.
The Norman Connection: English and Patois
English is also doubly linked to the regional French spoken in Normandy:
- from the 11th century via Norman French itself (which developed into Anglo-Norman in the British Isles, known to Chaucer and other writers), and
- also via Old Norse (Viking).
England is only 21 miles from France, at the nearest point. Led by the Falaise-born William Duke of Normandy, the Normans landed in Pevensey, just 11 miles away from Hastings, where the famous battle took place, giving England over to the Normans. Dieppe, in Normandy, is 67 miles from Hastings, and just over 4,000 miles from Dieppe Bay Town in St Kitts.
The name Normandy reflects Viking (i.e., “Northman”) origins. Old Norse had an impact on Old English in the 9th and 10th centuries. Old Norse had an impact on Norman French also in the 9th century, which of course had an impact on Anglo-Norman and on English.
English was also twice influenced by French: by Norman French in the 11th to 15th centuries and onward, and also by Parisian French in the 16th to 19th centuries, hence the w ~ ɡ modern doublets (among others), e.g., warranty (mid 14th century) and guarantee (17th century, if not before), et cetera. In many instances, Old French had the /w/ sound (also distinctly Germanic), but it later changed to /ɡ/, after the 11th century.
England still has three Norman French dialects spoken in the Channel Islands (which are nearer to France than England): Jèrriais, Dgernesiais and Serquiais (now endangered). Jèrriais is an official minority language in Jersey.
Portuguese is also a language known to have undergone Oïl influence.
*The Picardy connection doesn’t end there. Amiens is located in Picardy (about 54 miles from Dieppe in Normandy). The Treaty of Amiens is a peace treaty that was signed in 1802 in the Napoleonic era, putting Trinidad into the hands of the British. Before that, the Napoleonic era saw hundreds of French and French Creole-speaking Frenchmen, enslaved Africans and free coloureds come to Trinidad, thus introducing French and French Creole to the island.