Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
French phonology and orthography
French phonology is a difficult subject further complicated by the diversity of dialects. This article aims at displaying a complete overview of French normal and possible phonemes and their most common allophones.
|IPA||Example (IPA)||Example (Written)||Meaning||Notes|
|[[close front unrounded vowel|]]||si||si||"if"||This vowel is normally short and tense, unlike the English vowel in meet (which is long) and if (which is the lax ɪ). That vowel is found as an allophone in Quebecois French, however.|
|e||pʁe||pré||"meadow"||In non-final position, this vowel and /ɛ/ are almost allophone, much like in Spanish: [e] is found in open syllable and /ɛ// in closed ones (a syllable followed by a schwa is normally considered closed: évènement /evɛnmɑ̃/).|
|ɛ||pʁɛ||près||"near"||The status of this vowel as a phoneme or allophone of /e/ is subject to debate. In monosyllabics word without clusters, it is almost systematically pronounced /e/: c'est ("it's"), ces ("these"), ses ("his, its (plural)"), s'est ("is, reflexive form"), et ("and"), est ("is") all take /e/. Words with ai and aie, for instance taie ("pillowcase") are more likely to have /ɛ/, but are also heard with /e/.|
|ɜ||mɜ:tʁ||maître||"master"||This vowel is found in Quebec French, both as the phonemic evolution of the Old French /ɛ:/ and as the allophone of /ɛ/ before /ʒ, ʁ, z/, (most noticeably in word-final position).|
|y||sy||su||"known"||Quebec French has laxed allophones of all close vowels. Thus this vowel may be pronounced as /ʏ/ in Quebec. Some Belgian dialects have also been reported to use /ʏ/.|
|ø||sø||ceux||"these"||These vowels have the same allophonic repartition as /e/ and /ɛ/, whereas /ø/ is found in open syllables and /œ/ in open ones. The few minimal pairs include jeune /ʒœn/ ("young") and jeûne /ʒøn/ ("a fast").|
|ə||sə||ce||"this"||Whether /ə/ (Schwa), "e caduc" or "e muet" (mute) is a phoneme of French is controversial. Being more or less labialized, it is closer to [œ] than to English [ə]. Modern labialized "e caduc" comes from an unlabialized schwa once used in Old French. It is always dropped ("muet") before any vowel. In colloquial speech, it may also be dropped in any other position (except when it would make the word difficult to pronounce). Interestingly, people from Quebec do not necessarily drop the same schwas as people from France.|
|a||pat||patte||"leg" (of an animal)||This vowel has evolved in a more central position in modern european French in the process of merging with /ɑ/, but many dialects have kept these vowels separated.|
|ɑ||pɑ:t||pâte||"dough"||This vowel, almost always long (unless in word-final position), is preserved in many dialects of French, notably in Quebec and Swiss.|
|u||su||sous||"under"||Quebec French has laxed allophones of all close vowels. Thus this vowel may be pronounced as /ʊ/ in Quebec.|
|o||so||sot||"silly"||Another pair of vowels who are being merged in some dialects. The grapheme "o" is subject to an allophonic repartition that produces /o/ in open syllables and /ɔ/ in closed ones. However, "eau", "au" and "ô" are normally rendered /o:/ even in closed syllables in dialects that have conserved the opposition. An exception is "hôpital" ("hospital"), whose "o" is heard both as short /o/ and /ɔ/.|
|ɑ̃||sɑ̃||sans||"without"||This vowel is frequently heard as /ã/ in Quebec. Some dialects in Northern Franca have started to merge /ɑ̃/ and /ɔ̃/.|
|ɔ̃||sɔ̃||son||"his, hers" (m sg)||One of the most stable of the nasal vowels. Has few known allophones.|
|ɛ̃||sɛ̃||saint||"saint"||Many French people have merged [œ̃] and [ɛ̃]. This vowel is still separate from /œ̃/ in Quebecois French, however, and has the allophones [ẽ] and [ĩ]|
|œ̃||bʁœ̃||brun||"brown"||Many French people have merged [œ̃] and [ɛ̃]. This vowel is still separate from /ɛ̃/ in Quebecois French, however, and has the allophone [ũ].|
|Plosive||p b||t d||k g|
|Fricative||f v||s z||ʃ ʒ||ʁ|
Notes; /p/, /t/ and /k/ are never aspirated in French, unless one wants to indicate contempt.
The grapheme r allows a wide range of allophones in French. [ʀ], [ʁ], [ɺ], [r], [ɾ], [χ] will all be recognized as "r", but most of them will be considered dialectal. For example, [ʀ] is considered typical of a Parisian accent, while [r] is deemed typical of southern France and the Montreal area.
The velar nasal is not a native phoneme of French, but occurs in loan words such as parking, camping. Many speakers (mostly old people and those who are not accustomed to this foreign sound) replace it with a [ŋg] sequence.
/ɲ/ is slowly disappearing in favor of a /nj/ sequence in some dialects
[ɥ] and [w] in French are mostly allophones of [y] and [u] before a vowel. The only case where [w] contrasts with [u] is when there is a morphemic boundary, causing some forms of verbs ending in -ouat ([ua] or [ua]) such as loua ("he rented") and noua ("he knotted, he tied") to contrast with words ending with the oi (wa) diphthong, such as loi ("law"), and noix( "nut").
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