Friday 27 June 2008

When Speaking the Same Language Doesn't Mean You Speak the Same Language: Paris Match Gets It Wrong about Québec

The difference between going au Québec and à Quebec is something an Anglophone often has trouble with. That’s because the word for Quebec the province is masculine while the word for Quebec the city is feminine, and you must use a different article, depending on which you’re referring to. Au Québec, any Francophone Québécois knows immediately, refers to the province, while à Québec refers to the city which is celebrating the 400th anniversary of its founding this year.

But sometimes the French from France get confused by the linguistic subtlety, also. Paris Match, the popular French magazine (sort of a cross between People and what Life used to be) launched a special Quebec-themed issue this week. Thirty-five pages of Quebec stories and pictures, in all—but only a few references to Quebec, the city, and a lot about Montreal, the Métropole. Gilles Martin Chauffier, Paris Match’s editor in chief, admitted to Le Devoir that they’d got it wrong. The magazine’s staff had thought the anniversary was that of the first settlement in what is now the province, not the city, he said, adding that having seen the error, Paris Match, will do at least one other story on the celebrations. “You know, there have always been misunderstandings between France and Québec, and here’s another example!” he said.

Glad to know that It’s not only we imperfect bilinguals who get it wrong. Reminds me of the railroad clerk at the Gare St-Lazare who kept asking us if we’d “composté” our tickets. Around here “compost” means the same as it does in English, and we couldn’t imagine what she was talking about. Turns out she meant: get our tickets punched (probably faire ponçoinner would be North American French.) When you think about it you can see the connection: composting works best when you cut things up in little pieces, but then it was pas évident as we’d say around here.


Anonymous said...

The reason you say "à Québec" or "à Montréal" has nothing to do with cities being feminine. Yes, the word "ville" itself is feminine, but one says, for example, "pour un Montréal cosmopolite." (Strange example, but it's the one that popped into my head right away.)

The use of the preposition "à" for cities is a matter of syntax that, in this case, has nothing to do with gender.

Sorry to be the grammar fascist :).

Mary Soderstrom said...

Well, as I said in the post, I'm an imperfect bilingual. But what's the rule?


Anne C. said...

Oh no. I'm never going to figure any of this out. I'm always afraid to use either "Quebec" in a sentence.

Another imperfect bilingual,

Jack Ruttan said...

My YMCA French teacher told me that if you slur it, like "la" and "le," it usually works out. Written French is different. In e-mails I usually "go for it," and hope the result is "cute."