Picard language

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Picard is a language closely related to French, and as such is one of the larger group of Romance languages. It is spoken in two regions in the far north of FranceNord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie – and in parts of the Belgian region Wallonia (but is clearly distinct from the Walloon language).

Picard is known by several different names. Residents of Picardie call it picard; but in Nord-Pas-de-Calais and it is more commonly known as chti or chtimi, or in and around the town Valenciennes as rouchi; or simply as patois by Northerners in general. Linguists group all of these under the name Picard. Indeed, whether it is called patois, picard, or chti, it is the same language, and in general the variety spoken in Picardie is understood by speakers in Nord-Pas-de-Calais and vice versa.



Belgium's French Community (La Communauté Française de Belgique) gave full official recognition to Picard as a regional language along with Walloon, Gaumais (Lorraine), Champagne and Frankish in its 1990 decree. The French government has not followed suit and recognised Picard as a regional language (this is in line with its policy of linguistic unity, which allows for only one official language in France), although some reports have recognised Picard as a language distinct from French.

The following is an extract from a report by Prof. Bernard Cerquiglini, the director of the National Institute of the French Language (l'Institut national de la langue française; a branch of the National Center of Scientific Research, CNRS) for the French Education, Research and Technology Minister and the French Culture and Communications Minister on the languages of France (April 1999):

The gap between French and the varieties of langue d'oïl, which today we would call "French dialects," has continued to widen; Franc-comtois, Walloon, Picard, Norman, Gallo, Poitevin-saintongeais, Bourguignon-morvandiau, Lorrain must be accepted among the regional languages of France; by placing them on the list [of French regional languages], they will be known from then on as langues d'oïl.

Despite the fact it has no official status as a language in France, Picard, along with all the other languages spoken in France, benefits from any actions led by the Culture Minister's General Commission on the French Language and the Languages of France (la Délégation Générale à la Langue Française et aux Langues de France).

Origins and dialectic variations

Picard, like French, is one of the langues d'oïl and belongs to the Gallo-Roman family of languages. It consists of all the varieties used for writing (Latin: scriptae) in the north of France from before the year 1000 (in the south of France at that time the Occitan language was used). Often the langues d'oïl are referred to simply as Old French.

Picard is phonetically quite different from the central langues d'oïl, which evolved into the modern French language. Among the most notable traits, the evolution in Picard towards palatalization is less marked than in the langues d'oïl, in which languages it is particularly striking; /k/ or /g/ before /j/, tonic /i/ and /e/, as well as in front of tonic /a/ and /ɔ/ (the open /o/ of the French porte) in central Old French, but not in Picard:

  • Picard keval ~ Old French cheval (horse; pronounced [ʧeval] rather than the modern [ʃəval]), from *kábal (vulgar Latin cáballus): retaining the original /k/ in Picard before tonic /a/ and /ɔ/.
  • Picard gambe ~ Old French jambe (leg; pronounced [ʤambe] rather than the modern [ʒɑ̃b]/ʒ/ represents the ge sound in beige), from *gámbe (vulgar Latin gámba): absence of palatalization of /g/ in Picard before tonic /a/ and /ɔ/.
  • Picard kief ~ Old French chef (leader), from *káf (Latin cáput): less palatalization of /k/ in Picard
  • Picard cherf ~ Old French cerf (stag; pronounced [ʃerf] and [ʦerf] respectively), from *kárf (Latin cérvus): simple palatalization in Picard, palatalization then sibilation (hissing) in Old French

The effects of palatalization can be summarised as:

  • /k/ and (tonic) /y/, /i/ or /e/: Picard /ʧ/ (written ch) ~ Old French /ts/ (written c)
  • /k/ and /g/ + tonic /a/ or /ɔ/: Picard /k/ and /g/ ~ Old French /ʧ/ and /ʤ/ (pronounced written j).

This leads to striking differences, such as Picard cachier (to hunt) ~ Old French chacier, which later took the modern French form of chasser.

Because of how near Paris is to the northernmost regions of France, French (that is, the languages that were spoken in and around Paris) greatly influenced Picard. This closeness between Picard and French is the reason why Picard is not always recognised as a language in its own right, as opposed to a "distortion of French" as it is often thought of.

The Picard language includes a variety of extremely closely related dialects. It is difficult to list them all accurately in the absence of specific studies on the dialectical variations, but we can probably provisionally distinguish between the following principle varieties: Amiénois, Vimeu-Ponthieu, Vermandois, Thiérache, Beauvaisis, "chtimi" (Bassin Minier, Lille), circum-lilloises varieties (Roubaix, Tourcoing, Mouscron, Comines), "rouchi" (Valenciennois) and Tournaisis, Borain, Artésien rural, Boulonnais. These varieties are defined by specific phonetic, morphological or lexical traits, and sometimes by a distinctive literary tradition.

Some words and phrases

Many patois words are very similar to French, but a large number of words are totally specific to Picard, principally terms relating to mining.

Here are several typical northern phrases (Picard, French, "English"):

Mi à quatre heures, j'archine eune bonne tartine.
Moi à quatre heures, je mange une bonne tartine.
"At four o'clock, I eat a good slice of buttered bread."
Quind un Ch'ti mi i'est'à l'agonie, savez vous bin che qui li rind la vie ? I bot un d'mi. (Les Capenoules (a music group))
Quand un Nordiste est à l'agonie, savez-vous ce qui lui rend la vie ? Il boit une bière.
"When a northerner is in his death-throes, do you know what revives him? He drinks a beer."
Chuque; sucre, bonbon; "sugar, a sweet/candy"
Pindant l'briquet un galibot composot, assis sur un bos,
L'air d'eune musique qu'i sifflotot
Ch'étot tellemint bin fabriqué, qu'les mineurs lâchant leurs briquets
Comminssotent à's'mette à'l'danser (Edmond Tanière - La polka du mineur)
Pendant le casse-croûte un jeune mineur composa, assis sur un bout de bois
L'air d'une musique qu'il sifflota
C'était tellement bien fait que les mineurs lâchant leurs casse-croûte
Commencèrent à le danser.
"During lunch a young miner composed, sat on a piece of wood
"The melody of a tune that he whistled
"It was so well done that the miners, leaving their lunches,
"Started to dance to it" (Edmond Tanière - La polka du mineur, "The Miner's Polka")
Brayou; pleurnichard; "crybaby"
I'n'faut pas qu'ches glaines is cantent pus fort que'ch'co.
Il ne faut pas que les poules chantent plus fort que le coq.
"Hens must not sing louder than the rooster" (n.b. this saying really refers to men and women rather than poultry)
Moqueu d'gins : railleur, persifleur; "someone who mocks or jeers at people" (compare gens, which is French for "people")
Ramaseu d'sous; personne âpre au gain; "a greedy person"

Picard in use

Picard is not taught in French schools (apart from a few one-off and isolated schemes) and is only spoken between friends or in the home. It has nevertheless been the object of research and studies in Lille and Amiens universities. Since people are nowadays able to move around France more easily than in past centuries, the different varieties of Picard are converging and becoming more similar. In its daily use, Picard is tending to lose its identity and to be confused with regional French. At the same time, even though most Northerners can understand Picard today, fewer and fewer are able to speak it, and people who speak Picard as their first language are increasingly rare.

However, Picard is far from dead and constitutes a lively and large part of the daily life and folklore of the region.

Written Picard

Today Picard is primarily a spoken language. This was not the case originally, indeed both the medieval period and that which corresponds to Middle French have provided a wealth of literary texts in Picard. However Picard was not able to compete with the inter-regional literary language, which French became, and was slowly reduced to the status of a "regional language."

A more recent body of Picard literature, written during the last two centuries, also exists. The birth of a republican and centralised France after the French Revolution sparked an interest in keeping the old regional identities alive all over the country. Therefore written Picard is simply a transcription of the spoken language. For that reason, words are often spelled in a variety of different way (in the same way that English and French were before they were standardised). One way of spelling Picard words looks very similar to French. This is undoubtedly the easiest for French speakers to understand, but it is also the root of the belief that Picard is only a corruption of French rather than a language in its own right. Various spelling methods have been proposed since the 1960s to offset this disadvantage, and to give Picard a visual identity that is distinct from French. At the present time, there is a consensus, at least between universities, in favor of the written form known as Feller-Carton (based on the Walloon spelling system – which was developed by Jules Feller – and adapted for Picard by Prof. Fernand Carton).

Learning Picard

Picard, although it is primarily a spoken language, does also have a body of written literature: poetry, songs ("P'tit quinquin" for example), etc.

A certain number of dictionaries and patois guides also exist (for French speakers):

  • René Debrie, Le cours de picard pour tous - Eche pikar, bèl é rade (le Picard vite et bien). Parlers de l'Amiénois. Paris, Omnivox, 1983 (+ 2 cassettes), 208p.
  • Alain Dawson, Le picard de poche. Paris : Assimil, 2003, 192p.
  • Alain Dawson, Le "chtimi" de poche, parler du Nord et du Pas-de-Calais. Paris : Assimil, 2002, 194p.
  • Armel Depoilly (A.D. d'Dérgny), Contes éd no forni, et pi Ramintuvries (avec lexique picard-français). Abbeville : Ch'Lanchron, 1998, 150p.
  • Jacques Dulphy, Ches diseux d'achteure : diries 1989. Amiens : Picardies d'Achteure, 1992, 71p. + cassette
  • Gaston Vasseur, Dictionnaire des parlers picards du Vimeu (Somme), avec index français-picard (par l'équipe de Ch'Lanchron d'Abbeville). Fontenay-sous-Bois : SIDES, 1998 (rééd. augmentée), 816p. (11.800 termes)
  • Gaston Vasseur, Grammaire des parlers picards du Vimeu (Somme) - morphologie, syntaxe, anthropologie et toponymie. 1996, 144p.

See also

External links

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