Where can I find a reminder of the rules for pronouncing "oi" in French lyric diction? I need to sing the word "voix", so I looked it up on Wiktionary, which unhelpfully gives both pronunciations ("/vwɑ/, /vwa/") without any explanation of when, where or how each pronunciation is used. Which would be correct for use in an art song?


In France the usual pronunciation of oi is /a/ as in [ʁwa], [vwa], [mwa]. The difference between /ɑ/ and /a/ is highly lost in contemporary French. What you can hear on Wiktionary is [vwa]. On the French side they only give the [vwa] IPA transcription.

Hearing [vwɑ] in an opera would probably not disturb me, I might not even notice it. I don't know much about lyric diction but I presume you need to obtain the correct number of syllables, so pronouncing oi as two distinct syllables such as [vu.a] or [ʁu.a] would not surprise me either.

As a side note I want to point out that in Québec they still pronounce the letters oi /wɛ/ as we used to do in France a few centuries ago.

  • the /ɑ ~ a/ distinction is only lost in European dialects (and maybe not even all of them). It is certainly well alive in Quebec (the final a of Canada is pronounced /ɑ/ here), though oi notoriously tends to move toward /we/, not /wɑ/. – Circeus Oct 21 at 16:39
  • @Circeus That's why I said in France, I did not want to speak for other European countries! Would you say oi in Québec is more like /we/ than /wɛ/ as said here ? – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Oct 21 at 17:12
  • I'm aware that the distinction between /ɑ/ and /a/ is disappearing in at least some areas, but it's alive and well if you're singing classical repertoire (or presumably if you're declaiming older drama or poetry). I guess the merging of those phonemes is part of the reason it's hard to check what the rules are (or used to be)! I have a dim memory of /ɑ/ after "r" (or possibly after "r" and "l"), /a/ elsewhere, but that may well be the opposite of what's correct... To me /vwa/ seems more likely anyway, and I'll happily take French Wiktionary as confirmation. – Counterpoise Oct 22 at 11:02
  • BTW I've tried looking at the edits of English Wiktionary to see who added a second pronunciation (and which that was), but I'm finding that much harder to do than on Wikipedia - can anyone else help with that? – Counterpoise Oct 22 at 11:02
  • Québecois pronunciation is apparently useful if you're singing French Baroque repertoire, so for example both français and François would have then been pronounced with /wɛ/, if I remember rightly... – Counterpoise Oct 22 at 11:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.