AngryFrenchGuy

On Québec’s Segregated Past and One million English Words

with 215 comments

End of the British Empire

So the English language got it’s 1,000,000th word this summer.

This, of course is one of the great achievements of the great English adventurers who travelled the world, befriended the locals with whom they shared the English language while simultaneously incorporating their lands and lexicon into the British Empire.

That story reminded me of a time I visited my grand-mother about 4 or 5 years ago.

Her place was just a short walk from my place.  I was near Place St.Henri where grown men drank Molson Export before noon on weekdays with no shirt on.  Thanks to some family money that will not be coming my way she was the token french lady at the Place Kensington residence for old English people and ate her breakfast two tables away from where the Senator Hartland Molson ate his own breakfast wearing a suit and a tie.

That night my grandma wasn’t seated with her usual gang. Someone had broken their hip and someone else was at a christening or bar mitzva somewhere in the States. We were seated with two other ladies I didn’t know but who seemed nice enough. We exchanged polite greatings, they commended me for being such a great grandson and then when I thought I had done socializing I ignored them and started chatting with my grandmother.

As my grand-mother was giving the waitress a quarter or something so she would bring me a double serving of white fish one of the ladies leaned over to me and asked:

-What was that language you were just speaking? Was that French?

-Yes it was, I said.

I wasn’t surprised by the question. Place Kensington has plenty of American residents who were following their sons up the corporate ladder. They just spent a couple of years in Montreal until the next transfer and rarely ventured beyond Tony’s Shoe Store on Greene Avenue. They knew nothing about Québec’s linguistic situation and they understandably didn’t care if the help spoke French or Spanish or whatever it is Philipnas speak….

-Where are you from, I asked?

-Drummondville, she answered.

Now I was surprised. Drummondville, of course, is the home of the Madrid Bigfoot Diner, the mandatory pit stop on highway 20 for travellers between Montreal and Québec and the owner of the biggest collection of slightly-smaller-than-lifesize plastic dinosaures in the world. It is also a smallish town that, today, is pretty much entirely French-speaking.

Yet here was this lady who had been born in Québec, who had lived her life, not in the sizable English-speaking enclaves of Montreal, but in a tiny rural French-Canadian village that had some farms and two or three factories and she wasn’t able to, nevermind speak, recognize the French language.

English the great language of intercultural meeting and discovery?  Give me a fucking break.

Like the great linguist Alastair Pennycook said: « The notion of English as a great borrowing language also seems to suggest a view of colonial relations in which the British intermingled with colonized people, enriching English as communed with the locals. Such a view, however, is hardly supported by colonial history. »

Even my separatist-fearing grandmother would lose patience with her companions.

-She handed me a napkin! I said « merci » and she had to ask me what I meant! Seigneur! What’s wrong with these people?

This from a woman, I remind you, who spent her summers at the Royal St.Lawrence Yacht Club and read the Montreal Gazette every morning.

There was a distinguished Jewish woman from Argentina who would come over after every meal and chat for a few minutes in impeccable French with my grand-mother. There was also another woman from eastern Europe –there was a rumour she was a hungarian baronnes or countess—who would always cordially say « bonjour ». The staff, of course had been born after the Empire and all spoke French.

But I never heard an Montrealer Anglo resident so much as salute her in French.

Now I am not saying that Place Kensington was representative of today’s enlightened Québec anglophonie. I am absolutely aware that Place Kensington is where the ghost of Montreal’s past goes to die.

But don’t tell me that Québec never existed. I’ve been there.

Written by angryfrenchguy

July 27, 2009 at 4:06 pm

215 Responses

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  1. I’m wondering if the final blow to the French fact in Louisiana may end up being this:

    The passage of hurricanes Katrina and Rita through Louisiana has given an added sense of urgency to the mission of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana. The storms were a direct hit, the latter more so than the former, to the French-speaking area of Louisiana known as Acadiana. This triangular region, with the Gulf of Mexico at its base, is home to the vast majority of the 200,000 or so Louisianians who declared themselves as Francophone on the 2000 US Census.

    http://d06.cgpublisher.com/proposals/251/index_html

    James

    August 3, 2009 at 8:21 pm

  2. I do think the car-stealing analogy is apt from the perspective of the mentality of the parties involved, which harks back to what I wrote. The polarity of the parties amazes me. Why does the speaking of English preclude that of French, and vice versa?

    The level of antagonism that francophones and anglophones in Canada bear towards each other is something I’ve always found puzzling, the sectarianism reminds me of Northern Ireland. Other polyglot states that I’ve lived in (Switzerland & South Africa) the multiplicity of languages and culture is just part of the social fabric.

    The inaptitude of the car-theft analagy is that by speaking French, you don’t relinguish the ability to speak English to an equal degree, and by speaking English, you don’t wipe your brain of all French. Being Australian, I don’t understand English Canada’s animosity – they have so much to gain by embracing French and nothing to lose, I do understand a bit more the Québecois position but I’ve met so many bitter Québecois over the years that it’s hard to maintain the sympathy, same way that the Serbians and Croats here in Australia make my brain die.

    But I don’t think you can solve cultural issues politically. Even in Australia we’re seeing the loss of our culture and language to americanisation, but laws mandating the use of words is not going to stop young people from using American versions. This is a process that has been going on since language developed. Do we rail against the death of Latin or do we celebrate the fact that it involved into a rich family of languages that borrowed from each other and from those around them? As an English speaker, should I be angry that it has drifted so far from its germanic roots?

    I see so many ironies in these debates and so many topics of debate. As a continental French speaker, I find Québecois so incredibly Canadian, as an Australian I find Americans more foreign to me than the Québecois. Having lived in London where Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and Swedes socialise together and live in hsared accomodation, I find it funny that Swedes in London seek out Antipodeans because there’s a cultural resonance greater than that with their fellow Europeans.

    I suppose what my ramblings are trying say is that I don’t find language a terribly unifying factor nor do I think it’s the repository for our culture or identity. It’s part of culture but it isn’t the bedrock. Our attitudes and our way of life are. From my perspective, much of English and French Canada have more in common with each other than they do with the US or France. Serbians and Croats to me a just the same people who use a language as a reason to divide and hate. Afrikaaners and English speaking South Africans seem to have put centuries of antagonism behind them and spend more time sharing their South Afrincanness than bothering to wonder what language they happen to be speaking at that moment.

    Hamish

    August 3, 2009 at 8:29 pm

  3. This documentary was made about this issue:


    I’d love to get a full copy of it.

    Hamish

    August 3, 2009 at 8:50 pm

  4. I’m going to let the locals speak to my fellow Australian’s comment. I’ll just throw in there the note that, in my head, languages are worth defending because they are vehicles of a culture and define an in-group. Isolated from that, they’re interchangeable Ferraris, and one’s as good as another.

    Which worries me somewhat with civic nationalism. Canada is routinely derided here as “not a real country”. But is any multicultural country “real”? And won’t an independent Quebec have to be multicultural too? If “Canadian values” are vacuous, what are Quebecois values?

    There are answers to those questions, but they’re as tricky to define for modern Australia as they are for modern Canada, or for modern Quebec.

    I was going to say that the more two cultures are familiar with each other, the more pretexts they will find to dislike each other, as with Serbs and Croats. But I’m not convinced to this day that the Two Solitudes have broken down in a meaningful way, and that the two nations in Canada really do know how the other ticks.

    It really struck me that at Trudeau airport (which is federal land, hence the name), the newsagent’s label for Canadiana was “comme sirop d’érable pour l’âme”, just like the header at Pearson airport was “like maple syrup for the soul”: but the shelves contained the same Anglo-Canadian humour, and in both airports the literature offered only head-scratching about Franco-Canada. Nothing to help the tourist bridge the gap there either.

    Which goes to AFG’s earlier complaint about Quebec not articulating itself to the world in English. (Outside of what AFG and Pur Laine write, I guess.)

    Nick Nicholas

    August 3, 2009 at 8:59 pm

  5. thanks. Really interesting to hear their French. I’d heard there was a lot of borrows from English in their function words. The generic resemblance to New Brunswick French seemed quite strong to me.

    Off the topic of francophones but on the topic of docs on Katrina, this one’s a mind blower, especially if you can land the DVD with Lee’s audio cover-commentary:

    James

    August 3, 2009 at 9:57 pm

  6. Of course my analogy was a bit over the top but isn’t this true of this entire blog?

    When one considers that it is often insinuated in barely subtle terms on here (and scores of other fora) that the entire French-speaking population of the province of Quebec, regardless of political stripe, are Nazis just because there is a law here that says that French letters on outside business signs have to be bigger than English… well let’s just say that I am not exactly the king of hyperbole when it come to this issue.

    You are right about affirmative action, and my point is just that: there are things which *should* come naturally. But when they don’t, such as a significant number of businesses not offering service in the language of the majority, that’s usually when the state steps in.

    Acajack

    August 3, 2009 at 9:57 pm

  7. With all due respect, I think you are downplaying language’s importance to cultures. As an English speaker, it is totally normal since speakers of dominant languages tend to not think of language in identity-based terms, much like Caucasian people don’t think of race in the same way that many non-Caucasians do.

    For Canadian francophones (and I suspect this is the case for many people in the world, including to name a few, Latvians, Catalans, etc.), the loss of language equals an alienation from vast tracts of our culture.

    It means future generations not being able to understand folk songs, and reading our literature, and not understanding the jokes that made us laugh because humour seldom translates well.

    Most francophones know this because we have people in our families or acquaintances who are assimilated to English, either in the rest of Canada or the United States. They may have names like Tremblay or Gagnon, but their historical literary reference point is Shakespeare, not Moliere. They identify with Arlo Guthrie or Gordon Lightfoot more than they do with Gilles Vigneault (even if they know who he is).

    To use another example, in spite of all the enthusiasm for Irish literature (James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Beckett) in English, the truth is that the Irish people are today for the most part totally cut off from a rich literary tradition in Irish Gaelic that goes back many centuries.

    Acajack

    August 3, 2009 at 10:12 pm

  8. Acajack, I think you’re replying to Hamish?

    What you say I agree with—including the special blindness of the hegemon; but:
    * Even if the language dies, an autonomous culture can survive. It’s harder, but it can be done. Cf. the Irish, or the Cajuns, or any number of indigenous peoples. And they may be cut off from their past, but that doesn’t (necessarily) mean they don’t have a culture their own. The Icelanders aren’t better patriots than the Americans because the average Icelander can read the Eddas and the average American can’t read Chaucer.
    * It is all about the culture indeed, not just the language, we agree. But that brings me back to the problem of what in post-Quiet Revolution Quebec is the distinctiveness to be preserved, other than just the language. There’s distinctiveness aplenty, sure, but language is only the most visible manifestation: it’s not a surrogate for the distinctiveness.
    * There’s other ways of undermining a culture. I as a Greek-Australian am complicit in the death of Anglo-Australian culture, because I don’t give a toss about Aussie Rules football or cricket. But then, the civic nationalism I prefer isn’t primarily about culture anyway.

    Nick Nicholas

    August 3, 2009 at 10:29 pm

  9. “But when they don’t, such as a significant number of businesses not offering service in the language of the majority, that’s usually when the state steps in.”

    Unless you’re a libertarian, and that ideology drives at least some of the hostility. (Not all, because some is simply “why is there French on my chips packet?”) In fact, the different opinions on the proper role of the state presumably underlie a lot of the dissension between the two Canadas, no?

    I’m not a libertarian, btw. :-) Like I’ve posted chez moi, I think Bill 101 has been quite successful in what it set out to do with the Montreal streetscape. Individual shopkeepers—that’s a trickier struggle.

    And you’re not the king of hyperbole, no, which is why I’m a long-time fan (well, three weeks).

    Nick Nicholas

    August 3, 2009 at 10:35 pm

  10. But did you watch Acropolis Now? ;-))

    More seriously, yes there is a tendency in Quebec to focus too much on the language. Perhaps it is francophones’ eyewitness exposure to assimilation elsewhere in North America that has led us to believe that French is such an essential element of our identity.

    Or perhaps it’s also the fact that the existence of a North American society that still functions in French prevents other North Americans of French descent from embracing their heritage because they have lost the language. This is most evident in Canada, where an assimilated Tremblay will almost never self-identify as a “French Canadian”. It’s a bit different in the US, where most people are now assimilated and so the Franco-American identity in the northeast US has become “ethnic” rather than “societal”. The same is true of the Cajuns, and to a lesser degree the Irish. Language isn’t an issue for them anymore, and the “people” is not divided between the “pures” who still speak the language and those who have (for lack of a better term), sold out.

    Acajack

    August 3, 2009 at 10:43 pm

  11. This is a red herring not worth discussing. The point you made about my answer is my final answer about suid-afrikaans apartheid.

    Jean Naimard

    August 3, 2009 at 10:45 pm

  12. What if you don’t like the Lamborghini’s cup-holders?

    Jean Naimard

    August 3, 2009 at 10:47 pm

  13. You have successfully outed me as a culturally disloyal Australian :-)

    I had to reread your third para to make sure I didn’t misunderstand it. But yes: preserving a homeland for functioning French in North America inevitably defines an out-group for those whose French isn’t functioning. And where French has yielded, the tension of pures vs. vendus is no longer relevant.

    Which means you’ve cast even more light for me on the interesting thread at http://www.capacadie.com/videos/45696 — which can be coarsely summarised as, Quebecois (Grag) tells Acadiens they shouldn’t be promoting Acadia with a langue vendue like Chiac, and Acadians retort that Acadieman can speak Chiac and represent Acadia, because being Acadian is cultural not linguistic. From what you’re saying, they can make that argument because their French is no longer a societal but an ethnic marker in New Brunswick; and that argument is impossible in Quebec. Yes?

    Besides, even if you do say “French-Canadian”, you’re immediately marking yourself as not being Quebecois, right? :-)

    Nick Nicholas

    August 3, 2009 at 10:57 pm

  14. Jean Naimard: I think you’re confirming the limitations of the analogy. :-)

    Nick Nicholas

    August 3, 2009 at 11:06 pm

  15. I do think the car-stealing analogy is apt from the perspective of the mentality of the parties involved, which harks back to what I wrote. The polarity of the parties amazes me. Why does the speaking of English preclude that of French, and vice versa?

    The speaking of english makes immigrants speaking english, and this minorizes the french. The anglicization of immigrants has been the chief weapon the english have used against the french. It eventually became necessary to pass law 101 to kill the notion that immigrants can think that they can live in Québec without speaking french.
    Think of english as a big gun against your head. You want to move that gun away or at least unload it. Law 101 defanged the immigration weapon that has been used against us.

    The level of antagonism that francophones and anglophones in Canada bear towards each other is something I’ve always found puzzling, the sectarianism reminds me of Northern Ireland. Other polyglot states that I’ve lived in (Switzerland & South Africa) the multiplicity of languages and culture is just part of the social fabric.

    In the Confederatio Helvetica, nobody shoves his language down the throats of others. This is why there is no linguistic conflict there. But here, the english are trying to subvert french by all means possible; this comes with the english being the most imperialistic people in the History of Earth.

    The inaptitude of the car-theft analagy is that by speaking French, you don’t relinguish the ability to speak English to an equal degree, and by speaking English, you don’t wipe your brain of all French.

    In an individual sense, no, but in the collective sense, if the immigrants don’t see the vital necessity of speaking french, the future of french is nothing less than doomed, because the english are far more numerous in North America, and it yields a very big power of attraction.
    I don’t think you can find the society in Québec replicated anywhere else; sure, in Europe, there are plenty of extremely prosperous ±7 million-people countries, but nowhere in the world do you see a 7 million people country completely surrounded by more than 300 million people who speak the same language.
    Such extraordinary conditions make for extraordinary measures, such as law 101.

    Being Australian, I don’t understand English Canada’s animosity – they have so much to gain by embracing French

    Limeys **HATE** the french to guts. They have an enormous cultural inferiority complex facing the french (for the english’s sole Shakespeare, the french have an array of Corneilles, Racines, Molières), and their pisspoor island has forced them to seek fortunes overseas, whilst boutiful France always supplied all it needed; what must have pissed the british the most was that France only pursued an empire just for the hell of it, because it was fashionable, instead of the life-or-death question the brits faced with their empire. They just could not stomach that the french would hold an empire as a hobby, and be so successful at it.
    On the other hand, the french never really cared about the brits, except for joking about their cooking. Personally, I find it really stunning to go in France and realize that people there don’t speak english at all (where here, speaking english is very important). Over there, english is just another foreign language (like spanish or german is to us) that might be useful one day.

    and nothing to lose, I do understand a bit more the Québecois position but I’ve met so many bitter Québecois over the years that it’s hard to maintain the sympathy, same way that the Serbians and Croats here in Australia make my brain die.

    Being at various intensities of war over the last few centuries leaves a lot of scars, misgivings and uneasyness. How can you, overnight, start to trust people who have been trying to actually kill you?

    But I don’t think you can solve cultural issues politically. Even in Australia we’re seeing the loss of our culture and language to americanisation, but laws mandating the use of words is not going to stop young people from using American versions.

    There is a huge difference of magnitude between two dialects and between two languages.

    This is a process that has been going on since language developed. Do we rail against the death of Latin or do we celebrate the fact that it involved into a rich family of languages that borrowed from each other and from those around them? As an English speaker, should I be angry that it has drifted so far from its germanic roots?

    As a french speaker in Québec, whose people have clung to it’s language despite the extreme measures taken against it, even to the point of having to endure generations of abject poverty, yes, I am angry that my language is being debased by foreign words that displace perfectly adequate ones, just in the name of “fashion”.
    We did not endure those generations of abject poverty imposed by our occupiers to punish us for our refusal to lose our language and culture to see it disappear from the face of the earth.

    I see so many ironies in these debates and so many topics of debate. As a continental French speaker, I find Québecois so incredibly Canadian, as an Australian I find Americans more foreign to me than the Québecois. Having lived in London where Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans and Swedes socialise together and live in hsared accomodation, I find it funny that Swedes in London seek out Antipodeans because there’s a cultural resonance greater than that with their fellow Europeans.

    Perhaps it’s more because opposites attract more?

    From my perspective, much of English and French Canada have more in common with each other than they do with the US or France.

    This is a perspective observed from outside, and like many outside perspectives it is wrong. The english canadians have more common points with the americans than with the Québec people, and the latter have very minute differences with the french from France (as we say here). It’s to the point that when I go to France, I often forget that I am in France.

    Serbians and Croats to me a just the same people who use a language as a reason to divide and hate.

    Each language has it’s culture. It’s far more than language. Don’t forget the panslavism movement that made life hell for many “same people” who are not serbs, and that as recently as 15 years ago.

    Afrikaaners and English speaking South Africans seem to have put centuries of antagonism behind them and spend more time sharing their South Afrincanness than bothering to wonder what language they happen to be speaking at that moment.

    Afrikaaners are 13.3% of the population and english 8.2%. This is extremely different from the 25%/75% seen in Canada, neither the afrikaans nor the english are in danger of being obliterated by the other.

    Jean Naimard

    August 3, 2009 at 11:17 pm

  16. There’s some wonderfully juicy stuff here.

    Acajack: I understand entirely what you’re saying. Just to clarify on your response that “With all due respect, I think you are downplaying language’s importance to cultures. As an English speaker, it is totally normal since speakers of dominant languages tend to not think of language in identity-based terms, much like Caucasian people don’t think of race in the same way that many non-Caucasians do.”

    I’d like to think in terms of not overstating rather than downplaying. I think that language is very important but it’s not the cause of why were are who we are. The English that I speak is not overly different from people from the US, but culturally I feel closer to some non-English speaking cultures than I could ever to the US. Americans are fiercely nationalistic, in Australia it’s considered ugly; Americans are deferential towards authority, Australian are notoriously anti-authoritarian, US embraces guns, the death penalty and proselytising, Australians eschew these things.

    Having said that, I recognise the importance of French to the Québecois in a sea of Anglophones (and a very anti-French North America – the loathing of the French post-September 11 in the US is schocking).

    My perspective is not just that of an English speaker though, je suis également francophone bien que je ne sois ni français ni québecois. But I’ve had my Australian accent teased whilst in the UK and have had my Swiss French viciously derided in France, so I understand the power of language.

    Hamish

    August 4, 2009 at 4:06 am

  17. Jean,

    On your points about immigration, I totally agree, it’s a powerful tool, just look at how the Han Chinese use it as a form of ethnic cleansing. But that is as part of a deliberate governmental policy.

    However, much of what you say shows some real hypocritical prejudices.

    English Canadians having “an enormous cultural inferiority complex facing the french”? I thought it was the Americans they had the nervous twitch over? I would think that it’s more complex than that and it sounds actually quite chauvanistic on your part to ascribe anti-french sentiment to some feeling of cultural wretchedness at the all-glorious french culture. Reminds me of growing up in the French community in Sydney having to listen to my parent’s friends going on at dinner parties about how Australia had no culture because no buildings were older than 200 years and France was just the epitome of culture and sophisitication (and we have the ‘whinging Pom” phenomenon here too), but I had to suffer 18 years of the French version which is much more condescending.

    As for Britian being a “pisspoor island”, that sort of ad hominem (ad patriam?) comment really devalues your argument, you’re showing them same mindless bigotry as those whom you decry.

    As for the British being the worst colonisers … I invite you to spend some time with Kanaks in Nouvelle Calédonie and discuss their treatment at the hands of the Caldoches (no independence either for la Kanakie). The cladoches I’ve met would be right at home with Eugène Terre’Blanche. There’s a lot of discourse in post-colonial studies and indigenous rights about France’s failure to decolonise after the other colonial powers had retreated. But that’s another discussion unrelated to Québec.

    As for your ‘language being debased by foreign words’, well that xenophobia is rich material for linguists. English is a thoroughly debased language, Japanese is an absolute whore for foreign languages, but it doesn’t seem to bother speakers of those languages – they adapt foreign words in their own ways and make them their own. The salient point is, it’s not foreigners forcing their nasty words into our lexicons, it’s the speakers of those languages who seek them out, as traitorous as that may be. My point about language – you can be the victim and look to the nanny state to force you to speak to your kids in whatever language, or you can do it yourself without the government giving a rat’s arse.

    As for getting along with people ‘who’ve been trying to kill you’, well spend some time in South Africa where if they had had your attitude, they would have descended into civil war the moment blacks got majority rule. But despite absolutely horrendous things having been done by whites against blacks and fellow whites, blacks against blacks, and both whites and blacks against Bushman and coloureds, there has been a national campaign of tolerance and reconciliation and people genuinely get on.

    The reason I tune out to the separist Québecois, in the same way I tune out to Macedonians bitching about Greece, the way I tuned out to my Turkish electrician the other day wanting to tell me that Kurds are animals and need to be wiped out, to Serbs and Croats bitching about what the each other did 700 years ago … it’s all so backward looking. If everyone would stop dwelling on the past, let go of it, move forward with some positive views on the future (like the South Africans seem to have been able to do), then I’m all ears.

    Hamish

    August 4, 2009 at 4:54 am

  18. The hurricanes have indeed made life unbearable for people in southern Louisiana in recent years. Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes, where those clips were shot, are particularly vulnerable because they are on the Gulf of Mexico, at sea level, and swampy. The more populous Cajun areas near Lafayette and New Iberia are somewhat inland and on slightly higher ground, fortunately for the people who live there.

    littlerob

    August 4, 2009 at 8:10 am

  19. “I had to reread your third para to make sure I didn’t misunderstand it. But yes: preserving a homeland for functioning French in North America inevitably defines an out-group for those whose French isn’t functioning. And where French has yielded, the tension of pures vs. vendus is no longer relevant.

    Which means you’ve cast even more light for me on the interesting thread at http://www.capacadie.com/videos/45696 — which can be coarsely summarised as, Quebecois (Grag) tells Acadiens they shouldn’t be promoting Acadia with a langue vendue like Chiac, and Acadians retort that Acadieman can speak Chiac and represent Acadia, because being Acadian is cultural not linguistic. From what you’re saying, they can make that argument because their French is no longer a societal but an ethnic marker in New Brunswick; and that argument is impossible in Quebec. Yes?”

    I was born in the Maritimes, am mostly of Acadian origin and most of my relatives are Acadians who live in that region, so I am aware of this issue. The Chiac vs. French issue has been around for a long time, however there has been a new twist to the whole issue in recent years there and is related to the “ethnic” vs. “societal” aspect of the Acadian identity.

    No, the francophone aspect of the Acadian identity has not been reduced to a simple “ethnic” marker. Not yet at least. This is why there is actually a debate going on, contrary to some other places in Canada and the United States where francophones are mostly assimilated and a non-linguistic identity has emerged. Particularly in the northern part of New Brunswick, to be Acadian is to speak French. If your name is Cormier, Boudreau or Thériault but you don’t speak French, then you’re not an Acadian. But if your name is McLaughlin, Ferguson, Abboud, Nakamoto or Bulger and you speak French, then you’re Acadian. Though the phenomenon is not as strong in the southeastern part of the province, this has traditionally been the rule there as well.

    What has made things more complicated in recent years has been the Congrès mondial acadien (World Acadian Congress), the fourth of which is just getting underway in northeastern New Brunswick as I write this. The first was in southeast NB, the second in Louisiana and the third in Nova Scotia. As you can see, there was an effort from the outset to forge strong links with Cajuns in Louisiana, who are mostly direct descendants of Canada’s Acadia. This required the identity-minded Acadians of Canada, all of whom were francophones, to open up their event to English, since most of the Cajuns no longer speak French. There were many heated debates but in the end the desire to reach out to the long-lost cousins in Louisiana won out and the event has been quite bilingual (though still predominantly French I must say) ever since.

    However, a side-effect of this ouverture to the English-speaking Cajuns has been to spark a revival in the interest of many English-speaking Canadians of Acadian descent for their formerly French roots. The truth is that, as with other people of French origin who now speak only English, these people never gave their origins much thought and probably never identified with the Acadian community. In fact, in a phenomenon that is common around the world, many assimilated Acadians are and were “more English than the English”, with the Union Jack on the flagpole (now usually replaced by the Canadian flag), and staunchly opposed to bilingualism and other accommodations for francophones.

    But at some point in the past 10 years or so, many of them started glancing over to the other side of the linguistic divide and thought: “Hey, wait a minute. That looks like fun!” And so the francophone Acadians were faced with a whole bunch of people who couldn’t speak a word of French, had no clue who La Sagouine, 1755 and Cayouche were, but who claimed quite forcefully that they were every bit as Acadian as they were, and who wanted to participate fully in stuff like the Congrès mondial and other community events. They want to be included, but included in English.

    And this is where you have the north versus south debate, because the Acadians of southeastern NB are more used to being around anglos, are more likely to have some of them in their families, and are less passionate about the francophone aspect of their identity, they tend to be more favourable to the inclusion of the Anglo-Acadians. Whereas the northern Acadians, where one could say the francophone identity still has tremendous “societal” force (there even are Acadians of Japanese descent, of British Isles descent, Lebanese descent, and even Black Acadians there), are quite adamant in their belief that to be an Acadian is to speak French. Or at least to be willing to learn it, which apparently not many of the born-again Anglo-Acadians seem interested in doing in order to better fit in with their “brethren”.

    Acajack

    August 4, 2009 at 8:16 am

  20. “Besides, even if you do say “French-Canadian”, you’re immediately marking yourself as not being Quebecois, right? :-)”

    This is true in the Quebec context. However, outside Quebec, where these people live, the terms “French Canadian” and “Québécois” are for all intents and purposes synonyms. As mentioned previously, people with francophone origins who do not speak French generally have no identification whatsoever with either of the two terms.

    And as noted in my Acadian post, they are often the most staunchly English/anglo, with pictures of the Queen in their houses, etc. And if you read the letters pages of newspapers outside Quebec you will find that a disproportionate number of anti-French, anti-bilingualism and anti-Quebec opinions are written by people with surnames that can be traced back to New France.

    Acajack

    August 4, 2009 at 8:24 am

  21. Though I don’t agree with how far he goes, Jean Naimard is right about Switzerland/South Africa vs. Canada. It’s all apples, oranges and bananas.

    Switzerland has actually implemented the language territoriality that a majority of Quebecers (both sovereignist and federalist BTW) see as a desirable solution for their particular situation.

    In South Africa, the speakers of indigenous languages are the majority of the population, which is not the case in Canada. The two main ones, Zulu and Xhosa, are many times more dynamic and “alive” than the two native languages that are in the best shape in Canada (Cree and Iniktitut).

    Acajack

    August 4, 2009 at 8:43 am

  22. Wow. A complexity I had not cottoned on to at all. I’m curious whether this issue was part of the reason why Season 2 of Acadieman had North NB and South NB going to war—but Season 2 ain’t online. And it makes Acadieman a spokesperson for the Congrès Mondial even more loaded—though given their conscious outreach it makes sense. (And it’s why Acadieman goes across Le Mur Separatiste to Independent Quebec.)

    But thank you for taking the time to explain. Life always is even more complicated: so now there’s at least four Franco-Canadas in the tally. Right now, I’m not sure which side I empathise with; yes, there’s something arrogant in the Anglophone Acadian behaviour you describe; but the urge of an Anglophone to rediscover their roots is not a bad thing *in itself*. (Like I said, no shortage of linguistically assimilated indigenous peoples who still want to recover something of what they’ve lost.)

    And even if they have been more royalists than the king, the Anglo-Acadians are still locals familiar by sight with unassimilated Acadians, right? They have some sense of how Acadians tick, so they’re not, like, eclectic Californians along for the ride?

    I’m relieved the Congress is still majority French, at least.

    Nick Nicholas

    August 4, 2009 at 8:48 am

  23. It just goes to show what a tricky thing identity is. I came across this documentary into the history and culture of Mardi Gras in Louisiana: http://www.folkstreams.net/film,168

    My ardent hope is that a renewed interest in their cultural roots leads some to a rediscovery of their language, in the same way that monoglot English speakers in Scotland are sending their kids to Gaelic schools to the point where they’re scrambling to find teachers for increasing enrolment applications.

    As an aside to James – whilst Cajuns do borrow words from English, some of those words that seem to be borrowings are old French words which share a common ancestry with the English equivalent (e.g. groceries).

    As for identity, I’ve thought about this a lot because there’s been a focus on this in Australia (via indigenous issues, immigration, state/federal issues, poverty & class and literacy in our schools) and the more I try to find commonalities, the wider the differences I discover. I wonder sometimes whether national identity is a myth propagated by politicians and civic leaders as a form of social control.

    Hamish

    August 4, 2009 at 8:54 am

  24. You’ve brought up Switzerland before of course, and now I’m curious to work out why exactly Switzerland does not fall apart, if they’re not all Trudeauist bilinguals, and have territorial separation. Looks like I’m going to have to get hold of the book reviewed here, and find out…

    (That’s not a diss to the Trudeauists btw; on the contrary, I find the impulse to make Anglo-Canadians bilingual moving, even if it didn’t work out in the following generation. That’s another point I’m at odds with AFG on…)

    Nick Nicholas

    August 4, 2009 at 8:54 am

  25. “English Canadians having “an enormous cultural inferiority complex facing the french”? I thought it was the Americans they had the nervous twitch over?”

    Not sure he meant English Canadians, about which you are correct: their hang up is with Americans. If there is anything nefarious in their relationship with Quebec and the francophone element in their country it is generally a superiority complex as opposed to an inferiority complex.

    Jean Naimard’s comment was about “Limeys”, which I take to mean people in the UK.

    With comments like these I sometimes wonder if Jean Naimard is not former Radio-Canada reporter Normand Lester. Although that would make *him* Jewish I think (refer to his comments about Linen Chest).

    Acajack

    August 4, 2009 at 8:58 am

  26. “I wonder sometimes whether national identity is a myth propagated by politicians and civic leaders as a form of social control.”

    Of course it is!

    Acajack

    August 4, 2009 at 9:02 am

  27. “And even if they have been more royalists than the king, the Anglo-Acadians are still locals familiar by sight with unassimilated Acadians, right? They have some sense of how Acadians tick,”

    Not as much as you might think. English-speaking Canadians historically have not paid much attention to the culture of their francophone neighbours. (The Add/Erase Channel function on your TV comes in really handy for skipping all those French networks and even pretending they don’t even exist!) In discussions I have with people even from places as bicultural as Ottawa, many anglophones who’ve lived their entire lives next to francophones are completely astonished to find out that Quebec (in particular) has a full-fledged national entertainment industry.

    And when I tell them, they don’t believe me and I have to show them concrete proof like this:

    http://www.cinoche.com/boxoffice (Note the top two movies are Quebec productions)

    And even then some remain incredulous.

    There has been a lot of self-convincing over the years in English Canada about Quebec NOT being all that different.

    So to answer your question, a lot of them probably are similar to eclectic Californians hitching a ride. Which would at least partly explain their near-total lack of interest in learning French.

    My sense is that people in northern NB may be better than those in the south at seeing through this.

    Acajack

    August 4, 2009 at 9:11 am

  28. You’ve brought up Switzerland before of course, and now I’m curious to work out why exactly Switzerland does not fall apart, if they’re not all Trudeauist bilinguals, and have territorial separation. Looks like I’m going to have to get hold of the book reviewed here, and find out…

    It’s very simple: Switzerland is a **TRUE** confederation, that is, one where all the partners joined willingly. We’ll recall that canada was confederated by the will of Cartier and McDonald, but the support was far from being unanimous, particularly in Québec. In fact, they had to have a referendum, but the referendum was nixed when it became clear they would lose it (sounds just like Joey Smallwood, eh?), despite that only rich landowners could vote, **AND** the scatholic church was to excomuniate anybody who voted “no” (back then, voting was not secret). So, in the end, it was put to a vote in the legislature, and the idea passed with one single vote of majority.

    (That’s not a diss to the Trudeauists btw; on the contrary, I find the impulse to make Anglo-Canadians bilingual moving, even if it didn’t work out in the following generation. That’s another point I’m at odds with AFG on…)

    Trudeau was just doing the english’s dirty work for them. Personally, he hated the french, having brought up almost solely by an english mother. His bilingualism was just bullshit, and he knew it, because only the french would learn english. Being brought up in a french-hating environment, he knew very well that the english would never demean themselves by learning french.

    Jean Naimard

    August 4, 2009 at 11:36 am

  29. On your points about immigration, I totally agree, it’s a powerful tool, just look at how the Han Chinese use it as a form of ethnic cleansing. But that is as part of a deliberate governmental policy.

    So is the anglicization of canadian immigrants. Go to a immigration swearing-in ceremony in Montréal, and hear the immigration judge indirectly telling the would-be canadian citizens to disregard the québec language law.

    However, much of what you say shows some real hypocritical prejudices.
    English Canadians having “an enormous cultural inferiority complex facing the french”? I thought it was the Americans they had the nervous twitch over?

    My bad, I should have been more specific. I was talking about the “english from England” (I should have said “british”). I’m talking, of course, from the european historical context where France and Britain have been battling each other for centuries.
    But, indeed, english canadians (“english” tout court) have a cultural inferiority complex towards the americans, and I suppose that one of the reasons they hate us is that we don’t have one, being naturally immunized from it by our frenchness.
    I would think that it’s more complex than that and it sounds actually quite chauvanistic on your part to ascribe anti-french sentiment to some feeling of cultural wretchedness at the all-glorious french culture.
    Well, I’m echoing the anti-frenchness we see from canada all the time. I suppose that this gives me the right to be a bit of a chauvinistic bastard (‘bastard’ not in the australian “nice guy” meaning) :) :)

    Reminds me of growing up in the French community in Sydney having to listen to my parent’s friends going on at dinner parties about how Australia had no culture because no buildings were older than 200 years and France was just the epitome of culture and sophisitication (and we have the ‘whinging Pom” phenomenon here too), but I had to suffer 18 years of the French version which is much more condescending.

    The french could very well say the same thing about here, too…

    As for Britian being a “pisspoor island”, that sort of ad hominem (ad patriam?) comment really devalues your argument, you’re showing them same mindless bigotry as those whom you decry.

    I mean that it is not a bountiful land that was soon depleted of natural ressources. But of course I say it scornfully, having been at the receiving end of british imperialism. But I litteraly mean it, the brits were forced to go overseas because their land could not sustain them, whereas France always gave all the french needed and that they did not need a colonial empire to survive.

    As for the British being the worst colonisers … I invite you to spend some time with Kanaks in Nouvelle Calédonie and discuss their treatment at the hands of the Caldoches (no independence either for la Kanakie). The cladoches I’ve met would be right at home with Eugène Terre’Blanche. There’s a lot of discourse in post-colonial studies and indigenous rights about France’s failure to decolonise after the other colonial powers had retreated. But that’s another discussion unrelated to Québec.

    As I said, France did not need an empire; the post-revolution french empire was largely the works of bourgeois whose mentality is virtually anglo-saxon (that is worldwide, not just about french bourgeois). And the bourgeois have no humanist qualms about doing what they do, being solely concerned about the bottom-line, hence the exactions.
    And the best illustration of this is that the french oppression of immigrants is always higher when the bourgeois are in power (such as right now, with Sarkozy).
    The french colonial empire is so unfrench that the best proof of it is that when France lost it’s empire after world war II, it enjoyed 30 years of solid, steady economic growth, unseen anywhere else in the world at any time, whereas “piss-poor” britain was totally destitute and despondent; it even had to have strict currencly controls in effect for the next 20 years, to avoid the flight of capital!!!

    As for your ‘language being debased by foreign words’, well that xenophobia is rich material for linguists. English is a thoroughly debased language, Japanese is an absolute whore for foreign languages, but it doesn’t seem to bother speakers of those languages – they adapt foreign words in their own ways and make them their own.

    We are constantly threatened by the english’s relative weight in north america; it’s a battle of a thousand fingers in thousands of dykes — ooooh, dirty thoughts ;) — and the creeping english word when a perfectly adequate french word exists is one of the thousands of little paper cuts we suffer daily.

    The salient point is, it’s not foreigners forcing their nasty words into our lexicons,

    When I am really, badly, madly pissed-off at something, I swear in english… Otherwise, I stick to the tried and true “hostie de câlisse de tabarnak”… :) :)

    it’s the speakers of those languages who seek them out, as traitorous as that may be.

    As I said, the ubiquitousness of english make it more visible; in a buffet, you’re more likely to pick from the big table in the middle rather than the one in the corner…

    My point about language – you can be the victim and look to the nanny state to force you to speak to your kids in whatever language, or you can do it yourself without the government giving a rat’s arse.

    As I said hundreds of times, we have no problem with the “nanny state”, we, the french, never had a magna carta, hence we do not have a deeply entrenched fundamental cultural belief that the government is bad. You have to take that into account if you want to accurately assess our attitude towards society.
    We have no problem with the government telling us what to do, because we KNOW it cannot mean harm.

    As for getting along with people ‘who’ve been trying to kill you’, well spend some time in South Africa where if they had had your attitude, they would have descended into civil war the moment blacks got majority rule.
    But despite absolutely horrendous things having been done by whites against blacks and fellow whites, blacks against blacks, and both whites and blacks against Bushman and coloureds, there has been a national campaign of tolerance and reconciliation and people genuinely get on.

    Again, in South Africa, the afrikaans (I was starting to write “boer”) and the english are not the overwhelming majority, so one cannot really compare guavas to lichees.

    The reason I tune out to the separist Québecois, in the same way I tune out to Macedonians bitching about Greece, the way I tuned out to my Turkish electrician the other day wanting to tell me that Kurds are animals and need to be wiped out, to Serbs and Croats bitching about what the each other did 700 years ago … it’s all so backward looking. If everyone would stop dwelling on the past, let go of it, move forward with some positive views on the future (like the South Africans seem to have been able to do), then I’m all ears.

    It’s all nice and sweet, but when a people has been slighted by another, you cannot really expect it to be erased overnight.

    Jean Naimard

    August 4, 2009 at 11:56 am

  30. It’s like ex-smokers: they’re the most vehement against what they were… :) :) :) :) :)

    Jean Naimard

    August 4, 2009 at 11:59 am


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