Different regions in France often have their own patois - a form of dialect - which can sound really quite different from mainstream French.
This is true of Provençal - in the news after Marseille announced it would begin making metro announcements in the dialect - where many standard French words are pronounced differently so that the untrained ear may not immediately recognise them.
Provençal is actually a dialect stemming from the Occitan language, which is still spoken in southern France as well as parts of northern Spain and Italy, despite France’s attempts to quash the language. At the turn of the 20th century, Paris forbade the teaching of Occitan and punished children who were heard speaking the language.
Fortunately, today, efforts are being made to protect and promote it, with the Marseille metro news a sign of its revival.
How do sounds differ in Provençal?
It can be difficult to apply set rules to patois, as they are generally spoken based on a sense of mutual understanding between locals.
There is not necessarily rhyme or reason why certain words are pronounced differently, and it is more through exposure to the dialect that you will pick up the nuances.
In general, the pronunciation of Provençal differs from standard French, which can completely alter the sound of words and phrases.
Perhaps one of the most obvious differences to pick up on is the pronunciation of the letter ‘s’ and the end of words, which is usually dropped in standardised French.
A key example of this is moins, which in standard French is pronounced ‘moin’ and in Provençal is pronounced ‘moinss’ with emphasis on the “s”.
However, it is important not to take all rules as gospel, because of course, as every French teacher drills into students, there are exceptions to the rule.
For example, you may expect the last ‘s’ in Cassis - a fishing port in Provence - to be pronounced in Provençal. But it is not. Instead, it is dropped and becomes “Cassi”.
Elsewhere, new letters will appear to change the sound. For example, pneu (tyre) is pronounced ‘peneu’ in Provençal.
Some phrases which feature multiple words in standardised French contract down to form a single new word. For example, ‘à un moment donné’ becomes ‘amendonné’.
Meanwhile, other words are just completely deconstructed and rebuilt - quelqu’un becomes ‘kinkun’.
What are some everyday examples of how French and Provençal differ?
Rose, which means pink in French, is a famous example of how Provençal patois differs from standard French.
In standard French, ‘rose’ is pronounced with a more closed mouth, but with a shorter ‘o’ than we use in English.
However, in Provençal, the ‘o’ is opened up to become ‘r-aauu-sse’.
In standard French, chartreuse is pronounced ‘shar-treu’, dropping the pronunciation of the ‘s’. However, in Provençal, you keep the harsher sound of the ‘ch’ like we pronounce it in English and also keep the sound of the ‘s’.
This becomes ‘ch-ar-treuse’.
A word we are familiar with in English gets a makeover in Provençal.
Boutique, which is fairly straightforward in standard French, becomes boutchique.
Tu es - you are in English - falls under the contraction rule. In Provençal, this becomes tyé.
A word you may well use every day in France sounds quite different in Provençal.
While in some words letters disappear, in others additional ones appear as if by magic.
For example, pain becomes paing, with emphasis on the ‘g’ at the end.
With de rien - which means ‘it was nothing’ - the ‘g’ rule comes into play again with it instead pronounced as de riengg.
Lundi et Mardi
The ‘di’ in lundi and mardi becomes a ‘djii’ sound in Provençal, meaning they are pronounced lun-djii and mar-djii.