May 21, 2004

Doux fard

I'm in Montreal for NAPhC3. After I arrived yesterday afternoon, I met Charles Reiss and some others, and we out for lunch. It was the kind of place where you order at a counter, get your food, and then go sit down. After the meal I went back for a cup of coffee, and the young woman behind the counter asked me "doux fard?"

Now, my French was never terrific, and is pretty rusty now, but I know fard as a word meaning "make-up". There didn't seem to be anything special about hers, and I wasn't wearing any, and anyhow the whole topic of the gentleness of make-up was not relevant to our exchange. So I thought to myself, "I wonder if there's another meaning that I'm forgetting -- or could fard be Quebecois barista slang for some coffee-related substance or state, like the American harmless for 'decaf skim latte', or wet for 'without foam'?" Since doux can also mean "sweet", maybe she's asking me whether I want cream and sugar?"

I looked puzzled, so she pointed to the cup in her hand, and repeated "pour le café, doux fard?" I was thinking to myself "maybe it's d'ou not doux? but that doesn't help..." and I muttered something like "je comprends pas", not that it wasn't obvious, so she switched to English: "the coffee, do you want mild or strong?"

"Doux ou fort." Oh.

I guess that I should take advantage of my visit to learn something about the Quebecois vowel space. More on this later.

[Update: this table indicates that shifting the vowel of fort to sound like the vowel of standard european French fard is normal in Quebecois (the column abbreviations are Fes = français européen standard; Fqs = français québécois standard; Fq = français québécois non standard):

The table comes from this page, which gives a broader characterization of "les aspects phonétiques les plus répandus du français québécois" ("the most widespread phonetic aspects of Quebecois French").]

Posted by Mark Liberman at May 21, 2004 07:45 AM