Regional variations of French

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Regional variations of French

Modern standard French is derived from the variety of French spoken in the area around Paris and the Loire valley area. It is the most important variety of the “northern” group of French dialects, known as the “langues d’oil”; but it is not the only form of French.

In the south of France, particularly in rural areas, there are still people who speak forms of Occitanian French, the “langues d’oc”; these include Provençal, Occitan, and Catalan. Strongly discouraged by central governments for over a century, and considered as “patois” these regional languages were fast disappearing until the nineteen-seventies, when the first significant attempts were made to revive them. Since then, there has been a major increase in awareness of regional languages and cultures in France, illustrated here and there today by road signs and street signs in two languages, and even occasional articles in regional languages in regional newspapers. The status of regional languages, as part of France’s cultural heritage, is now enshrined in the French constitution.

However, while people in the Langue d’oc areas of France speak with accents that are distinct from the accents of northerners, and may understand local patois or dialects, only a minority can actually speak or write in non-standard versions of French.

French is also, of course, spoken in countries other than France. It is one of the languages spoken in Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, and a number of other countries. Swiss French and Belgian French are virtually identical to standard French; just a few differences existe. In Belgium and Switzerland, people say septante instead of soixante-dix for 70, and nonante instead of quatre-vingt-dix for 90. Some Belgians also say octante for 80, and the Swiss say huitante for 80. In Canada, Quebec French has kept up several words and expressions that have fallen out of use in modern France; some notable examples are un breuvage instead of une boisson (a drink), or une fournaise instead of une chaudière (stove, boiler).

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