I just updated my MacBook Air to Mac OS X 10.8.2, and got a delightful surprise in the release notes: Dictionary.app now includes a French dictionary. To activate it, open the Dictionary app, go to Dictionary > Preferences, and check “Multidictionnaire de la langue française.” Once you’ve added it there, French will show up as an option in the dictionary Dashboard widget, too.

The dictionary’s copyright holder, Canadian publisher Les Éditions Québec Amérique Inc., made me wonder whether Apple had chosen a dictionary of Canadian French without realizing it was different from Metropolitan French, so I spot-checked some words that are different in the two dialects. In fact, I found, it’s a pretty good dictionary of international French. Some indicative highlights:

  • The Anglicism job is marked as masculine, although in informal Québéc usage it is usually considered feminine. (Q.V. this.)
  • Autobus is marked as masculine, although in Metropolitan usage it is usually considered feminine.
  • Placoter, meaning “to chit-chat,” and abrier, for “to cover,” are both marked quite accurately with the note “Québécisme.”
  • Amancher, an old word for “to assemble” or “to fix” that’s now rarely heard outside of Québec, isn’t defined at all.

An interesting lexicographical note: French spelling and pronunciation is so regularized that the dictionary doesn’t bother including pronunciations, except for occasional sentence-length explanations on the rare words that aren’t pronounced according to the usual rules. For femme, for example, it notes “La première syllable se prononce fa [fam]; le nom rime avec dame.”

It also specifically notes that shampooing (which is by the way a noun for the stuff, not a verb for the act) is not pronounced like the English: “Les lettres oing se prononcent oin, [ʃɑ̃pwɛ̃] (et non *ou).”

I’d love it if this dictionary included etymological notes like these, but even without them, this seems so far to be a solid dictionary and a very nice improvement to Mac OS X.