French (Canadian) Fries Addendum

If you found our episode on Canadian French interesting, we have more information below. If you haven’t listened yet, find it here.

What are the “weird” French vowels? Dr. Rosen was talking about the front rounded vowels. English has a few back rounded vowels (e.g., /u/ ‘oo’ as in boot; /o/ ‘oh’ as in boat) but no front rounded vowels. French has rounded counterparts to /i/ ‘ee’: /y/ (try making an ‘ee’ sound and then pursing your lips), /e/ ‘ay’ as in bay: /ø/, and /ɛ/ as in led: /œ/.

There was a vowel change she mentioned. Yes, she was talking about vowel laxing in closed syllables. First, closed syllables are syllables that have a final consonant. So, bee is an open syllable (no final consonant); been is a closed syllable (final consonant /n/). In this environment in Canadian French, tense vowels (vowels that involve a certain amount of tongue tension, like /i/ ‘ee’ and /e/ ‘ay’) become lax (they lack that tongue tension, like /ɪ/ and /ɛ/). So the vowel in vie /vi/ ‘life’ stays tense, but the vowel in vite ‘quick’ becomes lax /vɪt/. (There’s another example below.)

What is assibilation? Assibilation is a sound change resulting in a sibilant consonant. Sibilant consonants are both coronal (that is, pronounced with the front part of the tongue, like /t/ or /d/) and fricatives (e.g., /s/ as in sip or /ʃ/ ‘sh’ as in shush) or affricates (e.g. /ʧ/ ‘ch’ as in church or /ʤ/ as in judge). So ‘s’, ‘sh’, ‘ch’ and /ʤ/ are all sibilants.

Ok, but what’s a sound change? Sound changes are changes in sounds that occur over time. For example, in the word bite, the vowel used to be pronounced like beet/beat /i/; over time, it shifted to the /aɪ/ eye sound that we pronounce it as now.

So what assibilated in French Canadian? The /t/ and /d/. For example, tu ‘you’ /ty/ is now pronounced as /ʦy/ in French Canadian. We can also see this in poutine /putin/, which is pronounced as /puʦɪn/ in FC. (Note that vowel laxing!)

If you want to learn more about Canadian French phonology, you can read this or this.

Tabarnak! We finally looked up what ‘tabarnak’ means and oh boy were we wrong. I guarantee I’ll forget what it means by next month.



If you have any questions or comments – especially if something isn’t clear – please let us know here, or by sending us an email at You can also follow us on Twitter or instagram @vocalfriespod or on Facebook at Vocal Fries Pod. Send us your questions or suggestions for possible topics!

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