‘Provence’ and ‘Province’ sound very similar but you should really be careful when you’re talking about this.

Let’s start with Provence.

An area in south-eastern France which borders Italy and runs along the south coast of the country. Provence contains cities like Aix-en-Provence and Marseille. Artists like Henri Matisse, Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso flock to the region to be inspired by its beauty. Its olive trees, lavender fields and vineyards play host to the provençal life with small villages dotted around the rolling hills with the sun pouring in from the vast blue sky.

So now how does this phonetic conundrum puzzle us anglophones?

Well, the word ‘Provence’ has the nasal sound [ɑ̃], like enchanté, whereas the nasal sound for ‘Province’ looks like [ɛ̃], the same sound as cinq. Hopefully, this helps for us Anglo-Saxons, this is by no means an easy one to understand.

What about ‘la province’, then?

Now to understand what ‘Province’ actually is, as I’m sure the majority of you are still a little bewildered. Well, if you talk or overhear a Parisian saying ‘Provence’, there’s a 50/50 chance that they might have said ‘Province. This essentially is the difference between a region in France and a phrase, widely used by Parisians. Nobody outside of Paris really knows why this is used and it’s a somewhat arrogant way of saying that Paris is what matters and everything else is well, just that, everything else. So unless you want to potentially annoy someone from outside of Paris, it’s probably best just to avoid saying this one and simply be aware of its use. The word is an issue for anyone French not from Paris. It is a word used to describe areas that are in no way the same whatsoever, ranging from the Alps to the French Riviera…
Nowadays you won’t see Parisian journalists writing about the rest of France as the ‘Province’ as it’s not considered politically correct. Instead you are much likely to see ‘en région’ to talk about everything in the country that is outside of Paris.
Hopefully, this clears things up. So that the next time you’re speaking to a Parisian and overhear ‘Province’ you can investigate further…

La ‘province’ sounds like [ɛ̃], the same sound as cinq.
La province is anything that is NOT Paris.
Not to be mistaken with ‘la Provence’, a region in France (has the nasal sound [ɑ̃], like enchanté), which runs along the south coast of the country.

France as seen by Parisians… or as seen by some Parisians…