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  • Katia Rose

Say 'Quoi?'

On today’s agenda for the Your Sound release week festivities, I thought I’d take us all a little deeper into the culture of Quebec and provide a few explanations for some of the slang present in the Sherbrooke Station series. Get ready to brush up on your joual!

I’ve just returned to Canada after a pretty long trip abroad, and even though I’ve only been back in Quebec for less than forty-eight hours, it’s already really hit me how distinct the culture here is. I’m always fascinated to see how much of a new lens travel can give you when it comes to looking back at the place you’re from, and I’m more excited than ever to continue capturing that culture in the Sherbrooke Station series.

An old disposable camera shot I took of

Montreal during one of the times I lived there

To immerse you in that same culture as well, here are a few explanations/translations of some of the French terms that pop up in Your Sound.

Joual: This is a term that describes the way French is commonly spoken in Montreal. It includes specific phrases, as well as linguistic features such as the distinct pronunciation of certain words. A lot of the terms that follow in this list are examples of joual.

Ouais: This is an informal way of pronouncing the French word for yes, oui. Phonetically speaking, it’s pronounced as “way” instead of the usual “we.” It’s very common thing to hear in Quebec.

Ben: This is the Quebec-ified version of the French word bien, which literally means ‘good.’ It’s a bit difficult to describe how it’s pronounced, but it’s similar to saying “bane” with a very soft ‘n.’ Ben gets sprinkled into sentences with great liberty and can meaning anything from ‘so’ to ‘well’ to ‘very.’ It’s pretty versatile.

: This word literally means ‘there’ but it gets tacked onto every phrase imaginable. It’s a bit similar to the way ‘like’ gets thrown around in English and overused by some people. In the same way you can hear someone say ‘like’ three times in a sentence in English, you’ll often here someone saying over and over again in French.

Ben ouais, là: Here’s any example of how to combine all three of these words! This would be an emphatic expression of agreement, along the lines of ‘Well, like, yes!’

Voyons: This translates to saying “See!” as in commanding someone to look at something, but it’s used as an interjection, often expressing frustration or excitement. It’s similar to saying “Jeeze!” in English.

Les sacres: These are Quebec’s very own swear words. Due to the province’s history and relationship with the Catholic Church, somewhere along the line, certain words associated with it came to be considered profanities when used in non-religious situations. Swearing in Quebec is close to an art form for some, as the words can all be combined together to create very long and intricate strings of vulgarity. They all also have their own distinct Québécois pronunciations, and euphemistic versions like the way “Darn!” is used in the place of the English “Damn!” It’s actually a very interesting linguistic phenomenon that’s worth reading up on.

So there’s your very brief introduction to Montreal French! To see some of these phrases in action, head over to grab a copy of Your Sound. JP will show you what to do with them ;)

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