There are speakers of Meridional French in all generations; however, the accent is most marked among the elderly, who often speak Occitan as their first language.
The phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon of the Occitan language have all influenced Meridional French, but it is perhaps the phonological effects which are the most salient and have produced the characteristic accent heard from Meridional French speakers. These effects have been summarized as consisting in part of:
- a loss of phonemic nasal vowels, replaced by an oral vowel followed by a nasal consonant;
- the frequent realization of the final atonal vowels of Latin, lost by speakers of other varieties of French, as schwa; and
- the presence of lexical stress on the penultimate syllable of many words, in contrast to the phrase-final stress of Standard French.
Meridional French is also subject to a phonological law known as the Law of Position, in which mid vowels are subject to allophonic variation based on the shape of their syllables, being realized as mid-open in closed syllables (those ending in a consonant) and as mid-close in open syllables (those ending in a vowel). The phenomenon has been shown to be somewhat more complex, however, by Durand (1995), Eychenne (2006), and Chabot (2008). The principle is strictly adhered to by speakers of Meridional French, in contrast to speakers of other varieties of French.
- Lexical (or word-based) stress is used, unlike the prosodic stress of Standard French.
- Nasal vowels are lost and are replaced with an oral vowel followed by a nasal consonant (pain (bread) is pronounced [ˈpɛŋ], and timbre (stamp) is pronounced [ˈtɛmbʁə]).
- The "e caduc" is always pronounced, even at the end of words; for example, cerise (cherry) is pronounced [səˈʁizə] and tête (head) is pronounced [ˈtɛtə].
- In closed syllables, /o/ merges with /ɔ/, /ø/ merges with /œ/; notre and nôtre are both pronounced as [ˈnɔtʁə], jeune and jeûne are both pronounced as [ˈʒœnə].
A number of vocabulary iems are peculiar to Meridional French: for example, péguer (Occitan pegar), "to be sticky" (Standard French poisser), chocolatine (Southwest), "pain au chocolat", or flute (a larger baguette, known as a pain parisien (Parisian loaf) in Paris).
Some phrases are used with meanings which differ from those they have in Standard French. For example, s'il faut, literally meaning "if necessary", is used to mean "perhaps" (which would be rendered in Standard French as peut-être). This is a calque of the Occitan se cal.
- Chabot, Alex (2004). "Suprasegmental Structure in Meridional French and its Provençal Substrate" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-12-19.
- Durand, Jacques (1995). "Alternances vocaliques en français du midi et phonologie du gouvernement". Lingua. 95 (1-3): 27–50. doi:10.1016/0024-3841(95)90100-0.
- Eychenne, Julien (2006). "Aspects de la phonologie du schwa dans le français contemporain. Optimalité, visibilité prosodique, gradience." (PDF) (in French). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-07-22. Retrieved 2015-07-22.