When someone thinks of French in Canada, their first thought is usually of Quebec. If pressed to think of another French-speaking part of Canada, many will think of Acadian French (the French spoken in New Brunswick and other parts of the Maritimes). However, more than a million Francophones live outside Quebec, and half a million live in Ontario.
Professor Terry Nadasdi (University of Alberta) has done a great deal of research on French in Canada, and in particular in Ontario and the Prairies. There is a distinction made between Acadian French and what is called Laurentian French. Laurentian French is the French of Québec and the French spoken in Ontario and the Western Provinces. However, Professor Nadasdi has found that the French spoken in Canada isn’t the same everywhere. In particular, he argues that, outside Quebec, Francophones are always in the minority in at least the province, if not the community itself. This distinction makes the French in these communities different from that spoken in Quebec.
Because most French-speaking communities are in the minority, they are also rarely monolingual—they need to speak English to at least some degree in order to function in their communities. Professor Nadasdi is interested in finding how this knowledge of English impacts the French spoken by these minority communities.
He was kind enough to answer some questions I had about Laurentian French outside Quebec.
Michael Iannozzi : What first brought you to study Laurentian French outside Quebec?
Terry Nadasdi : My interest in French outside of Quebec stems from my interest in bilingualism. For the most part, minority French and bilingualism go hand-in-hand. Since my background is in sociolinguistics, the topic provides me with an interesting opportunity to study both language use patterns of bilinguals and the impact of these patterns on linguistic forms.
MI : Why is it important to study the French spoken outside Quebec, and how do you expect it to differ from that of the major Quebecois cities that are often studied?
TN : The context in which the varieties are used is different, so we can expect some linguistic differences (related to bilingualism). That said, there will always be more similarities than differences, given that they are both Laurentian. It is important to study French in minority settings for a variety of reasons. First, it gives us insight into the language of bilinguals and gives credibility to the variety. Minority varieties are often stigmatized and performing research helps legitimize them and also reveals their complexities.
MI : Why is it important to study rural varieties and Franco-Ontarian?
TN : I think it is generally important to study minority varieties for the reasons outlined above. It gives them legitimacy and provides information about the range of variation in Canadian French. Another reason would be to provide resources for second language learners who will interact with Franco-Ontarians and also to allow the Franco-Ontarian education system to determine the extent to which the local variety differs from the standard one (i.e. the one used in schools).
MI : Why is it important to study rural varieties and Franco-Ontarian, and how do you expect, or how have you found they differ from Quebecois French?
TN : I guess the most important aspect is that bilingualism is central to their identity. Many speakers don’t consider themselves entirely French or English. This is generally viewed as positive. I don’t mean they are not linguistically competent in both, but rather their identity involves both simultaneously. Identify has to do with how you represent yourself when interacting with other, how you want them to see you. For example, some speakers purposely use anglicisms when speaking French to remind the listener that they are bilingual.
MI : What is the general health of French outside Quebec, and what do you feel is the best way to promote the use of French outside of Quebec in Canada?
TN : French is fairly well supported on an institutional level. However, monolingual Francophones are rare indeed. Immersion schools are highly effective, and in some regions help maintain French. Ideally, Francophones would always have their own schools. However, there are practical (financial) factors that limit this. Immersion schools are the next best thing. Access to education and cultural events are key to promoting the use of French outside Quebec. It’s also important to have media in French that can bring community members together.
MI : You have done a lot of work on minority French communities, how does the population makeup of a city or town affect the French usage and style of speakers?
TN : Generally, the more Francophones there are at the local level, the more the kind of French spoken resembles that of monolingual Francophones in Quebec. Furthermore, speakers in such communities have a better grasp on both the formal and informal registers. When there a few Francophones, the school becomes the main place where French is used and some informal variants fall by the wayside.
MI : Finally, is there any perception of French speakers outside Quebec that you’d like to clarify or change?
TN : Some believe that minority speakers have a poor mastery of both English and French. This reveals, though, a poor understanding of bilingualism and non-standard speech varieties.
Regarding the study and discussion surrounding French-language education in many provinces outside Quebec, the students of French-immersion schools are expected to learn, and speak, the Quebecois variety of French—even if they are already fluent in French, but just in an Ontarian or Prairie variety of it. There has been a great deal of discussion around the importance of letting students feel validated in speaking their own variety of French. In almost all language communities, there is a perceived “correct” way of speaking, and the other dialects or accents are considered substandard. Professor Nadasdi’s work is aiming to correct this perception. By providing research and statistics to these varieties of French, there is scientific evidence that the French isn’t subpar or of lower quality.
This effort is especially important because language is a part of identity. When older Francophones are asked how they identify they will likely say “French” or “French-Canadian”. However, younger speakers, who have grown up speaking both national languages, now often self-identify as “bilingual”. They feel that their ability to speak both French and English is not just a skill, but a part of who they are.
A sincere thank you to Professor Terry Nadasdi for taking the time to answer my questions and explain Laurentian French outside Quebec. Just as in English, where there have been stereotypes around “valley-girl”, southern American, or Newfoundland English dialects as being less intelligent; there are also stereotypes surrounding French accents. It is important to remember that the way someone speaks has no bearing on the validity or intelligence of what they are saying.
Take care eh,