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Québecois: maligned accent may have its roots in royal courts

Québec scholar Jean-Denis Gendron traces a 'relaxed, natural' accent to the time of Louis XIV.

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The French would have two words for it: Très ironique.

Québec's francophones have long been ridiculed by the Parisian French – the scholars, elites, and aesthetes from the ancestral homeland. They have deemed the Québecois accent an "abomination" of what they consider the most beautiful language.

They shouldn't sneer.

The Québeckers' much-maligned accent can be traced back to the 17th-century court of Louis XIV. At least that's the argument put forth by a prominent Québec scholar, Laval University's Jean-Denis Gendron, a retired linguist. "The Québecois accent is one from the noblesse of the time, it is a relaxed, natural accent,'' Professor Gendron, explains in the most recent issue of the journal, Québec Sciences. "It's only much later that our accent came to be viewed as an abomination."

Certainly, journals kept by explorers and clergymen who visited early Québec throughout the centuries appear to support Gendron's argument.

In 1651, for example, one explorer in New France noted: "The accent is polished. The French language is spoken with elegance."

But somewhere between the founding of New France and 1810, perceptions of the French spoken in what is now Québec shifted dramatically.

"In everyone's eyes our accent suddenly became 'heavy,' 'without grace,' 'corrupt,' " Gendron explains, outlining the central tenets of his new book. Where did the Québecois accent come from? "It's not the Canadians who changed their way of speaking,'' Gendron says. "It was the Parisians."


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