Posted by Dean Garlick
(This piece was originally a comment to Simon’s post, but I thought it could use greater visibility and could serve as a separate post on its own).
I’ve also noticed a similar stigmatizing effect in English with First Nations speakers as the one Simon describes in his piece on the French used by the Innu in Sept-Îles. There is often a unique cadence, pace, and grammatical structure that is unique to First Nation’s speakers’ English that unfortunately is often perceived as ‘slow’ or ‘stupid’ by speakers of standard varieties of English. This is extremely frustrating, but more of a reflection of how First Nations peoples are generally viewed and in fact becomes yet another ‘justification’ for discriminatory attitudes.
My girlfriend, Klara Du Plessis, is curating a series of essays for ‘The Town Crier’, the blog for ‘The Puritan Magazine’, which is usually more of a literary site. The topic of her series is ‘writing in English from a Multilingual Perspective’; (she is a bilingual Afrikaans/English poet). In the series she’s included an essay by Kalina Newmark and her colleagues James Stanford and Nacole Walker, out of Dartmouth College. (Kalina is a member of the Tulita First Nation of Northwest Territories, and Nacole Walker is a member of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North/South Dakota). They’ve been researching English features of Native American and First Nations communities across the US and Canada for their Aboriginal English research project. Through their analysis they’ve found particular patterns and systematic forms of usage, such as the ‘double negative’. In the essay she also provides this chart for reflexive pronouns to show the the systematic use of ‘hisself/theirself’:
me > my car > my self = myself
you >your car > your self = yourself
her > her car > her self = herself
he > his car > his self = hisself?
they > their car > their selves = theirselves?
(Newmark, Stanford & Walker, 2016)
As we can see ‘hisself’ and ‘theirselves’ are actually more logical and orderly than ‘himself’ and ‘themselves’, the ‘standard’ varieties. So why should anyone look down on people for using those forms?
Newmark et al. (2016) also looked into the ‘sing-songy’ intonation that is often seen as a stereotypical in indigenous communities’ English. They find that: “there is a pitch pattern on where the stressed syllable has a lower pitch than the unstressed syllable. For example, with a word like Thomas pronounced in this speech style, the first syllable sounds lower than the second syllable. We also found that in this speech style, the end of the sentence is sometimes pronounced a little higher or a little lower than “Standard English” – and sometimes drawn out a little longer. Finally, we also hear rhythmic differences where syllables are pronounced in a more even-paced timing than in ‘Standard English’”(Newmark, Stanford & Walker, 2016). They also report that this style of speech tends to come out more in informal settings, where people feel comfortable relaxing and joking, than in formal ones where many speaker switch to ‘standard’ English styles. They find that though there are many regional distinctions across North America, there is a sense of familiarity with this way of speaking that spans across regions/groups that creates a sense of common identity and camaraderie.
Needless to say, it’s a fascinating essay, and I can’t sum the whole thing up here in this post, but I think it speaks to what you were saying about Innu varieties of French, Simon. The essay hasn’t been published yet. (That’s why I can’t provide page numbers, or even a website reference yet!). However, I will notify you when it IS, and provide a link. The series of essays WILL begin to be posted next week, Monday, and there are 13 in total, so there should be a lot of interesting content for us to go through! Here’s the link to the blog: http://towncrier.puritan-magazine.com/
Do you see a parallel between the First Nations French Varieties and the English ones described here, Simon? Also, for our Chinese classmates; I know there are many indigenous groups in China. Do they have unique ways of speaking Chinese, and are they stigmatized in the way indigenous French and English varieties tend to be here?