Samuel Marticotte :
Today, I would like to discuss the status of standard French in Quebec. I have always been aware that there was a standard spoken French that had more status than the one I spoke on the north-shore of Quebec. This is notably the case for all speakers of regions as Quebecers usually put emphasis on the difference between what they call regions (Gaspésie, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, and other regions) and “les grands centres” metropolitan areas/big cities, referring to Quebec or Montreal.
Current standard French is closely associated with the language of French literature (not Quebec Literature), the variety taught in schools, and the variety used by broadcasters, also called “Radio Canada dialect”, a variety close to the language spoken in Quebec City. As in other societies, standard Quebec French is the language of people with high-status and has overt prestige, as we are more likely to hear judges, lawyers, officials, politicians, business men and other people with high-status use it than working-class people in regions or the city.
It is important to note though, that local language features are well alive in Montreal, and working-class speakers of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, for example, use a language that is considered to have low-status. Moreover, most learners of French I meet, comment on the fact that the spoken language in Quebec and Montreal differs radically from the standard thought in ESL classes.
The high-status language in Quebec has changed over the last 50 years. When I watch news from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the variety spoken sounds closer to the current vernacular of older generations living in Montreal, with its notable features such as the rolled “r”s. There seems to have been a change. The current standard seems to have moved from the Montreal dialect, to the Quebec dialect, which may have been a purposeful detachment from Montreal’s evolving cultural diversity and its resulting dialectal change among the new generations of speakers, a situation resembling the one reported by Herk (2012) in the United-States (New-York versus the Mid-West). This is a theory, I may be wrong, I don’t know if there has been work on this question.
I am often appalled at how much denial there is concerning the existence of low-status vernacular in Quebec. I want to bring awareness to the denial and shame of the elite concerning the existence of low-status French in Quebec. An example of this is when Xavier Dolan’s 2014 movie Mommy came out and several journalists from Le devoir sparked a debate claiming that the language used in the movie was an invention and denied its very existence. They claimed it was not Joual French, not Quebecois French, not French French or any other variety of French.
Here is an excerpt from one of the articles in French (English following):
“La langue parlée dans le dernier film de Xavier Dolan n’est ni de l’anglais, ni du français, ni une variété de français qu’on appelle le québécois […] C’est au contraire un parler larvaire, informe, proche des borborygmes, d’une effarante indigence de vocabulaire et dont l’armature syntaxique est bancale […] Xavier Dolan s’y révèle un maître du langage cinématographique. Par contre, sa pseudo-langue populaire est fausse et est un agacement constant. L’image des Québécois que le film de Dolan projette sur la scène internationale est celle d’un groupe d’illettrés souffrant d’une grave carence de vocabulaire. […] Le franglais qui sévit dans certains films produits au Québec ne mène nulle part et nous tribalise. La culture québécoise peut très bien s’exprimer et rayonner sans être ni franco-française ni « joualisante ». (La pseudo-langue de “Mommy”, 2014).
“The language in Dolan’s last movie is not English, nor French, nor any variety of Quebec French. […] On the contrary, it is a larval language, informal, akin to rumblings, with a baffling paucity and which syntactic structure is flawed. […] Xavier Dolan may be a master of the language of film-making, on the other hand, his pseudo-vernacular language is forged and a constant annoyance. The image that he projects of Quebeckers on the international scene is one of illiterate people suffering from having a very deficient vocabulary. […] The Frenglish that appears in some movies produced in Québec is leading us nowhere and tribalizes us. Quebec culture could very well be promoted without being French-French nor “joual” French (a controversial vernacular used by the Montreal working class). (My translation, La pseudo-langue de “Mommy”, 2014)
Dolan, when interviewed, responded to this criticism by saying that he did not intend to be controversial and wrote the script trying to depict his childhood in the suburbs of Laval. I would argue that the language used by the journalist is publicly stigmatizing the vernacular represented in the movie. This is perhaps, an example of how, the low-status of the vernacular is reaffirmed in order to reinforce the prestige of standard French. It is also reaffirming the author’s, perhaps unconscious, political agenda of purging the vernacular (especially of its uses English words) from movies aiming at an international audience.
Do you think that is the case? Are there other perspectives or theoretical frameworks that could be helpful to further analyse this situation ? I’m looking forward to hear what you think!
La pseudo-langue de «Mommy». (2014, October). Retrieved October 6, 2016, from http://www.ledevoir.com/culture/cinema/421175/la-pseudo-langue-de-mommy
Van Herk, G. (2012). What is sociolinguistics. Chichester, West Sussex, UK; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.