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Ἡλληνιστεύκοντος
(Greek Linguistics)

2009-07-29

Acadieman

Knowing nothing at all about Canada, I assumed there was a well defined Franco-Canada set up in opposition to Anglo-Canada; and I was surprised (as I've already blogged) that Quebec is not particularly losing sleep over the Francos outside Quebec. It turns out that, after a shortlived surge of westward colonisation, Quebec had decided by mid-century—long before the modern articulation of sovereigntism—that Quebec was the only safe homeland for French, and the Hors de Québec should be left to their fate of assimilation. Which is what's been happening; in fact, someone has said that the real miracle is that French still does survive outside Quebec.

The bump in the story is that Franco-Canada is not only the westward colonists of Manitoba and Saskatchewan and Ontario. It is also Acadia. And Acadians are not Quebecois. They didn't come from the same part of France; they didn't speak the same kind of French; they weren't neighbours. It would take deliberate nation-building to get them to regard each other as the same people. But there wasn't enough time for a nation building of Nouvelle-Francians to happen: the ethnic cleansing that turned Acadians into Cajuns saw to that. Any nation building, a century later, was oriented towards Canada, and towards getting them to regard Anglo-Canadians as the same people.

So the ideal of the Canadian Dominion was not an ideal of a French nation and an English nation making common ground. It was an ideal of Quebecois and Acadians and Upper-Canadians and Anglo-Maritimers making common ground. That wasn't the way a Nouvelle-France identity was going to be forged; and it hasn't been.

So if you're Acadian, from what I gather, you don't regard the prospect of an independent Quebec with pride and expectation, because you don't regard Quebec as your Zion, the French Canadian homeland. You don't, because you don't regard the Quebecois as the same people as you, let alone more authentically French than you. You regard the prospect of an independent Quebec with alarm, because it's going to mean the end of what little protection you have for your own language, in the context of Canada that you're stuck in. The polls are pretty strongly against Quebec sovereignty in Acadia, and both Acadians and Franco-Ontarians make a big deal of Canada Day now. They've invested in the Conferederation, as insurance.

That's what I gather anyway. The originally Acadian Acajack over at Angry French Guy—a consistently lucid and clear thinker—has several more cogent and nuanced comments than that, which also have the advantage of actually being informed: this for example. I've seen at least one Quebecois commenter retort the Francophones outside Quebec are stupid to trust the maudit anglais to respect their language. Maybe they are. But they're still not making aliyah.

So I'm on Angry French Guy's blog today (as I have been a lot recently), and I come across his posting on how there is excellent Francophone music which does not get enough respect in Anglophonia, dammit. One of the featured bands, "Straight Outta Moncton", was Radio Radio, who rap in Chiac—the mixed English/Acadian of Moncton youth. AFG commends the rhyming potentialities of Chiac, and reassures his Anglo readers that no, the Quebecois don't understand what they're saying either.

Here's their hit Cliché Hot, with subtitles; and you know what? I don't think Acadian poses as much of a challenge to me as Joual. Yes, I know it's Chiac not Acadien pur, and there's a lot of English in there. But the French substrate is certainly enunciated more leisurely, and I didn't think the vowels were anywhere near as unrecognisable. That may be a SW vs. NW France thing, given where the original colonists came from.

Oh, and it's a fun boppy piece of hip hop. As phallically driven as non-political hip hop usually is; but being XY-chromosomed myself, I shrug that off; the five or six different incongruities in the verse Arrache ta ch'mise bitch, t'es cliché hot ("Take off your shirt, salope, you are stereotypical chaude") amuse me more than anything else. And there's a lot to be said for macaronic verse. It gave us Stetit Puella in the Carmina Burana: it can be sublime:

Stetit puella
bi einem boume
scripsit amorem
an eime loube.
(See David Parlett's translation)

Or it can be a phun phat beat:

Now, the fact that Acadians and Quebecois don't regard themselves as the same people doesn't mean they aren't talking to each other, or even that they don't regard each other as cool. At least one Quebecoise cites Radio Radio on their MySpace pages. But plenty of Australians cite Crowded House on their MySpace pages too, and that goes towards confirming Acajack's contention: Acadia to Quebec is like New Zealand to Australia—or Canada to the U.S. To Quebec, Acadia is cool, quirky, a cousin, but not the same; ditto Quebec to Acadia, but (I surmise, Acajack didn't say so) with the added discomfort of being towered over.

I wikipedia'd around Radio Radio, and failing that, Chiac. Which led me to the animated series Acadieman: Le first superhero acadien.

Acadieman illustrates some of what I've just been saying, I think. I know that I am a Australian anglophone with no knowledge of the local subtleties and a knee-jerk defensiveness towards federalism, so I have no right to make any conclusions about how Acadia ticks from five minutes with an animated series. But:
  • It's not just the English bits of Chiac that I'm finding easier to understand than the Quebecois accent: I was basically following the French bits too. And that certainly doesn't happen for me with continental French.
  • For jollies, there's an episode (Series 3 Ep. 5) where a starstruck Acadieman asks comediènne quebecoise Pascale Bussières: "I hear you guys speak something like our Chiac... Joual. Could you speak some?" Until this point, Pascale has been speaking the mellifluous Parisian of Radio-Canada; but she's game, so sure, she'll speak some Joual.
    Sænte-Fwè Booport Tcharlesbourg, Lorettzville Vaniarr Sænt-Augustzin-de-Desmaures Læc-Sænt-Tchar-les!!!!
    It was like I was back at Aerodrome Dorval. Could not understand a solitary syllable of it.
  • The proud use of Chiac on Acadieman is in itself a political statement. Chiac is bastardised French, just like Cajun is, and it's a portent of the Anglification of Moncton. The French teachers of New Brunswick are dismayed by the show, and they're not unjustly dismayed: what's the point in the only Francophone university outside Quebec being in Moncton (unless Sainte-Anne counts too), if Acadieman proves Monctonians can't speak proper French after all. The Quebecois know that if they didn't enact Bill 101, their French would end up a folkloric exhibit like Cajun; Acadieman's Chiac may make some of them feel vindicated. And Acajack, touched by the use of Chiac in a song not by Radio Radio, still says:
    Of course, I am enough of an armchair student of linguistics to know that chiac is a dead-end street for francophones in that part of the country.

  • But Acadieman's creator knows why he's using Chiac, and defends it in his blog: he's asserting a Moncton identity, not a Quebec City or a Paris identity, and he's attracted interest from sociolinguists for it. He also winks at the language paranoia in the series: in Series 3 Ep. 10, Acadieman is out of town—and away from his corrupting influence, his friends find themselves drifting into français de Rive Gauche.
  • The plot of Season 3 is an Acadian Götterdämmerung: it's played for laughs, sure, but it does illustrate some of what I'm surmising. Quebec secedes; America invades New Brunswick; the Acadians are driven to the woods in the second round of New Brunswick ethnic cleansing. These are the darkest fears of Acadia, put on the screen for Ha Ha Only Serious laughs. It strikes me that at least some of those darkest fears are shared with Anglo-New Brunswick: that the Acadians see the world at least partly with Anglo-Canadian eyes. Chiac isn't just about language.
  • Which makes me gasp at some of the lampooning of Quebec that Acadieman does. It's not Anglo-Canadian Letter to the Editor, We Pay Too Much Money For Bilingualism lampooning; it's not Why Does My Chips Packet Have French On It lampooning, of course not. But it's certainly not deferential either. The faces on the new Quebec dollar (Series 3 Ep. 8) were South-Parkian in their cheek: Celine Dion, poutine (Quebec variant), Réné Lévesque complete with cigarette in his hand, that Hockey Team mascot I never did work out; and on the QUD 1 bill: Charles de Gaulle.
    Not because Acadians think the Quebecois are Francodules. But because de Gaulle made the speech on the Montreal town hall balcony, that legitimated the whole turn of events...
  • (Do I have to gloss "Francodules"? I see it's been used once online before now. Cf. iconodule: a slave to Frenchness.)
  • Oh, and this is a silly thing to say, but: there was a clear sense to me that French-speaking Montreal was a foreign place to un anglo comme moi. Duh. But anyone who drops anyhoo into his version of French, like Acadieman does... I find it a lot tougher to consider him un étranger. :-)


When the Parti Québecois was first elected, Réné Lévesque (possibly with cigarette in his hand) exulted: "Maybe we're not such a little people any more. Maybe we're something of a great people." And the struggles in Quebec before and since have been the struggles of a great people or two, epic and animated and momentous.

The struggles of Acadia are not the struggles of a Great People. A Great People sends men to the moon; a Humble People worries about his house burning—a metaphor I take from this clip of an Acadian in 1967, complaining that Quebec separatism isn't doing anything to help the survival of Acadian French.

I'm Australian and not a Kiwi, I've lived in the US and not Canada, and Greece and not Cyprus. Still, I find something... sympathetic about the fate of being a Humble People. So long as a humble people manages to hold out, there's a greatness in that too.

3 comments:

jcowan said...

So just why are you such a knee-jerk federalist, Nick? Don't you ever have secret thoughts about 'Burn for the 'Burnians, and letting the wowsers in the rest of the country go their own way to damnation? Certainly as a committed New Yorker and painfully-aware American, I have had analogous thoughts, and so have others.

Hamish said...

I just need to note in relation to your comment that "Chiac is bastardised French, just like Cajun is..." apart from any socio-linguistic rebuttal from the Chiac side, that Cajun French is not bastardised French, nor is it a creole. It is French, it has some slightly different grammatical rules, but is perfectly comprehensible French. One of the many obstacles facing French speakers in Louisiana from maintaining their language is a misguided view that they speak "français cassé". I find cajuns easier to understand than many québecois.

opoudjis said...

@ John, I have half a draft post in the fridge on Australian separatisms, but it needs more work. I'm still trying to work out what it is exactly I'm committing to—federalism or centralism.

@Hamish: I was being overly flippant about both Chiac and Cajun (and have done no homework on the latter, as you can tell—apart from the AFG discussions I've apparently dragged you into). The "bastardised" comment was meant as a knowing wink at the language panic that's at the centre of Acadieman. (Note that the Brayon speaker in Acadieman, Danny Thibodeau, does *not* code-mix with English.) Then again, the very notion of language purity is being subverted on that show.

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