Called “Forezien dialect”, “Stephanois dialect” or “gaga patois”, the gaga speech corresponds to the regional variety of French spoken in Saint-Etienne. The word “gaga” was originally used to talk about the inhabitants of Saint-Etienne, but it spread to name the variety spoken in the region. The Stephanois accent, highly recognizable, bears a strong identity linked with the city of Saint-Etienne. “Gaga” distinguishes itself from standard French in three ways: lexicon, grammar, and pronunciation.
The vocabulary of the Saint-Etienne speech is rich. It is possible to separate the vocabulary in two categories. Some words are to be found in French dictionaries, but their meaning in French is different : “portion” in gaga means snack in standard French but its literal translation is portion, “plier” in gaga means wrap in standard French but its literal translation is fold. Other words and expressions are specific to gaga : “sarasson” in gaga is a creamy fromage blanc eaten with potatoes in standard French, “babet” in gaga is a pine cone in standard French, “baraban” in gaga is a dandelion in standard French.
A lot of words originated in the industrial past of the city (mine, armoury, trimming) : “grattons”, “godiveaux”, etc…
A few examples (among many) of grammatical peculiarities you can find in gaga :
• The use of “y” as a neutral pronoun which leads to : “J’y aime pas” in gaga, as opposed to “Je n’aime pas ca” (I don’t like it) in standard French.
• The use of “franc” to intensify, in the sense of “completement” (completely) which leads to : “Il a trop bu, il est franc bourré” in gaga, as opposed to “Il a trop bu, il est completement bourré” (He drank too much, he is completely drunk) in standard French.
• The use of “pour selon que” instead of “bien que” (Though) which leads to : “pour selon qu’il a une jambe plus courte,il marche normalement” in gaga, as opposed to “Bien qu’il ai une jambe plus courte, il marche normalement” (Though he has a shorter leg, he walks normally) in standard French
• The use of “mieux” instead of “plus” (more) as a comparative : “T’en veux mieux des pates ?” in gaga, as opposed to “T’en veux plus des pates ?” “Do you want more pasta?” in standard French.
Here are other expressions and words typical of gaga that you can still hear if you ever stroll in the streets of Saint-Etienne : “fouilla” (used as an interjection to comment on a unpleasant situation) which corresponds in standard French to “oh la la” roughly translated “oh dear”, “vois-tu-moi-le” corresponding to “regarde le” in Standard French translated by “look at him”, “beausseigne/bichette” (exclamation of compassion which can also point to the person being talked about) it can be translated by “unfortunate, unlucky”, “avoir le gout” corresponding to “avoir envie de” in standard French translated “want to…/feel like...”, “le temps de midi” which corresponds to lunch time.
More than a dialect, more than an accent, gaga is a sign of the identity of the people in Saint-Etienne.
At a time where anglicisms and all kinds of abbreviations are prevalent what is left of Stephanois speech? Of course it is not spoken as much as back in the days of the mine or Manufrance but some of the expressions still exist in the daily language of young Stephanois.
If you want to know more about gaga, you can get the dictionary Dictionnaire Français-Gaga/Gaga-Français : Les trésors de Toutengaga written by Jacques PLAINE and Jeanluc EPALLLE, 3rd edition, Actes Graphique, 2012 (a 4th one is to come), or Vous avez dit GAGA ? : Origines, identités et enjeux du français régional stéphanois, published Olivier GLAIN and Céline JEANNOT PIETROY, publication of the University Jean Monnet of Saint-Etienne, 2017.