Before arriving in France, I naïvely assumed that France, a relatively small country, was pretty homogenous. The United States is ten times the size of France, so I thought that the quirks between different regions in the US would be much more obvious than those in France. With a country the size of Texas, how could the northerners be that different from the southerners? Specifically, I am referring to the different accents found throughout the two countries. Obviously, Californians are going to speak very differently from those in the South because there are thousands of miles that separate them. However, I was not aware that this would be the same case for France, despite the lack of large distances between the different regions.
Even after a few weeks in Toulouse, I did not notice the Toulouse accent for a couple of reasons. The first is that I was not exactly used to hearing French, so picking out different accents was a little beyond me. The other reason is that initially I spoke French mostly with my hosts and other Dickinson students, who do not have the Toulouse accent. It was only after joining the basketball team at UT2-JJ that I had to the opportunity to experience the accent. A few of the players live in the outskirts of Toulouse and I think for that reason, they have a very, very strong accent. I really have to focus when they speak in order to understand them because it is so different from the French that I am used to. They use expressions that I have never heard before and the “ai” sound is much more nasal. For example, the word for bread, “pain”, spoken with a Toulouse accent almost sounds like the English word “pain” without the “n”. In the rest of the country “pain” rhymes with the French word “fin”. Also, I found that the Toulousains speak more melodically than other French. After having heard the accent for the first time, I now know what to look for and can pick out the differences more often.
Ever since I understood the Toulouse accent, I have wondered how such a small (relative to the US) country could have such linguistic differences. I am not really sure how accents develop, but I am sure it is related to the different languages that were spoken in the French regions in the past—Occitan and Catalan in the south, Francique-lorrain in the north, and Breton in the west. The French language is rich in history and has a plethora of historical influences; therefore it is not that surprising that French exhibits the same level of linguistic variety that is found in my side of the world.
– Laura McLaughlin