The French Language of the Pays de Savoie

The area where I live in France is called Savoy and it used to be a part of the Italian Kingdom of Sardinia. In 1860 it was annexed to France and split into two départements: Savoie and Haute-Savoie. Together they are known as the Pays de Savoie in French and they make up 2 of the 8 départements of the Rhône-Alpes region.

Chambéry is the capital of Savoie, which also includes Albertville, the site of the 1992 Winter Olympics. Annecy is the capital of Haute-Savoie, which includes Chamonix and Evian-les-Bains. I have spent nearly 5 years here even though I do not like mountains (I prefer flat land, lakes and forests – I’m from Michigan!) but I do like the close proximity to Switzerland and Italy, as well as Lyon.

I will be leaving France in less than three weeks and I realized that I had never posted about the variation of French spoken in this area. Here are a few features of the Savoie dialect of French, which shares some similarities with Swiss French. If you ever travel to/study in Savoie, you might hear:

Il faut y faire instead of Il faut le faire – y often replaces the direct object pronouns le, la, and les

ou bien is a common saying at the end of a sentence, similar to hein which is like a tag question in English, though used much more often in French

la panosse is used for mop instead of la serpillière

Since this is the French Alps, many other expressions are related to snow and cheese:

Most people already know about Tartiflette, the potato and cheese baked dish made with Reblochon. However, another cheese is very popular, Tomme, which has produced a pejorative expression for an apathetic woman: une grosse Tomme

la trafole and the adjective trafolée refer to fresh snow that already has ski tracks in it

terrainer means that the snow is melting and the ground is showing: Ça terraine.

For more vocabulary, check out the website (entirely in French) Termes régionaux de Suisse romande et de Savoie

In addition, the local minority language, which extends beyond Savoie to Neuchâtel, Mâcon and Grenoble, is called Arpitan and its official website is arpitania.eu

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  • http://www.patoudit.net patricia

    « Ça terraine », jolie expression très imagée que j’essaierai d’introduire dans mon entourage au Québec! Merci pour ce billet très intéressant et rafraîchissant.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com Zhu

    It’s funny, I’ve never heard any of these expressions! It’s like another language to me :-)

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com Zhu

    It’s funny, I’ve never heard any of these expressions! It’s like another language to me :-)

  • Grenobloise

    Thanks for posting this! I live in the Alps and my boyfriend is from Haute-Savoie, so I’m there all of the time. Annecy is lovely- everyone should visit! Lac-du-Bourget is nice to visit if you’re in Savoie (I’m going to add pics of it in my blog soon). I’ve heard “ou bien” a lot, not so much the others. It’s intriguing though. Thanks for sharing.

    grenobloise.wordpress.com

  • Issa Galvan

    I’m living in France for the summer and learning the language as well. I must say trying to pick up a language in 6 weeks its quite difficult, especially french. I found some of the differences you mentioned really interesting. I know my french teacher had mentioned how french spoken in Canada is somewhat different then French spoken here.  I speak Spanish (Mexican) and I have some Spanish friends and we’ve noticed that the spanish I speak and the spanish they speak from  Spain has some differences. It reminded me about the little differences you were stating. Do you believe that the differences have to do with some kind of Italian influence in the area or can it be other factors? Also, are the different phrases and words spoken in Savoie and Haute-Savoie understood in other parts of France?

  • Issa Galvan

    I’m living in France for the summer and learning the language as well. I must say trying to pick up a language in 6 weeks its quite difficult, especially french. I found some of the differences you mentioned really interesting. I know my french teacher had mentioned how french spoken in Canada is somewhat different then French spoken here.  I speak Spanish (Mexican) and I have some Spanish friends and we’ve noticed that the spanish I speak and the spanish they speak from  Spain has some differences. It reminded me about the little differences you were stating. Do you believe that the differences have to do with some kind of Italian influence in the area or can it be other factors? Also, are the different phrases and words spoken in Savoie and Haute-Savoie understood in other parts of France?

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    I’m not entirely sure what to contribute the differences to. It could be Italian, or the Savoyard language itself. Some Savoyards do not understand the words either, since many are based on mountain aspects and if you don’t actually live in the mountains and deal with snow a lot, you wouldn’t have much use for the words.

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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