December 06, 2006

More about cussing in Quebec

Language Log readers who responded to my December 5 post throw some more light on the use of obscenity in French-speaking Canada.

For one thing, any outsiders there who want to sound native apparently will need some coaching in pronunciation. Jean-Philippe Marcotte writes that many religious swear words in Quebec, even in their most euphemistic form, are phonetically differentiated from the actual religious terms. For example, if you want to try to achieve native swearing competence, you should lower your lax vowel in the second syllable of "tabernacle" to the ah vowel, producing something like "tabarnak," and the glide vowel, /ay/, in "Christ" should be the unglided lax vowel, /I/, sounding like the name, Chris. And while you're at it, you'll also need to drop the final consonant, /t/, in that word.

Another Montreal reader advises that body-part words are considered "off-colour but not taboo." The f-word, for example, "has no emotive power and is not bleeped from television" but prime-time programs usually substitute "colline" for "chalice" and "tabarouette" for "tabernacle." She also reports that a friend of hers who grew up in Montreal in the 1950s had his five year-old mouth washed with soap after his father heard him say "tabernacle."

Sounds strong, eh? I don't know. Altered pronunciation and lexical substitution sound pretty familiar in the wonderful world of swearing amelioration. Darn it! Geez, I guess stuff happens.

Posted by Roger Shuy at December 6, 2006 01:54 PM