French Corrective Phonetics Guide

Lax Vowels in Canadian French

Vowel Laxing

One characteristic of Canadian French is the laxing of high vowels, i.e.: /i/, /y/ and /u/. The corresponding laxed symbols are /ɪ/, /ʏ/ and /ʊ/. This involves the lowering (and centralizing) of the vowel. For example, the standard French vowel /i/, changes to /ɪ/ under certain conditions such that the Canadian pronunciation of site is not [sit] , but rather [sɪt]  . In this latter pronunciation the vowel is more or less the same as in the English word sit. That said, the Canadian pronunciation is not the result of English influence, but rather the result of a general French tendency to open vowels in closed stressed syllables. It is in some ways an extension of the Loi de position that favours mid-open vowels in closed syllables.

Note also that the laxing of high vowels in Canadian French is very common and is in no way stigmatized. It is found in the French of speakers from all social classes in both formal and informal settings.

When does laxing occur?

First, it only affects the three high vowels, i.e.: /i/, /y/ and /u/. Furthermore, it only happens when these are in a stressed syllable closed by a consonant OTHER THAN /v/, /z/, /ʁ/ or /ʒ/. These four voiced fricatives are known as lengthening consonants and they block the laxing rule from "kicking in". We see then that two conditions must be met for a high vowel to be laxed:

a) the syllable must be stressed (i.e.: at the end of a word)

b) the syllable must be closed by a consonant other than /v/, /z/, /ʁ/ or /ʒ/. It other words, it cannot be a voiced fricative.

Let's consider some words with high vowels to see if they become lax in Canadian French: petit, petite, tout, rude, disent, limite:

1. petit [pəti] Laxing does NOT occur here since the /i/ appears in an open syllable (there is no following consonant pronounced). The vowel remains /i/ in Canadian French.

2. petite [pətit] Laxing DOES occur here since /i/ is in a stressed syllable that is closed by a non-lengthening consonant. As such, the Canadian pronunciation is [pətɪt].

3. tout [tu] Laxing does NOT occur here since the /u/ appears in an open syllable. The feminine form toute does, however, have a laxed vowel: [tʊt].

4. rude [ʁyd] Laxing DOES occur here since /y/ is in a stressed syllable that is closed by a non-lengthening consonant. As such, the Canadian pronunciation is [ʁʏd].

5. disent [diz] Laxing does NOT occur here. Although the syllable containing /i/ is stressed and closed by a consonant, it is a lengthening consonant (/z/) which prevents laxing from occurring.

6. limite [limit] Laxing occurs only for the second /i/. The first /i/ is in an open, unstressed syllable. That is not where laxing happens. The second, however, is found in the laxing context. The Canadian pronunciation is therefore [limɪt].

 

 
AppStore/Android AppStore
Android Market