A new online dictionary tries to round up Cubanism

(Montreal) Not a French person, but French people. Talk to one of our cousins ​​across the Atlantic about “poppets” and they'll look at you silly. Yes, the French-speaking world is full of variations. And between washcloths, fireflies, podcasts and selfies, Quebec is one of the French constants.


Laval University and the Trésor de la langue française au Québec (TLFQ) team will digitally launch a new edition of the “Quebec French Historical Dictionary” later this month. DHRQ 2.0, as its creators call it, revises and updates the first edition, published in paper in 1998, with 150 new entries, for a total of 810 entries with the release of the digital version. An ever-increasing figure.

At least relatively speaking, DHRQ 2.0 has had only one addition since its launch online, Robert Vezina admits with a laugh. The director of TLFQ and visiting professor at Laval University, who co-directed this new edition of the dictionary, weighs his words when he says, “It's a long process.”

Each word monograph must be meticulously edited before completion. “We go back to every source of all the citations made in a monograph to make sure the reference is good and everything is transcribed correctly,” the academic explains. So it is more time consuming. »


See the “Quebec French Historical Dictionary” website

At the top of the list of next entries: “blonde”. This word is much used, Mr. Vezina himself was surprised that it had not been incorporated earlier. And – be careful, full disclosure – this word comes from … France! Its use is very ancient in France, Mr. Vezina explains. “You had the folk song 'Auprès de ma blonde,'” he notes.

Composed in 1704 by André Joubert du Collet, a lieutenant in Louis XIV's navy, this military march is far from being a romantic tale of a colonial crossing of the Atlantic and its use in New France. Although referring to the director of DHRQ, at the time, the term was designated as a mistress.

The life and death of words

Both those already listed in the first edition and those that came in between, changes in the sense of the aforementioned significant change have taken a prominent place in digital work. “There are words that age and disappear for more or less obscure reasons, and that has always been part of the history of all languages. Words are born and die. In some cases, we can understand why, and in other times not,” says Robert Vezina.

The influence of the English language, which intervened according to Professor Vezina during the English conquest of 1760, was most evident in Quebec. , we directly translated or borrowed semantically, meaning purely French words, but acquired a new meaning through the influence of English,” he explains.

Before that, there were many borrowings from indigenous languages. Few remain and many Quebecers are unaware of the origin of these terms. For example, the linguist refers to the expression “it is valuable” in the meaning “it is a shame”, which is a literal translation of a domestic expression.

Neologism beats the dictionary

Since the first edition in 1998, many words are already considered old, because new generations use them less, while neologisms take pride of place. Robert Vezina loved them because they were evidence of “the most active creativity of contemporary Quebec French”.

A case in point is “Thivalcachure,” where his Québécois charm allowed him to carve a small niche on French lips. However, DHQF 2.0 has its share of surprises even on this front. Professor Vezina busts a myth: the word “e-mail” is strongly associated with Quebec French. We always read everywhere that it was made in Quebec, but the oldest attestation we've found shows that it came from France, and the first person to propose it was a Frenchman. So we can say it’s not even a Quebecism,” he laughs.

Why the word is more successful here than in France is another mystery to be solved, although it is the reason for widespread confusion, although the TLFQ team does not completely rule out that the word may have been coined in Quebec as well.

“It's a very common word, everybody knows it, so it needs to be addressed,” said Mr. Vezina insists. We are working a lot now on these words that people know. They expect to find answers to these words in the dictionary. »

This emphasis is not only due to public expectations, but also beyond the “Québec French Historical Dictionary”: to show the extent to which it can reflect the evolution of the vocabulary. Our company.

Words, a reflection of their society

The academic gives the example of the term “settlement”, which originally referred to peasants who exploited their own land, which slipped from appreciation to infamy. From rural departures, he says, the meaning is completely reversed and shows the evolution of moods, which at that time would associate the countryside with a negative image. Examples abound, and they all deserve entry into DHFQ 2.0, if it hasn't already. The professor recalled, “There are thousands of Quebecisms, so it could take years. »

He also mentions a form of injustice in the pages of dictionaries: “It's like playing Scrabble. If a word doesn't appear in the dictionary, to many people, that means the word doesn't exist and isn't worth saying or using. »

But Gros Robert, Petit Larousse and other heavyweights or featherweights of French-speaking vocabulary, even more so when they are designed in France and sold throughout the French-speaking world, do not include or nearly include words from others. French-speaking world. Absence of a word in the dictionary, he explains, “creates an unfavorable prejudice from the start. Absence in the dictionary, for a word, is like a half-hearted belief that it does not exist. » As a result, although efforts have been made in recent years to integrate Belgian, Swiss, Quebecism, etc., Robert Vezina encourages dictionary designers to do more. encourages.

However, the request is not very important and he is not the one to say the opposite. Together with the DHFQ team, they are working hard to introduce more and more new words into their digital work, while new Quebecisms are emerging, in line with the distinctiveness of modern languages. “It is a never-ending business. It shows that language is an ever-moving organism. »

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