AngryFrenchGuy

Joual Renaissance

with 41 comments

In Québec there is this long tradition of artists who’s real names might or might not be Bob Walsh and Steve Hill who earn a living performing american blues standards in the provinces innumerable blues festivals with the technical precision and soul of a catholic priest performing mass.  Then, once in a while,  someone comes along to remind us that blues can actually be good music and that Québec French, especially street Joual, could be Delta English’s closest relative.  Offenbach proved it in the 1980’s.  Bernard Adamus does it again this year.  “Singing in English would have made no sense.  I live in French, I love in French, I read in French”, says Adamus, who was born in Poland and sings about Coors light, winter in Longueuil and all things brown (the colour of love…)   Bernard Adamus is in France this week to show the cousins how it’s done.  Consider yourself uncool until you’ve got La question a 100 piastre and Rue Ontario on your iPod.

For a more representative sample of the mans work click here.

There is no doubt that Muzion’s La Vi Ti Neg is the only song (partly) in Haitian Kreyol to be on regular rotation anywhere on the National Hockey Leagues circuit (and for that you can thank my brother Vince).  J. Kyll, the lyricist responsible for that Kreyol verse, just broke a long silence with Spit White, an homage to Québec Joual.  “Damn it’s beautiful to hear you speak Joual”, she raps, “It sounds so real”.  Bobbing his head next to J. Kyll is Imposs, who, as far as we can tell by Youtube clips floating around the Internet has been adopted by Wyclef Jean and just might be getting ready to try to become the first Hip Hop artist to make it big in both the American and French scenes.  A Hip Hop Céline Dion?

Now here’s one for the people who like to say that Québec French and Joual are not “real French”.   Well, I dare any of the amateur linguists who have shared such wisdom on the blogs and internet forums of the world to tell me what Pure Laine Parigot Renaud is singing about in his classic Laisse Béton, shown above.  Yeah, thats what I thought…  France’s street French is as far from the standards of l’Académie française as the French spoken on the corner of Papineau and Beaubien.  Check out Québec City’s Keith Kouna Joual version of the song, called Oublie Ça (get it? Of course you don’t.)   Suddenly Joual sounds a lot more like “real French”, doesn’t it?

Joual in Germany?  Ya.  Franco-Deutch duo Stereo Total liked the 514 so much they called their entire album “Carte Postale de Montréal” and managed to get their hands on some residual sponsorship scandal money to put a big maple leaf on the cover.  Check out their cover of Corbeau’s Illégal, complete with a sincere yet flawed attempt to reproduce signer Marjo’s accent in the line: “C’est TOÉ, qui m’fait d’l’effet.”

Written by angryfrenchguy

November 21, 2009 at 6:01 pm

41 Responses

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  1. “Then, once in a while, someone come along to remind us that blues can actually be good music and that Québec French, especially street Joual, could be Delta English’s closest relative.”

    Of course blue is good music. Please don’t however equate the blues you indicate as being the same as Missisipi Delta Blues. Listen to the chord struture. The only thing in common is the hammond B3 and guitars. Very folksy stuff…not that its bad music.

    ABP

    November 22, 2009 at 8:53 pm

  2. “Delta English’s closest relative”

    Kriss

    November 23, 2009 at 6:59 am

  3. Indeed, “the french spoken in Quebec is not real french” is the most desperate, ignorant and condescending argument against any attempt of protecting the french language in Quebec.

    I did not ad racist to that list, but I really wanted to.

    Balthazar

    November 23, 2009 at 11:46 am

  4. Perhaps I am past the age of worrying too much about being cool..
    “Consider yourself uncool until you’ve got La question a 100 piastre and Rue Ontario on your iPod.”…
    still I went shopping for an iPod in order to catch these tunes…
    Thanks.
    I enjoy your blog.

    Scott Edwards

    November 23, 2009 at 2:10 pm

  5. “the french spoken in Quebec is not real french”

    I wouldn’t take it to heart. Just fools who hear something they don’t understand, yet choose to use it as ammunition anyway.

    Really, I’ve heard this countless times from folks in the UK: That ‘English in the colonies’ is not real English. And as an Atlantic Canadian when I’m not being complemented on my delightful and colourful dialect, I’m being asked why I ‘Choose’ to speak like I do. :P

    Life is too short to be concerned or angry about what a crowd of fools thinks of your language. Especially when their only experience with France French is from soft core pornos on Bleu Nuit.

    John

    November 24, 2009 at 8:33 am

  6. It is real French, and I miss hearing it. My family is in Maine, with many times to Quebec, and this is how I remember my memere and pepere speaking to me.

    I got in more fights with my college French teachers about how things should be pronounced :). I like the way my grandparents say things better.

    likesdogsandcats

    November 24, 2009 at 9:32 pm

  7. Even though I still sometimes have difficulty understanding people in the countryside, I nevertheless prefer the QC accent to the European French one.

    I have assimiliated—unconsciously, it seems—some QC French terms and forms into my own French. And when I turn around and use them with speakers of European French, stuff happens. I get “corrected” frequently. And this past summer, I nearly got slapped after I quite innocently referred to “des bibittes.”

    littlerob

    November 25, 2009 at 3:59 pm

  8. “Even though I still sometimes have difficulty understanding people in the countryside, I nevertheless prefer the QC accent to the European French one.
    I have assimiliated—unconsciously, it seems—some QC French terms and forms into my own French. And when I turn around and use them with speakers of European French, stuff happens. I get “corrected” frequently. And this past summer, I nearly got slapped after I quite innocently referred to “des bibittes.””

    ;-))

    “Bibitte” is actually just a Québécois variation on the (international) French term “bébête”, but most people in France don’t know that.

    Acajack

    November 26, 2009 at 9:04 am

  9. On a tangent…

    Yesterday, I went over to the ONF (NFB) site and watched Michel Breault’s classic documentary « Éloge du Chiac ».
    http://www.onf.ca/film/eloge_du_chiac/
    I’m sure many here have seen it, but I’d never watched the whole of it before, and it’s fascinating.

    In « Éloge du Chiac », young students discuss their Chiac dialect, which is French peppered with so much English vocabulary that French speakers, from France to Quebec, can barely understand it.
    The options they discuss is whether they should “embetter” Chiac by making the effort to use proper French vocabulary, whether they should embrace Chiac as it is, or simply give in and speak English.

    They also discuss their social context : One in which their English neighbors make no effort to speak any French and always expect them to speak English, and where kids automatically switch to English outside their homes and classrooms. (Rings a bell…)
    Most of the discussion is about Acadien identity : whether it’s French or its own distinct culture, and how better to keep it alive.

    From a Québécois perspective though, the assimilation component is the most interesting.
    I for one love to hear Chiac (as I am fond of every variant of French that I know, such as Haitian creole). And so I’d spontaneously favor for it to be upheld as a legitimate French creole.
    Yet, that would only be a good idea if les Acadiens weren’t in Acadie. Because of the political and demographic context, I can’t help seeing Chiac as a transitional phase towards complete assimilation into English : A point of view confirmed by the students’ social experiences. (And especially, one wonders how well Chiac would hold on its own, if Quebec were to assimilate even more into English…)
    So as such, if I were Acadien and worried about assimilation, I’d be more inclined to militate in favor of “embettering” Chiac by purging it from English vocabulary, only to keep its accent and “tournures de phrases”. In short, move Chiac towards becoming more a French dialect again – such as joual is to French – than into the creole that it is.

    But of course, it is not for me to decide. Also, I haven’t been to New-Brunswick since I was about 6. So I don’t know much how the situation has evolved. (I’m sure Acajack can give me an idea.)

    In any case, I can’t wait to watch « Éloge du Chiac – part 2 », this evening on RDI (if I can get someone to record it for me, or if someone puts it on Youtube, as I don’t have cable…).
    http://www.onf.ca/film/eloge_du_chiac_part_bande_annonce/

    Raman

    November 26, 2009 at 1:26 pm

  10. Raman,

    Thanks for the heads up on that. Can’t help you with any uploads, but perhaps it’ll end up here: http://www.radio-canada.ca/documentaires/play-video/index.asp?idContenu=4301 once the doco airs.

    John

    November 26, 2009 at 2:38 pm

  11. Raman,

    J’aime ta skirt mais j’aime pas le way qu’a hang!

    Chiac is still alive and well in southeastern New Brunswick, and my impression based on visits there and talking with friends and relatives from NB is that chiac-like talk is also seeping into hitherto more linguistically pure and less anglicized areas like the Acadian Peninsula. This is partly due to migration patterns: there is an exodus, particularly of young people, from the north of the province to Moncton in the south-east. So more and more of them are studying and working in the Moncton area, and bringing chiac back with them to the north.

    I personally have mixed feelings about chiac.
    On the one hand, regardless of how Acadians came to speak chiac, it is a truly authentic product of a people’s past and reality. In rare instances, it can also, in my opinion, be beautifully poetic:

    However, I would agree with you Raman (actually, it is freaky how I use the same terms as you) that the danger of chiac is that it is a transitional phase from the purer French that these Acadians once spoke to a life lived mostly in English.

    Now, chiac *could* potentially have more of a future, if only all residents of southeastern NB spoke it. But the truth is that anglos in Moncton speak pretty much exactly the same English as the rest of the North American continent does. Chiac hasn’t affected Moncton English in the slightest. This is in contrast to Haitian Creole in Haiti or Singlish in Singapore, which everyone can speak in these countries.

    So I would tend to keep chiac for specific cultural expression. And even Marie-Jo Thério whose video I linked to above always sings in pretty standard French. This is her only song in chiac to my knowledge.

    I like to pose the question about chiac vs. more standard French like this: does anyone build bridges, manufacture airplanes or sign mortgage contracts in chiac? If not, then what is the likelihood of people having a professional existence in chiac in the future? Next to none I would say.

    So pushing chiac in official places where it doesn’t belong like school under the pretext that it is the “true” language of the Acadian people only plays into the hands of assimilation, as the only viable societal languages are English and French.

    Too much emphasis on chiac only whittles away even more of what little leverage French has and desperately needs to challenge English in the hearts and minds of Acadians on the ground in Moncton and in NB in general.

    Acajack

    November 26, 2009 at 3:04 pm

  12. @Raman: I may have posted this link here before, but I’ll do so again as you write that you are interested in variants of French.

    http://www.metisresourcecentre.mb.ca/language/index.htm

    It’s an introduction to Michif.

    littlerob

    November 26, 2009 at 8:05 pm

  13. @John,
    Thanks for the hint. In any case, I got someone to record it, so I’ll be able to watch it in a few days.

    @Littlerob,
    Thanks also. I had visited the link when you first posted it.
    I will admit that I know very little about the state of Michif at the present. I have read that there is a certain revival happening. I’ll try to keep informed about it.
    -What is your personal interest in it, if I can ask ?

    @Acajack,
    Thanks also for the insights.

    I guess, in face of all different French patois that exist on this continent, I tend to be romantic.
    My feeling is that they are, in a sense, vestiges of the continent that could have been. And by that, I don’t mean if the English hadn’t invaded. I mean if we’d actually all blended in together.

    To my ears, Chiac as much as Joual sound like languages that are closer to the nature and history of this continent; infinitely more so than the American English that threatens to homogenize it (and the planet along with it).
    Their way of blending in different influences gives sense to this Canadian idea that they have tried to sell us, but which always turns out to be a pipe dream.

    As a kid, I’d heard Chiac spoken, and it made sense. I’d heard Franco-Ontarian spoken, and it made sense. I’d listened to my favorite Québécois singers sing both in English and French, and it made sense. All these signified what it was to be Canadian for me : 2 peoples, 2 languages, equally interested in each other and blending in with each other.
    Then I learned English and I realized, like the kids in “Éloge du Chiac”, that the English kids don’t give a f…
    For them, as they say “English should be good enough for everybody”.

    At some point during the 80’s, Quebec nationalists kind of quit on other francophones in Canada. And, at least according to some things you have said here, Acajack, they also quit on us. Yet they go on declining…

    Do you think any kind of coalition between Franco-Ontarians, Québécois and Acadians is still possible ?
    I know some sociologists used to predict that would happen if Quebec ever broke out : That we would eventually be joined in by other French-Canadians.

    I may be a naive romantic, but I’d be willing to militate for that.

    Raman

    November 27, 2009 at 12:04 am

  14. I don’t know if you agree with me, but I have the impression of a new kind of Chiac, Joual or Creole that is developing in Montreal. You know, this language where someone would insert english words, expressions and whole sentences when speaking french. Or is it the other way around? Hard to know.

    I always found that this was a way of avoiding to accept french as a common language. It assures de degradation of french while assuring the necessity of english.

    It has it’s roots in mostly immigrant frequented schools and neighbourhoods, but I hear it more and more in professional and « French-Canadian » circles.

    Maybe one day, someone respectable will do a great documentary in order to make an “Éloge to the Montreal Franglish” but I have to say that it is just assimilation in front of our eyes (and beside our ears).

    Jacques

    November 27, 2009 at 10:18 am

  15. @Raman—My interest in Michif is part of a lifelong interest in contact languages and their creole descendants. Since my expertise–such as it is–is limited to European tongues, my interest is perforce confined to languages based on them, such as Afrikaans, Yiddish, the various English- and French-derived creoles of the Caribbean, etc.

    littlerob

    November 27, 2009 at 10:49 am

  16. Raman,
    I too had this idealism for a long time, born out of the bonjour-mon-ami-how-are-you-my-friend-ça-va-très-bien-thank-you Trudeauism of the 70s I grew up in.

    To be honest, people like me might be said to be the embodiment of the Trudeauist ideal, at least linguistically and culturally.

    But when I started to look at things more closely, I noticed the same things as you. The French side of the equation was much more permeable than the English side (with a few notable exceptions). Now, I came to this conclusion while I was living as a francophone outside Quebec. Which explains why I initially rationalized it all by thinking it was only normal that the majority anglo side in the ROC be impermeable to French, and that the majority francophone side in Quebec was likely for its part just as impermeable to English (which is what Canadian dogmas would have us believe).

    Then I started spending more time in Quebec, and eventually moved here.

    Quite the wake up call. Here I thought that things would be reversed: francophones didn’t make a fuss about English only service at Sears in Moncton or Home Depot in east end Ottawa, and so I thought it would be the same, that anglos in Quebec would not have too many issues with service only in French (outside of a handful of bastions like Westmount, Shawville, etc.).

    Boy was I surprised.

    My new neighbourhood in Quebec was something like 6% anglo, yet I saw neighbours demanding (and more often than not obtaining) service in English from A to Z from bus drivers, Hydro-Québec workers, teenaged dépanneur clerks, caisse population cashiers, you name it.

    I also travelled a bit in Quebec and saw the same thing in many places where anglos were 5% of the population.

    Granted, I must admit I have seen anglos refused service in English as well, usually nicely but in a few instances by rude francophones as well.

    If you would have told me before I moved to Quebec that service in English was so forcefully demanded and successfully obtained in places with such tiny anglo populations, I would not have believed you. And
    I bet you most Franco-Ontarians would not believe what I am writing today.

    But the truth is that a 3 to 5% local anglo population produces opportunities for service in that minority’s language that FHQs in communities where they are 40% or more can only dream of.

    Acajack

    November 27, 2009 at 12:49 pm

  17. “At some point during the 80’s, Quebec nationalists kind of quit on other francophones in Canada. And, at least according to some things you have said here, Acajack, they also quit on us. Yet they go on declining…
    Do you think any kind of coalition between Franco-Ontarians, Québécois and Acadians is still possible ?
    I know some sociologists used to predict that would happen if Quebec ever broke out : That we would eventually be joined in by other French-Canadians.
    I may be a naive romantic, but I’d be willing to militate for that.”

    The schism actually began with the Estates General of French Canada in the late 60s, when the majority of delegates, who were from Quebec, voted that French Canada’s efforts should be concentrated on solidifying a bastion in Quebec. Of course, it took a while for this to make its way down on the ground (there was still some cross-Canada franco solidarity left out there), but by the 80s, the full effects could be seen and both sides were doing their own thing.

    Now, there was a little bit of a flirtation with “rattachisme” (thanks to the Wallons for that term) from the Acadians in northern NB, some of whom formed the Parti Acadien which was apparently close to the PQ. Their goal was to create an Acadian province, which would then be free to choose its own destiny if/when Quebec became independent: staying with Canada, going along with Quebec or becoming an independent Acadia. The Parti Acadian never got very far though, and NB did beef up its French services to Acadians (not sure if it was in response to the Parti Acadien or not).

    As for possibilities for today and the future… I am not sure. Certainly, FHQs have been fully sold on the fact that their only salvation is within the current Canadian structure. They are among the most loyal Canadians and many view anything political from Quebec with suspicion.

    Acajack

    November 27, 2009 at 12:56 pm

  18. “However, I would agree with you Raman (actually, it is freaky how I use the same terms as you) that the danger of chiac is that it is a transitional phase from the purer French that these Acadians once spoke to a life lived mostly in English.”

    I heard this trailer of “L’éloge du chiac part 2” where this teacher talks about students speaking English–as in English-English– in school, and when asked to speak French, they answer something like “I’m not speaking English, I’m speaking chiac, it’s my culture, leave me alone.”

    So yeah, sound as if original chiac (Archaic French + Modern French + English) could slowly be turning into… English.

    Acadieman (http://acadieman.capacadie.com/) to the rescue!

    angryfrenchguy

    November 27, 2009 at 1:01 pm

  19. I knew Acadieman would show up here eventually…

    Regarding the “Hey man! That’s part of my culture” rebuff, well I have heard that from Franco-Ontarians as well as an explanation for why they speak English all the time and almost never speak French, yet still claim to be proudly Franco*. Many FHQs have fully integrated into their personal culture the English language and all that goes along with it. Which is only normal, since many have anglo spouses, friends, neighbours, colleagues at work. They often live most of their lives in English, much more than in French in many cases. So it is not surprising for that reality to have identity-related implications for them. Unless they want to live in denial, I suppose, as some of these people also do, and pretend that they live exactly as a majority of francophones in Quebec do.

    The upshot is that this is the reality of so many FHQs that it become sort of the norm for many communities. Not so much in northern NB or extreme eastern and northeastern Ontario yet, but in much of the FHQ world, one doesn’t necessarily have to speak much French at all in order to be a Franco-Whatever.

    And so the identity becomes ethnic rather than linguistic.

    *The Association canadienne-française de l’Ontario is very alarmed by surveys in recent years that show that 70% or more of Franco-Ontarian kids, when asked about their identity, respond that they consider themselves “bilingue”, with only small proportions responding that they feel “Franco-Ontarian”, “francophone” or “French Canadian”.

    Acajack

    November 27, 2009 at 2:58 pm

  20. I always understood Haitian French better than Quebec French — joual or otherwise.

    Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the French we were taught in the PSBGM was Parisian French? They should have used the bus driver instead of they wanted us to understand our next door neighbour…

    Tony Kondaks

    November 27, 2009 at 3:36 pm

  21. “Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the French we were taught in the PSBGM was Parisian French? They should have used the bus driver instead of they wanted us to understand our next door neighbour…”

    Been a long time since I’ve been in public school. Do texts in Canadian/Quebec French even exist?

    John

    November 27, 2009 at 3:59 pm

  22. “Been a long time since I’ve been in public school. Do texts in Canadian/Quebec French even exist?”

    Well, they exist but there would be little to set them apart because written French be it from France or Quebec is probably about 98% identical.

    Acajack

    November 27, 2009 at 4:03 pm

  23. To follow up my previous post, written Quebec French is closer to the written language in France than American English is to British English. I read lots of newspapers and La Presse and Le Devoir are virtually identical to Le Monde, and have fewer vocabulary and spelling differences between them than do the Times of London and the New York Times.

    As for Tony’s comment about Haitian French, I presume he meant French spoken by educated Haitians (which tends to be international standard French) and not Haitian Creole. Haitian Creole is often misrepresented as Haitian French, but it is actually a language unto itself. Unless Tony spent a lot of time hanging out with Haitians, it is doubtful he would understand it thanks to his Parisian French classes taken in PSBGM schools in the early 50s…

    Acajack

    November 27, 2009 at 4:08 pm

  24. “I always understood Haitian French better than Quebec French — joual or otherwise.”

    Hope you understand the struggles of Haitians a little better than you understand Quebec.

    Jacques

    November 27, 2009 at 4:09 pm

  25. “Well, they exist but there would be little to set them apart because written French be it from France or Quebec is probably about 98% identical.”

    Thanks. It always stuck me that our texts were American with France French and France references. Rather than something for a Canadian student.

    Oddly, thinking back I don’t recall even having a Francophone French teacher. If memory serves quite a few were English. :P

    John

    November 27, 2009 at 4:18 pm

  26. Jacques : « I don’t know if you agree with me, but I have the impression of a new kind of Chiac, Joual or Creole that is developing in Montreal. You know, this language where someone would insert english words, expressions and whole sentences when speaking french. Or is it the other way around? Hard to know. »

    I hardly think there is anything like a “Montreal creole” developing at this time. The closest thing to that, from what I’ve noticed, is kids switching effortlessly back and forth between English and French (and sometimes a 3rd language such as Spanish or Arabic).

    This is where the evolution of Chiac becomes interesting though.
    Many think that the insistence on bilingualism for everybody (that is, only for every Francophone…), as you suggest, is only a way to make sure that les Québécois engage themselves on the path towards assimilation.
    The steps are as follow : First, create enough social pressure to convince everybody that they should become fully bilingual (again, only the people you want to assimilate). Then, the burden of knowing 2 languages will seem like useless efforts – or even a factor for being discriminated at, as the kids in “Éloge du Chiac” decry. So, at that point, why not drop the “least useful” language ?…

    If that theory proves true, then Chiac would be a case of being right in the middle of the transition.

    To go back to Haitian creole, we can think that the same would have happened if, instead of living on their own island, the Haitians were located smack in the middle of France. Eventually, they would have come to the conclusion that the key to success and integration was abandoning the non-french parts of their language, and just get on with the majority’s program.
    [Of course, there is a major difference here : Haitians are black. That factor alone could have influenced them to stay tightly-knit among themselves, and thus contribute to keep their creole alive. Whereas in our case, language is the prime factor that sets us apart. Once we all start speaking English, nothing will stop us from completely melting in.]

    Raman

    November 27, 2009 at 6:23 pm

  27. Raman,
    “we can think that the same would have happened if, instead of living on their own island, the Haitians were located smack in the middle of France. ”

    Le Créole haïtien est un mélange de français, d’anglais et d’espagnol. Beaucoup d’Haïtiens parlent un français impeccable; beaucoup plus près du français de France que ne l’est le français québécois. Je ne suis pas sûr de comprendre ta comparaison: si les Haïtiens vivaient en France, ils ne seraient pas Haïtiens et parleraient français comme tout noir (ou blanc ou vert) français; si, par contre, ta comparaison sous-tend que toute une communauté haïtienne soit transportée d’un bloc comme par magie dans un petit village de la France profonde, alors là, je te suis, le créole disparaîtrait graduellement.

    Ibus

    November 27, 2009 at 7:32 pm

  28. Ibus,
    Ta deuxième interprétation est la bonne.
    Tout ce que je dis, c’est que le contexte est important.

    Si tu es entouré par un bloc monolithique et massif de locuteurs d’une autre langue, tu as moins de chances de garder la tienne que si tu es isolé (comme les Haïtiens) ou que si tu fais partie d’une mosaïque linguistique (comme les nations européennes).

    C’est pourquoi le bilinguisme et la créolisation peuvent plus être compris comme un pas vers l’assimilation chez les Québécois et les Acadiens que chez les Haïtiens.

    Raman

    November 27, 2009 at 8:11 pm

  29. I just remembered something.

    “Fetchez la cow”

    …did the Pythons know about chiac?

    Jim Joyce

    November 27, 2009 at 8:16 pm

  30. I always thought they were saying « Pitchez la vache »…
    But you’re right, it’s « fetchez ». :)

    Raman

    November 27, 2009 at 8:32 pm


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