Practical Handbook of Quebec and Acadian French; Manuel pratique du francaise quebecois et acadien


302 pages
ISBN 0-88784-137-6




Reviewed by Janice Shea

Janice Shea was Head of the Media, Technical, A.V. Equipment Services at Algonquin College, Nepean, Ontario.


This is the second version of the Practical Handbook, which appeared in 1973. The book is intended to “help English Canadians to understand the language of all Québécois.... Approximately 1000 words and expressions, as well as new chapters on Acadian French, and Acadian and Québec grammar and pronunciation have been added.” The volume is “meant to be a readable guide to vocabulary and expressions, a guide which will encourage and inspire the public at large to explore more fully, more knowledgeably and more sympathetically the linguistic and cultural world at their doorstep.”

These statements as well as the use of the word “practical,” in 1984 as in 1973, neatly excuse the authors from having to take a scholarly or terribly systematic approach. A reviewer of the earlier volume found fault with some words and expressions listed and with the book’s lack of general rules about variants and systematic correspondence between the two bodies of usage (France and Québec).

Those who accepted and lived with those short-comings will no doubt do the same for this new, expanded version. Speakers, readers, students of French will — with a little work — be able to know when to call someone chiâleux, niaiseux, branleux; or what is badloque, fonne; how you feel when you’re “en maudit” or “au coton.”

The word “Acadian” in the title is somewhat misleading when one considers that a mere twelve pages (of three hundred) deal with Acadian French. This misgiving aside, the short chapter does take a respectable look at Acadian French. An Acadian friend crowed with delight over some of the expressions, which do indeed capture the flavour of this unique variant of the French language.

A québécois college teacher, however, who glanced at the work was somewhat more reserved. She scoffed at the bibliography as too short and outdated. She also warned that this book must never fall into the hands of (francophone) students. Presumably teachers’ attempts to teach proper native language skills would be seriously undermined by bad habits in a slangy, anglicized compilation of popular usage.

Who then is left to profit by its publication? Not scholars, as various authors’ caveats caution. Not young francophones, says a teacher. Anglophones, “les maudits anglais,” one concludes. Learners of French as a second language. At this point, the reviewer realizes with some dismay that she has become forever, unequivocally, irrevocably, a librarian. The book has no index. It has no index. The subject arrangement (animals, transportation, food, weather, holidays, work and industry, and so on) provides useful subdivision. But as a quick reference for an anglophone, the book fails. What would be ideal, in addition to the subject, is a permuted index using all key words to help the browser find a word or expression. Otherwise, the user faces the daunting prospect of reading from cover to cover, with little hope of being able to retrieve quickly any particular word or expression.

The book is what it is, and no more than it claims. There are so few reference works in Canadian French — Québécois, Manitoban, Ontarian, or any — that offerings such as these are generally gratefully accepted. But is Canadian French destined never to have a scholarly and definitive treatment? It is perhaps a task impossible of achievement? And who is there to do it if not two French scholars from a respected Canadian university? Perhaps some young scholars will take up the challenge, as well as all those books that claim merely to be a compilation of popular usage, and begin the gargantuan task of codifying and thus legitimizing Canadian French “as she is spoke.”



Robinson, Sinclair, and Donald Smith, “Practical Handbook of Quebec and Acadian French; Manuel pratique du francaise quebecois et acadien,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 22, 2024,