Full palatalization of [t] and [d] before yod in French

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Senior Member
English (USA Northeast)
I recently took an extensive road trip across southern France and I was surprised to hear full palatalization of [t] by vast numbers of people. Effectively the [t] is being pronounced as English ch before i, and [d] as an English j before i. It was noticeable in all social groups but particularly in young men. It also is irrelevant if the people have or do not have other features associated with southern accent - which otherwise seems to be receding. When I talked to people about it they denied it vehemently while simultaneously doing it.
Examples I heard
Toi, t'y vas

What is the extent of this palatalization? Is it recent or has it always been characteristic of southern accent? Older people have it too but maybe a bit less routine than young men in their 20's. What is causing this to happen? It creates a very strong accent. Maybe I am sensitive to it because it does not occur in Northeast France. I'm sure of that.

Moderator: there may be another thread related to this but I didn't manage to find it. If you know of it, you can merge.
  • Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    In Flanders, "tiens" is also pronounced "tchien". It is one of the few words with tch.


    Senior Member
    French - Belgium, some Wallo-Picard
    Walloon (and strongly Walloon-influenced varieties of Belgian French) have a general tendency to switch /tjV/ and /djV/ to /tʃV/ and /dʒV/, respectively (old Wal /tjɛstə/ (=Fr. tête), /batjaʊ̞/ (=Fr. bateau), /dju/ (= Dieu) -> modern Wal /tʃɛs/, /batʃa/, /dʒu/). This is not palatalisation, though, but a fortition of the glide to a fricative. The fortited variants used to be more prevalent in the past, but they've retracted to mostly poorer or older speakers currently. Until the mid 20th century, most of the French imput Flemings would have been exposed to would have had those fortitions.

    Back to Midi French: The affrication you've heard is, if not new, at least newly widespread: it's much more common among younger speakers than older ones. It's also associated in the collective imagination to banlieue speakers of immigrant origin and while it's true that they're the population where the phenomenon is the most widespread, it's really not limited to them at all. It's also not limited to Southern French (it's been described in Paris and Rouens too, cf. ) but the sound change might have appeared there earlier and have had more time to spread than in the North. It was first noticed in Marseilles and has become a social marker of belonging to the city (it appears in writing, even, when people transcribe the local accent in books).

    It might not have reached Lorraine or Belgium (we do palatalise /ki/ a lot though), but it seem quite common in France as a whole honestly. There's a 2010 study article by Cyril Trimaille that studies /t/ palatalisation in the speech of ministers of the current French government and of their 13 subjects, 8 palatalise regularly (more than 33% of the time). But compared to banlieue kids who palatalise regularly, the fricative segment of the politician was shorter. So I suspect that's what's happening here: as the sound change progresses the fricative segment of the affricate becomes longer, until they become perceptible to listeners used to a shorter fricative segment. If you're used to speakers with a less noticeable affrication, the southern speakers with their longer noisy segment would seem to all palatalise strongly, even they and the northern speakers are on a gradient.

    Red Arrow

    Senior Member
    Dutch - Belgium
    Interesting information, but I take it this is only in borrowed words from French? Is [tj] a possiblity in Flemish?

    [tj] occurs a lot in Dutch and even more in parts of Flanders, but [dj] never occurs. [dʒ] only occurs in "nondedju" (nom de dieu) and "Azerbeidzjan".


    Senior Member
    français (France)
    A classical Belgian example of [t] palatalisation:


    As to Marseillais French, palatalisation has been described as a social class marker as well as a marker of belonging to the city. It also occurs before [y]: tu as vu becomes tji as vu. The less you palatalise, the posher and the less local you sound: if you say la voiture (voicing the e but not palatalising the t), you may sound Provençal; if you say la voitchure (with the e, of course), you sound more Marseillais.


    Senior Member
    English (USA Northeast)
    Thanks for the information, everyone. It is true that most of my trip took place in areas not too far from Marseilles. The places I heard it strongest were Cassis and Arles. Cassis was the place I first heard it, when someone said "Grand ou petchit" to me. I was taken aback so I decided to pay attention. I spent time with people in Nîmes where I heard it as well, but it is true it wasn't as strong as Cassis. Many were young men but I woudn't necessarily consider them banlieusards.

    So I suspect that's what's happening here: as the sound change progresses the fricative segment of the affricate becomes longer, until they become perceptible to listeners used to a shorter fricative segment.
    This may well be the reason why I noticed it. The affricate was long, a full [tʃ].
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