6

To touch on my favourite subject, the Franco-Manitobain-cum-Québecois singer Daniel Lavoie: there's a song of his called "Ça c'est ça" (paroles) that includes these lines:

C'est rien que des mots quand même,
sauf fais-toi-en pas.

I gather that this latter phrase is an informal version of "Ne t'en fais pas" and means "Don't worry about it" in Québecois French.

He pronounces it [sofɛtwezɑ̃pɑ].

I know [we] is generally employed for the digraph "oi" in Québecois French, but the [z] caught me off guard.

My assumption: that it's something like the epenthetic "t" in phrases like "Sera-t-il ... ?" (perhaps an emulation of tenses that end in "t", such as "Serait-il ?", or perhaps truly spontaneous).

My questions would therefore be (and feel free to ignore this numbering):

  1. Is that assumption correct?

  2. Is the phenomenon limited to Québecois French? Is it still used? (The song is from 1977.)

  3. Are there any other consonants that perform this role, or just [z]?

  4. Has there been an analysis of the rules in which this [z] surfaces?

6

There is a paragraph on this phenomenon in the excellent book Colloquial French Grammar: A Practical Guide, by Rodney Ball (which I highly recommend purchasing if you are a native English speaker and this sort of question interests you).

In both standard and colloquial French the equivalents of 'take some' and 'touch it' are respectively, prends-en and touches-y (pronounced with liaison -z: prens-z'en, touches-z'y). But when a further pronoun (e.g. me) is added, there is a divergence. In standard French 'give me some (another)' and 'hold on to it' are, respectively, donne-m'en (un autre) and tiens-t'y. The rule is that moi and toi are contracted to m' and t' before en and y, but retain their full form otherwise (donne-moi le journal, tiens-toi droit, donne-le-moi). Colloquially this difference is disregarded, and the full forms are used in all cases. But, no doubt because of the influence of forms like prends-en, a liaison -z, is, in the most popular usage [Ball uses "popular" in the sense of "folksy, uneducated, not in everybody's colloquial register"], inserted into donne-moi-en and tiens-toi-y, so these commands are actually pronounced donne-moi-z'en and tiens-toi-z'y.

... [some text omitted]

It has to be said that, while donne-m'en (un autre) is undoubtedly stilted, donne-moi-z'en and, even more so, donne-z'en-moi have very popular [see note above] undertones. Unfortunately, donne-moi-en (without the -z), far from being a satisfactory compromise, has a distinctly unnatural feel to it. So the usual way of expressing such commands in familiar (as opposed to popular) French is by abandoning the imperative altogether and using alternative structures like tu m'en donnes! or tu vas m'en donner un autre!

  • Interesting! Thank you. The connection with the [z] emulating typical second-person singular forms like prends-en is a nice match for the [t] emulating third-person singular forms in sera-t-ilserait-il. – Luke Sawczak Mar 15 '17 at 14:04
  • @LukeSawczak - (I had that in my response too (I'm happy we converge)) :-) – Frank Mar 15 '17 at 15:28
  • @Frank I suppose, though I wasn't able to make the jump from "common endings of French words" to "second-person singular imperatives". :p Upvoted anyhow for the useful observations. – Luke Sawczak Mar 15 '17 at 16:04
2

Interesting one. I would have said the same - when I was reading the sentence, I was in my mind reading it as [sofɛtwezɑ̃pɑ] on autopilot. Then of course I realized the s was at the end of fais ... so that liaison is artificial, probably incorrect, but the diaeresis is also unpalatable.

So one difference with the epenthetic 't' is that this z is a priori incorrect, perceived as very familiar, at least in France.

I think the phenomenon is not limited to Québec, but its status might be different in France, where I think it is perceived as a silly mistake, or an uncultured utterance, or would have been placed there for effect. It's by no means considered standard practice. In France if a kid said that, he would be instructed to use the "correct" ne t'en fais pas, sidestepping the hiatus altogether.

[z] would be the consonant of choice, maybe with [t], because of its familiarity given the common endings of French words. But again, I don't think there is any rule, and maybe not even any generality here, as this is probably not common practice.

  • 2
    As a Frenchman I'm greatly puzzled by this use of “sauf”. Besides this, we do often hear Donne-moi-z-en instead of the standard Donne-m'en, but I think it rarely happens in the negative as it is strongly stigmatized as suburban speech. The only commonly acceptable alteration of Ne t'en fais pas which I can think of is dropping the ne. – Stéphane Gimenez Mar 15 '17 at 8:57
  • 1
    @StéphaneGimenez +1... but warning, cultural differences are even harder than linguistic ones -- at least in the US, the dialect spoken in "suburbia" is the standard one, with both rural and urban accents being stigmatized -- to the extent that "suburban" can be used negatively, it means "boring, bland, nouveau riche." – hunter Mar 15 '17 at 10:04
  • Thanks for the clarifications! So it's more widespread than I thought. I don't know if it's "standard" in Québec either, but I gather that they take a certain pride in distinctively "non-elitist" variations, so it might be more répandu on the street there. But did you indeed mean that you heard [twe] when reading it in your head, or is that just from copying and pasting? :) @StéphaneGimenez This sauf feels a little odd to me too, although a general contradiction probably seems to have a connected meaning to "except". Maybe that one is a regionalism. – Luke Sawczak Mar 15 '17 at 14:08
  • @StéphaneGimenez - you are right - I had no paid attention to this sauf, but it is interesting too. – Frank Mar 15 '17 at 14:19
  • @hunter - in fact, my response says about the same as the paragraph you quote :-) – Frank Mar 15 '17 at 14:25

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