A language is an imprint on the heart of those who speak it. It's the repertoire of thoughts, emotions, experiences and dreams shared by a community. Our language is not better than others, but it is ours. It's what we've lived.
- Neuroscience Review: The Cerebral Cortex (Quick Review Notes);
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- THE SUBJECTION OF THE SON.
It speaks to us in more than words. Our laughter, tears and hopes have a French ring to them.
Words and Thoughts about writing in France
And if we're proud of what we are, we're proud of the language that has allowed us to become what we are. It's in French that we've named our reality. That we've claimed it for ourselves. For me, like for many people who've lived in more than one language, it's true that each language is imbued with a different feeling and with different associations. And for me, Quebec French has always been linked with a broad and warm sense of pleasure. The language itself has its own attractions, with its spectacular swear words and the linguistic agility of many of its speakers who easily slide around between registers like virtuoso saxophone players.
But there's also this: it's the language that I've had the most fun in. I never had to endure classes or write exams in it, or steel myself for family dramas in it these took place in English and Czech respectively. French was my hanging-out language. And the French-Canadian friends of my adolescence were more rambunctious, inclusive and adventurous than my English-Canadian peers.
My most animated political arguments took place in French, and ended not in stony silences, but in raucously funny insults and a collective decision to go get some food. And to this day any social interaction, even an incidental encounter with a shopkeeper, just feels more warm and spontaneous in French than it does in English. It's like eating comfort food; it's not so much that the food itself is inherently delicious, it's that it comes attached to memories that soothe.
This subjective experience of many multi-linguals is beginning to be probed in experimental studies. Languages come attached with certain memories and associations. And presumably, a good bit of code-switching is motivated by such non-interchangeable connections; we use different languages to talk about different things simply because it feels more natural that way. So part of me thinks that, if a French-only greeting acts as a gentle implicit nudge for customers who command both languages to engage in French as I bet it would , this is not such a bad thing.
Shopkeepers can still readily accommodate those customers who might really prefer to use English. And so it was at a car rental office during my visit to Montreal. The man behind the desk greeted me with a nice "Bonjour" and I happily continued the exchange in French. But when I handed over my Alberta driver's license and turned to talk to my mother in English, he then switched to English—which was, like my French, discernibly accented, but fluent and comfortable.
I appreciated the courtesy, but persisted in French; he continued in English. Finally, I said to him in French : "Please allow me the pleasure of speaking in French.
I rarely get to use it now that I live out West, and it does me a lot of good. And when he handed over the keys, I felt thoroughly welcomed. June 16, pm. I knew a American woman, from Texas, who was fluent in French. She studied for a while in Tunisia, where she fell in love with a Tunisian man. Sine the only language they had in common was French, their courtship and eventual marriage was conducted in French.
Language Log » Much ado about Montreal greetings
Eventually they moved back to the States and had several happy years. As he gradually became fluent in English, though, the language they spoke at home gradually switched over to English, and their marriage started to fall apart. I've talked with several bilingual people about this since, and there isn't unanimity, but most of them at least felt that there was some truth to it. I've always been curious, and Julie's personal discussion has renewed the curiosity—do you feel that the language you use is just a… context that you happen to be existing in, or do you feel that your identity as a person somehow varies depending on the language?
I wish I could sharpen that question somewhat as to what "identity" means, but it's not really that clear to me. In terms of mother language first language learned , the census reported that in the Greater Montreal Area, So how do those allophones feel in the city of Royal Mountain? Are their sensibilities taken to account in any way or all the attentiaon is consumed by this hundred years' war? When I was growing up there in the 70s and 80s, I was by no means an oddity as an allophone.
But Quebec's birthrate has been very slow since, and the province relies heavily on immigration, with many newcomers arriving in Montreal. These Montrealers tend to be especially comfortable with multi-lingualism, and language usually has less of a political edge for them. It'll be interesting to see whether this dilutes linguistic tensions as their proportion in the population continues to increase. I suspect it will in Montreal, though outside of Montreal, Quebeckers may feel somewhat threatened by their eager embrace of English, even if they do speak French as well.
Living in Catalonia this year and actually researching bilinguals the contrasts and similarities are striking. There's a language conflict, but there are no sign laws some signs are only in Chinese for example , but there is constant negotiation of languages. People who are productively monolingual are seen by many who are productively bilingual as somewhat defective, perhaps ethically so. Those who are monolingual are defensive about it, and have many different motivations from contempt for the other language to fear of speaking it badly.
Many people will start off an exchange with a disavowal of imposing their linguistic preferences on interlocutors. This is taken to a fault by an assumption that if you don't look local via phenotype or clothes or speak Catalan with an accent, the right thing to do is speak in Spanish. It can be hard to get some people to speak Catalan to you. Even some Latino kids who I interviewed in native sounding to me Catalan reported that no strangers speak Catalan to them. This is done not because of hoarding cultural capital but on the basis of a politeness norm, not to impose linguistically.
Just a few observations. I found it something peculiar to Montreal that there is this political edge to what language you speak, and even if you speak French, if you can't follow the local slang you are treated differently. I felt much more comfortable in small towns in rural Quebec, because generally no one speaks English at all, so the question doesn't arise.
I'm only conversant in English and the experience of being immersed in a primarily non-English environment was very interesting to me. While I picked up a few new words of French from signage, I was primarily conscious of how reassuring it was to see or hear English. The dilemma the language police put the shopkeepers in is very clear. While I would liked to have gone to many local restaurants, I avoided any where I thought I might get into a bind trying to order.
I'm entirely sympathetic to the social problems created by cultural bias and the challenges of cultural sustainability, but I question whether promoting interpersonal discrimination is really helping the situation shades of Southern lunch counters and such. But perhaps it is since without this kind of militancy then the hegemony will simply win.
For me as a non-native French speaker and European, the first sign in Laporte's text of its origins was the phrase "parler au cellulaire". I know a number of people active in minority language movements in Britain and Ireland. They often discuss how crucial it is in staving off language death to get people to initiate conversations in the minority language. The case of French in Quebec is more complex than that of a minority language, but it seems some of the same issues would be involved. Are there any key papers y'all could suggest on the ways in which conversations are initiated in multi-lingual societies or societies with active proponents of minority languages?
For example, does more prominent signage in one language over another increase the probability that the more prominently-displayed language will be used? Given much of the work that's coming out of the implicit priming literature these days, this would seem fairly plausible. French for me is definitely an acquired language, and though I speak it fairly well, I know I have much yet to learn. It's a very good translation, and I know the stories well in English. The interesting thing I experienced while reading it is this: I was more aware of the poetry in Bradbury's writing. I'm not sure if that confirms anything in this Language Log article, but I do think there are different "feels" to the two languages.
I'm a native Montrealer, now living in the US, an anglophone who went to French school who loves talking Quebecois French and doesn't get much chance to in Ohio. I used to make a point of filling out the French side of my customs form and replying to the language-inclusive greeting of the customs agent — I can't remember now what it was exactly — in French to try to steer the conversation into French. Upon my return from abroad yesterday, I was disappointed to discover that they've now replaced the agents with kiosks for Canadian-passport—holders.
I was too jet-lagged to navigate the unfamiliar kiosk in French, so in a cowardly way I chose English. It's been more than 15 years since I've lived in Montreal. I remember when people in the service industry started switching to English on me because they noticed my accent and wanted to be accommodating. It was a sad day for me. It's perhaps telling that the original French blog post is poetic in ways that the English is not: "notre vecu" is hard to translate I guess it's literally something like 'our [what we have] lived' , and the transition from "ce qu'on est" to "ce que nous sommes" gets lost since they're both translated as "what we are" — "what one is" wouldn't be right.
I also struggled with the feel of the syntax. In Southern California, where Spanish is widely spoken, your appearance often determines whether you are addressed by service employees in English or Spanish. If you look Anglo, you are addressed in English, but you may be initially addressed in Spanish if you "look" Hispanic.
I've heard some native Spanish-speakers complain that, because they don't look Hispanic, they are usually addressed in English, and have to steer the conversation to Spanish. And I have had a few students of Middle Eastern origin who have said that, because of their appearance, they find themselves initially addressed in Spanish. An interesting example of profiling. I've even run across this situation with African Americans back in Memphis, where those who code-switch between mainstream American English and AAVE initiate speech differently with people they perceive to be African American, sometimes leaving mixed-race people feeling closed out.
When I lived in a Russian neighborhood in Los Angeles, I was at first addressed in Russian when I went into the neighborhood shops and when the new supermarket opened I was once asked in Russian for directions on how to find something. I could see that they didn't do that with everyone, so I suppose I looked Russian to these Russians, although I'm nowhere near.
I know I looked like a depressed peasant woman in my passport photo, so perhaps that was it. In non-verbal communication I also found that my Southern habit of smiling at strangers I passed on the street did not go over well with Angelenos, and was especially not appreciated by the Russians in my neighborhood, who would scowl back at me.
Then I read in a book that Russians typically don't trust people who smile for no reason. I took to giving people a polite nod when I passed them, and often found them smiling at me in return. I suppose that in Quebec there are no visual cues apart from message t-shirts and the like that will let people know you would be more receptive to French or to English. I am an Asian from Toronto but am fluent in French. When I lived in Montreal for grad school, I tried to speak in French on every possible occasion but shopkeepers always switched to English when they heard my obviously school-acquired "bonjour".
The writer was likely unaware that "hello" in English was also used almost exclusively as a telephone greeting early in that device's history though its full etymology appears to be murky. The French telephone usage was surely borrowed from the English one, and so probably is a heavily-accented "hello" — or rather, was a century and more ago. Although one might pooh-pooh the I don't know greater Whorfian world view, it seems inescapable that a minor Whorfian world-view really does obtain. I don't know what its boundaries are, and maybe they are only aesthetic.
One feels differently speaking in a different register, dialect, language — especially when you associate one with "home" — and that's got to mean something, I think, snowclones be damned. At one point I asked him, in French, how many friends he had in Paris. Scarcely any, was the reply, scarcely any amis.
Then I asked him in Russian how many friends he had in Paris—how many druzya. This time he had more. He laughed and felt a bit nonplussed. About feeling different in different languages: I am very comfortable in English and it does not feel foreign to me, but if I am talking with someone in English and I discover that this person is also a francophone, I feel like I have been wearing sunglasses and they have suddenly been ripped off my face! I say "sunglasses", not "a mask": I don't feel I have a different personality or I am playing a role, but there must be a slight barrier, which I am not usually conscious of.
Joshua: Would it be better to translate "nos soupirs" as "our sighs" instead of "our hopes"? Soupir is 'sigh', 'hope' is espoir. This is because of the common Latin origin of the romance language family. There is so much similarity built into these languages before they split into separate tongues that learning one gives you a head start on the others! This makes French not only a lovely and useful language to learn, but also an excellent starting point for learning other languages easily.
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