Pure Laine is an English Word
Just about as long as I’ve had this blog I’ve been using Google Alerts, a service that notifies you whenever some word or words of your choice pops up anywhere on the Internet. I’ve been using to cover the AngryFrenchBeat, monitoring what’s being said about Québec, Montréal and Beyoncé on the Web.
One of the words I’ve been keeping track of for a few months is Pure Laine. According to wikipedia, Pure Laine is “a politically and culturally charged phrase referring to the people having original ancestry of the French-Canadians.” Apparently, at least according to Sun Media columnist Micheal Den Tendt, “many “pure-laine” Quebecers have always believed — that they, the descendants of original French settlers, are the only true Quebecois.”
The concept of the Pure Laine (or Pur Laine, I track the two spellings) was at the center of the infamous Jan Wong controversy. In 2006 she wrote in the Globe & Mail about the Dawson College shooter Kimveer Gill: “the perpetrator was not pure laine, the argot for a ‘pure’ francophone. Elsewhere, to talk of racial ‘purity’ is repugnant. Not in Quebec.”
Well, it seems the English Canadian media has been doing a little bit of projection, here. In the six months or so that I’ve been tracking the use of Pure Laine on the Internet, the racial purity of the Québécois has been an EXCLUSIVELY English-Canadian preoccupation.
The term Pure Laine came up in 56 english-language web pages, that’s more than twice as often as it’s use on french-language websites.
In thirty-seven cases – that’s 70% of the time – Pure Laine is used in English to describe the Québécois of Franco-Catholic ancestry. This seems to be a very important concept in the English-canadian worldview. Whenever Québec, canadian politics or language is discussed, the Pure Laine come up. Not the Québécois as a civic nation. Not French-speakers as a linguistic group. Pure Laine Québécois as an ethnic group. The Québécois as a race.
Of course, the people using the the term Pure Laine deny being the ones preocupied by the ethnic purity of the Québécois. Nearly a third of the uses of Pure Laine were by people who felt they could state with absolute authority that “Pure laine is what some francophones from Quebec like to call themselves to state that they have pure, undiluted French blood and that they can trace their lineage all the way back to the original settlers who sailed over from France in the 1600’s”
What do bloggers know, you say? Well one of them (one of only three english-language sources who challenged the ‘fact’ of Québec’s preoccupation with ethnic purity) kindly dug up a quote from some Calgary West Reform Party MP called Stephen Harper who, back in 1995, declared in the House of Commons: “Obviously, given the ethnic and sociocultural make-up of modern Quebec society, only the pure laine Quebecois could arguably be considered a people.”
Whatever happened to Stephen Harper?
In both English and French, Pure Laine has entered the vocabulary as a synonym for ‘true’, ‘old school’ or, more appropriatly, ‘dyed-in-the-wool’. It came up to describe “Pure Laine Montrealers“, “Pure Laine federalists“, “Pure Laine proletarians“, and even Paul McCartney’s “Pure Laine Heterosexuality“. In French the concept of “Pure Laine Shawin” – as in the good people of Shawinigan, the home of former Prime minister and savior of Canadian federalism Jean Chrétien – came up no less than four times…
Such use of Pure Laine accounted for one third of the 25 times the word came up in French. It was also used 33% of the time to discuss the Québécois, and another 33% of the time to describe – get this – WOOL.
In French, the term Pure Laine was used 8 times to describe people of ‘white-french-catholic-north-americans-of-franco-french‘ ancestry. Five of those who used the word, however, would not be considered Pure Laine themselves by that definition…
The word is used, for example, in the journal Voir in a review of a book by Senegal-born comedian and marine biologist (yep.) Boucar Diouf about, precisely, the different prejudice and misunderstandings held by the Québécois, “Pure Laine and also immigrant”.
Imam Abou Hammaad Sulaiman Dameus Al-Hayiti, a black Québécois convert to a radical strand of Islam who’s been in the news lately, uses it to defend himself in La Presse against accusations of racism and hate speech. His mother and grand-mother, he reminded the journalist, are Pure Laine.
Kim Myung-Sook uses the term Pure Laine to describe herself in her fascinating blog about the identity crisis of the children of massive international adoption who are just now coming of age all over the western world. “Rejected/Sold by Korea. Bought/assimilated by the Québécois. I am a transracial adoptee, a reject of korean society recycled into a Québécoise Pure Laine with the appearance of an asian. Ex-Korean, false Korean, Korean assimilated by the Québécois.”
“Un show Québécois Pure Laine” is also used as a caption to a picture of hip hop crew Loco Locass (who’s members are not all, as a matter of fact, Pure Laine) and as the theme of a series of videos by comedian Guy Nantel. Whether Nantel’s objective was the glorification of the Pure Laines’ racial superiority, I’ll let you be the judge of that…
As for examples of Pure Laine Québécois claiming Pure Laine-ness, exalting the purity of their roots and the special privilege that comes or should come with the ability to trace one’s ancestors to Samuel de Champlain and his crew, not a single one. Pas un. Nada. Zéro.
That definition of Pure Laine, it seems, is a purely English-language concept…