What type of French to use

In previous articles we introduced the different French variations, and made the comparison with Spanish. While all French speakers can understand each other, as with Spanish speakers, it is not the same French spoken in each French speaking country.

We said that while French speakers can understand each other perfectly regardless of the country they come from, the French from France is not the same as that of Canada or the Ivory Coast. And in this article our attention is directed more to the French in African countries.

While French arrived in Africa with the French and Belgian colonists, the fusion of French with pre-existing languages mostly became an African French, with certain peculiarities.

Some of the most noticeable differences between the French of Africa and that of France and Canada are mainly in pronunciation and vocabulary.

Even though there are differences in pronunciation between African countries themselves (Moroccans sound very different to Senegalese), there is a tendency common to all French speaking Africans: such as the pronunciation of the letter R, which is not the same throaty pronunciation as in France. Other sounds also differ from their counterparts in France and Canada, for example the pronunciation of the sounds [d], [t], [l] and [n]. And it is not just a matter of sounds but also of intonation.

With respect to vocabulary there are noticeable differences. There are terms used in the French in Africa that are not found in the French of other continents. These words were born in a particular region or are borrowed from African languages.

We also observe that a term can have different meanings in France or in Africa.

Some examples:

“Arrêter”, which means to stop something or someone in European French, means to sustain in Africa, which in turn is “tenir” in French.

To indicate that food is hot, a Frenchman would say “C’est chaud” but for an African it would be “ça chauffe”.

For more information about different French dialects visit our web page.