CARRIE: Hi and welcome to the Vocal Fries Podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination.
MEGAN: I’m Megan Figueroa.
CARRIE: And I’m Carrie Gillon and today we have another guest. We’re gonna be talking about Canadian French with Dr. Nicole Rosen, who is a Canada Research Chair in Language Interactions at the University of Manitoba. She studies Canadian languages, including English, French and Michif. And full disclosure okay we actually wrote a book together on Michif, which is coming out early January! So welcome to the show!
NICOLE: Thanks for having me!
MEGAN: Hi Nicole!
CARRIE: Thank you for coming.
MEGAN: And also just a side note, this is the first time Carrie and I have recorded in the same room.
CARRIE: It’s true.
MEGAN: Yeah, so, that’s exciting.
CARRIE: Alright so we have – I don’t know there’s so many things we could talk about in French, so… where would you like to begin?
NICOLE: Well, there’s the political, there’s a linguistic, I’m not sure where we want to start.
MEGAN: As someone who knows absolutely nothing, maybe the political, actually, would be helpful. Cuz even though we’re so close to you over here in the US, I have no idea what the political status is of French in Canada.
NICOLE: Alright, well, I guess the question then becomes, how far do you want to go back? Historically.
CARRIE: I think we kind of have to go back, somewhat to the beginning, because I do think a lot of people don’t know. Canadians generally speaking know the big picture at least, but most other people don’t.
MEGAN: I have no idea why there’s French in Canada. Like, why? Why did that happen?
NICOLE: Well actually the French were here first, before the English.
CARRIE: It’s true.
NICOLE: Back in the 1600s, there were settlers that came over from different areas of France. The first came from the west of France and settled in what is now Acadia, and those Acadians actually ended up – well being moved out by the English later on and ended up down in Louisiana, which is why they’re called Cajuns, that comes from the word Acadian actually. So there is a US kind of link there. There’s also another group that came originally from more northern France and then moved in along the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the eastern side and it’s now called Quebec of course. And so we have sort of two groups that came over, within the same century, but they ended up settling in different places and they have pretty different histories and different current realities too. I mean they have two different accents. The Acadian accent is different than the Laurentian French accent. And I’m using the word “Laurentian French” because it seems to be the generally accepted term now, regarding the languages spoken in Quebec and from people that moved out of Quebec. So now those peoples live in Ontario and St. Boniface – sorry in Manitoba – and in other provinces as well. But it’s just a way of distinguishing between Acadians and Quebecers. Because Quebecers are not only in Quebec, if that makes sense.
MEGAN: Are Acadians only in the US now?
NICOLE: No the Acadians are in Canada, in the Maritimes. So Acadia is an area – it’s not really a province or anything. It’s just a designated area, that really is part of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, in that area. There was this thing called the Great Upheaval, where the British government decided to just ship them all out. They split up families. People escaped. People got shipped down to Louisiana, shipped back to France, all the way down the coast. But the word Cajun comes from Acadian basically, because of the way it’s pronounced. There’s a pretty strong link between the Acadians and the Cajuns down in Louisiana.
MEGAN: Okay. So you’re in Manitoba, which, is that Eastern Canada?
CARRIE: No. That’s the West.
NICOLE: This is the West, and so what we have here – near where I live is an area called St. Boniface. And that is really the biggest French settlement that still exists in the West. It was settled really – people came out here, the second half of the 18th century, and that’s sort of the third group of Francophones that are around here, and that’s called the Métis. They were the ones that came out here quite early, much earlier than everyone else, and they ended up intermarrying with the First Nations women that were here, and they ended up with their own dialect, actually the Métis, Métis French, or Michif French, depending on how you want to call it. Throughout the West, I guess you’d say, there’re certain settlements that are more Métis than then other than other French. They also have a distinct accent. There’s sort of three historical groups that speak French in Canada: the Laurentian French, Acadian French and Métis French.
MEGAN: And is there gonna be – I’m just assuming that there’s probably a dialect that is favored – I mean I say quote unquote favored.
NICOLE: Yes. Definitely. So as you might be able to guess, the group with the most political power is the one that is the one that – it’s sort of the “best”, I guess, if you want to call it in prescriptive terms, the one that the people seem to prefer, it would be Québec French. That said, it depends on who you talk to. A lot of Anglophones will still think France French is better, right. They go way, way over that way, and these don’t want to learn Quebec French, they want to learn France French, because it’s, I don’t, know prettier or something, I’m not really sure.
CARRIE: I think it’s got to do with the anti-Québécois sentiment in Canada. I mean when I was in school – I was not – okay, so this is getting into the French Immersion facts, anyway – I was not in French immersion, I was just in regular, you know, the French classes that you had to take, and then you could also take later on. I took them all. Most of the time yeah our teachers were teaching European French, as opposed to Quebec French.
NICOLE: Yeah, that doesn’t happen in Winnipeg because there’s a strong Francophone community here. There really doesn’t seem to be any preference for European French. I was taught by Franco-Manitoban nuns in a French immersion school in one of the first immersion schools that sort of arose in the seventies here. But I don’t see that so much here, to be honest, which is good. I think that that sentiment is more definitely with the Anglophones. That said, there’s also this sort of downward or upward – there’s a hierarchy anyway, within Canada – so the Franco-Manitobans that I’ve talked to that have gone to Quebec, for example, often don’t get treated particularly well. Or they might get – people think that they’re Anglophone or people, they’ll switch to English. I have a friend here who is very much like – she and her husband are very much Francophone. Their kids did not speak any English until they went to school. That’s sort of Grade 4, when they learnt French in school, because they’re in the French school division, they can take French swimming lessons, French soccer, and everything like that. Because you can actually do that in St. Boniface. And she works in French, and she went out to Montreal and asked for a jus d’orange, and then the person responded back saying, “oh I’ll get you an orange juice.” And she got so mad and told them what they could do with their “orange juice” – because they say it in a very accented English. And French is definitely her first language, but there’s a different accent, and some of it is just because the people out here are bilingual, so they have different ways of speaking French. Here it’s totally normal, and nobody seems to really worry about it, but I hear stories anyway of people going elsewhere, especially in Quebec, and definitely being sort of not treated as well.
CARRIE: Yeah I should say that I’m from British Columbia, which is one of the more Anglo provinces, so that feeling that I might have gotten might have only been because of the province I’m from.
NICOLE: Yeah, it could be. Although I don’t think it’s necessarily there. I think it could be from other schools and things like that and definitely Alberta. I think that’s probably true among Anglophones. I think it’s not true about Francophones, but I think Anglophones do prefer, or at least they say they prefer, European French. I’m not convinced that all of them would be able to tell the difference. If they don’t actually speak French. But they just have this sort of thing where they think that Quebec French is ugly and European French is nicer. Not that different I don’t think than what we think about British English versus American English.
CARRIE: Yeah, exactly.
MEGAN: Ah, okay. How does it intersect with other identities? Because in the US, a Spanish speaker that is actually Anglo is actually more respected in some ways.
CARRIE: Oh what you’re saying is, someone who’s an English speaker in the United States who can speak Spanish well, gets more respect than a person who speaks Spanish natively.
MEGAN: Natively, and then learns English yeah.
NICOLE: There’s this really interesting – when it comes to that – if we’re talking about in Quebec, for example, because things have completely switched. So in the 60s, there were a number of studies that were done, because Quebecers and Francophones in Quebec, specifically, were consistently doing economically more poorly than Anglophones. And they did all sorts of research and found that Anglophones – in fact monolingual Anglophones -earned more money than bilingual Francophones. So if you were a Francophone originally, who learned English, you made less money than a monolingual Anglophone. And a bilingual Anglophone was better. So that’s what you’re saying about the Spanish I think.
NICOLE: If you’re an Anglophone, but you speak French, back in the 60s, that was probably – economically you did the best. But what happened – this caused a lot of fury, basically. There was what we call the Quiet Revolution in Quebec in the 60s, where they essentially decided that their language and their way of speaking the language was not actually that bad, and they should be proud of it. That’s when they started implementing a lot of different kinds of laws and things like that. But what’s happening now is, if you go there, it’s actually better to be a Francophone that speaks English than an Anglophone that speaks French. A lot of people are bilingual, but it is it is better for jobs and things like that, if they’re looking for a bilingual person, that usually means Francophones that’s can speak English, not an Anglophone that speaks French. Because, I think it has something to do it the fact that, if you’re a francophone that speaks English, you speak better English than an Anglophone speaks French, if that makes sense. Because the surroundings are all English, in most of Canada – this is this a bit different in Quebec. But in general, if you are Anglophone you learnt French, you learnt it in school, and maybe you’re not that great at it, you’re kind of functionally bilingual, but you’re not comfortable in the same way as your own language. Whereas it is the flipside if you’re a Francophone and speak English, you are probably almost perfectly bilingual.
MEGAN: So then French is looked upon positively in Canada, but there are like a hierarchy of dialects.
MEGAN: No, it’s not true?
CARRIE: It’s more complicated than that.
MEGAN: Okay okay okay.
NICOLE: Yeah, it really depends on the region. I think if you’re anywhere east, like Ontario, east, I think that’s probably true. I think French is not looked down upon. I think things have changed a lot – like in the 60s or TV shows making fun of French people and making fun – this was really common before the seventies, I’d say. Really that’s when this whole revolution started. But now in the West, with these official language laws from 1971 – that’s when English and French both rose as official languages in Canada. And that caused a lot of controversy. That was basically Pierre Trudeau, our Prime Minister, trying to appease the Quebecers, who were quite upset with all these things that they had found – this is a commission that found all these inequalities basically – educational inequalities too. In Quebec, most kids stopped school at 13, 14 years old. It was still a confessional system, all run by the church and things like that. It was really a very different system than elsewhere. Even within Quebec, the Francophones were consistently more poorly educated, or less well educated than the Anglophones. So there was a very big economic split ane educational split. When this official bilingualism happened after 1971, that made a lot of people in the West pretty mad. Because in the West, yes there were a bunch of Francophones in Manitoba, but there were way more people who spoke German, for example, and even to this day there are more people who speak German in in the West in Saskatchewan and Manitoba anyway than speak French. So all these people who spoke German at home and learned English and worked in English, all of a sudden their language was lowered. By raising these two official languages, you were actually effectively lowering the importance of all the other ones. So that caused a lot of problems in the West for sure.
CARRIE: I definitely had the impression when I was growing up in British Columbia that there was a lot of antipathy towards French – not from my family. My parents put my brother and sister into French immersion – I was too old. It didn’t start until I was too old, in the city we were in. And also I got that impression in Ontario, at least in Toronto, as well, that some people really did not like French when I when I was living there. I was only there for a year, but I did I did get that impression.
MEGAN: Were they bilingual in something else?
CARRIE: No. They just they were monolingual. Or partially bilingual in French, like me. I’m not even that anymore, but I used to be a little bit more.
NICOLE: I mean I think everyone hated their French classes, and that’s a common thread. You can go across the country and everyone hated their French class. Some people could say they kind of wish they spoke it, but it was such a terrible class and all that kind of thing. So there’s that.
CARRIE: I mean I loved my French classes. I’m a linguist, so that’d be why, I guess. And I was jealous of my brother and sister.
NICOLE: Yeah, I’m really glad I did French immersion. I only did it for elementary school, so Grade 1 to 6, but it was also very new, and they really were all Francophones. I think nowadays it’s a bit tougher, and it depends where you go, because they have these French immersion schools, but the teachers are not necessarily completely comfortable in French. I mean, they’re supposed to be and a lot of them are, but it depends where you go, right. It’s like it’s like anywhere else. If you don’t have enough teachers, but you have the demand, then you have to kind of try to get someone who’s good enough in there.
CARRIE: Yeah I definitely saw that there was a shortage, a couple days ago I saw that on CBC I think, that they’re looking for more teachers. And I had no idea. I mean it makes sense, because it’s a popular program.
NICOLE: Oh yeah, it’s a hugely popular program in Canada. It’s partially for the language and it’s partially actually the socioeconomic advantages.
NICOLE: So this is often talked about – that the parents who want their kids to advance and do well socioeconomically, if they’re upwardly mobile, they put their kids in French immersion programs because it’s – you don’t get a lot of the kids with learning disabilities, and you don’t get a lot of the kids with behavioral issues and things like that. And so it’s almost like a private school, but it’s free. That’s also one of the criticisms of the program is that it’s segregating kids already.
MEGAN: Did these French immersion schools come about after French became one of the official languages, is that what happened?
NICOLE: Yeah, exactly. So in the 70s, that’s when they started to become popular, sort of mid-seventies.
MEGAN: And is there a waiting list? How does how does one get their child into a French immersion school?
NICOLE: Yeah, often there are waiting lists. I mean technically it’s public school, so it’s free, and anyone can go, but I don’t think they can usually keep up with the demand. So often they’re either opening new schools or they’re switching schools so that all the English schools end up getting put into smaller schools and then the French immersion school get in the big ones. There’s also some schools that are splits, like they’re streamed. Within one school, you’ll have kids in an English program and kids in a French immersion program, things like that.
CARRIE: Yeah that’s that was my school. I was in the regular English programming and my sister was in the French immersion programming. We were at the same elementary school.
NICOLE: When I went to elementary school, it was only French, but then when you went to junior high or high school then it was split into different streams.
MEGAN: And in your opinion, what would what would make someone choose not to put their kid in a French immersion program?
NICOLE: Well, there’s a couple of things. One of them is this sort of the negative view of French. There is that. There are people just don’t like French or don’t think it’s important. There’s definitely people who decide not to put their kids in that because of that. Some parents decide that it’s too hard and they’re worried about their kids not being very good at English. There’s also people who are worried that they’re not going to be able to help their kids with their homework, because it’s all gonna be written in French. There’s that. Even though, I mean these schools are designed for parents who speak English, but still they want, I guess, to be able to help more or something. And then there’s parents who think that their – or their kids may have some kind of language delay or something like that, and they don’t want to put them in for that reason, or they put them in and they pull them out. Then there’s also some educational things. So a lot of these – we don’t like to talk about them, we don’t like to say anything bad about French immersion. It’s kind of like this pet project and Canada’s supposed to be really great at it, and we are, but I don’t think the outcomes are necessarily what everyone is expecting. So you don’t get absolutely high-level bilingualism coming out of these schools, you get sort of functional bilingualism. You get kids who are very comfortable in French. It doesn’t really matter what they’re saying, they’re super comfortable. But they certainly – I mean if you imagine – these are all kids – you have a class of 25 or 30 or whatever kids who are all Anglophone, and they’re all speaking French amongst themselves, it’s not exactly natural, and they aren’t getting exposure to the sort of authentic French. You’re not getting exposure to actual French speakers, you’re getting exposure to other Anglophones who are also trying to speak French. And so there’s something sort of called “French immersion French”, which is in a lot of ways, it’s like speaking English using French words, if that make sense. You don’t learn all – you don’t definitely don’t learn the colloquialisms, and you don’t learn the sociolinguistic differences and things like that – you know, how to be formal and how to be informal, and how to speak to other kids, because the model you hear is a teacher. And you hear one teacher in a class of 25 or something. So it’s not exactly – I still think it’s great, and I think you should put your kids in that, if you can, only because then at least they get the chance later to go somewhere where they speak French and really learn it like a native, if they want to. And if not, then they can still get by in work or that kind of thing. So I think people just have to have reasonable expectations. Kids are having to write in history and geography and whatever else in a language that they’re not super comfortable with, so I don’t think a lot of them can actually go for the depth that you could in your native tongue. I do think there’s issues with that.
CARRIE: Yeah there are I think at least – well, at the time, I think some of the upper level high school classes were switched to English, because they wanted them to get that depth.
NICOLE: Yeah and that happens a lot in high school, I think very often there’s not as many courses available. I mean, you still have an English class course, it’s not like you don’t have anything. I think for me I would normally recommend putting kids in that in the early years and then, yeah, like you say, maybe switching them out for high school, because if I do think that they’ve learned mostly what they’re gonna learn in that sort of environment. And then to really learn it, you want to go somewhere where it’s actually French. You go to France, you go to Quebec, wherever.
MEGAN: Well that certainly sounds like, I don’t know if you want to call it a problem, but a situation you’d run into in any sort of immersion. It doesn’t seem like it’s specific to-
CARRIE: No. Yeah, it would be the exact same for any immersion. So one of the things that when Megan and I were talking about this, I think we should also mention that there’s actually like real French education – obviously in Quebec because it’s supposed to be a bilingual province, but it’s more French than English, but even in in Winnipeg where you are there are actual French –
NICOLE: Yes. Yeah. I come across this a lot, as my kids are in the French school system. Then when I people ask me what school my kids go to, I have to say well they’re in a French school, and everyone always says, “French Immersion?” No actually it’s French. So you have a French immersion stream for Anglophones who want to learn French. Then you have a Francophone system where the schools are actually for people who speak French at home. That’s different from the French immersion. So in Winnipeg there are quite a lot of these schools. There are four or five elementary schools and then maybe there’s only two junior highs and two high schools – or one high school? I can’t remember anymore. So it definitely peters off when you get to the higher levels, but there’s also a French University where everything is done in French here. The difference is that if you are from an Anglophone family, you can’t put your kids into the Francophone school system, you can only put them into French immersion.
NICOLE: And those exists in most provinces, where there’s demand. And that actually is part of the language laws that came about as well, is that you are entitled to go to school in your own language, as long as you have enough people to warrant it basically.
MEGAN: That’s something I cannot imagine in the US at all.
CARRIE: I know yeah, it’s so different.
NICOLE: But there are two official languages, right, so. If they’re official – well the US doesn’t actually have an official language, right?
CARRIE: No, it does not.
MEGAN: No, there is a movement.
CARRIE: But functionally, there’s only one language that everything works in. For example, in the legal system, it’s English. I mean you can get translators but everything’s in English.
MEGAN: But that’s so problematic.
CARRIE: Yeah I mean translators are better than nothing, but yeah.
MEGAN: Yeah yeah.
CARRIE: But in Canada you have to be able to access it in either French or English, depending on what your language is. So it has all sorts of effects throughout the country.
NICOLE: Yeah, in fact though there was a big – I guess in Manitoba and in the prairies in general, a lot of French sort of ended up falling by the wayside. And although with the Manitoba language – so I should preface this by saying that education is provincial, and so it’s kind of like every state is different, every province is different. But talking about Manitoba just because it’s a primarily Anglophone province, but has a very strong Francophone population, I think it’s just an interesting place. And so the Manitoba Schools Act back in I think 1890 or 1891 dictated that you could have access to French or English education. And this was mostly, of course, related to the church at the time. So this is really about appeasing the Catholic Church, because the French schools were done through the Catholic Church. So there’s a very strong tie between religion and language here – and still is actually. There’s still religion in the lot of the French schools, which is really strange to think about. I think it was 1916 that they eliminated that access to French education, and so kids weren’t able to go to French school anymore. And then, again in the 60s and 70s, really happening after this quiet revolution in Québec, the same kind of thing here happened here in Manitoba, where they started to get access to French education again. When you were talking about having a to all sorts of things in French and English, one thing that made me think of was, in the 70s, it was in 1976 or 1977, this guy, he was very famous here, he refused to pay a parking ticket, because it was only written in English. It was hugely publicized, and I remember this growing up. It was really well publicized. He said, “I am legally – I was parked in St. Boniface, I am legally allowed, from the government – like I’m supposed to be able to access services in English and French, and this was only written in English. I’m not paying it.”
MEGAN: What a hero!
NICOLE: I know, seriously! And they kind of settled it. They didn’t make him pay, but they didn’t change anything. But then he got another parking ticket, that poor guy. Actually, he took it to court, and it had huge legal repercussions, because he won. What it basically said was that all the laws written in Manitoba were not legal. They were all supposed to be written in English and French. So of course they put things on hold, saying, “for the moment, they’re still legally binding, but we have to write them all in French.” And they did. And so everything now is in English and French. It’s a huge precedent, here in Manitoba anyway.
CARRIE: Very cool.
CARRIE: Do you wanna start talking about the different varieties of Canadian French?
MEGAN: Yeah. Coming into this, I just assumed that French was being treated better in Canada than Spanish was being treated in the US, but I have been proven wrong.
CARRIE: Well, I would say, yes, that’s true-
MEGAN: Still, though yeah?
CARRIE: -but maybe less than you thought.
MEGAN: Yeah I know I had like beautiful picture. Cuz Canada’s beautiful in my mind, especially right now.
CARRIE: It is beautiful.
MEGAN: Yes. It’s a beacon of hope.
NICOLE: There’s still people here. Where are people, things are not perfect.
MEGAN: So yeah: assholes. You have a big group of people, there’s gonna be assholes.
NICOLE: Exactly. It’s inevitable.
MEGAN: So there are still people that view French generally as just –
CARRIE: Less than.
MEGAN: less than. So now we’re gonna go into – there’s a hierarchy of how the dialects are treated.
CARRIE: Well, within French probably, I mean I would say that Anglo Canada doesn’t really think about the different varieties at all.
CARRIE: Like there’s just like French.
CARRIE: And it’s either fine, like it’s just another language, or –
MEGAN: Or it’s French, okay. Then within speakers of French in Canada there’s gonna be some biases.
MEGAN: Okay. Got it.
CARRIE: Cuz we’re humans.
NICOLE: I think Anglophones will kind of know that there’s different dialects, but not really. They wouldn’t know any details, and they hear from other people that there’s better ones and less good ones, but they don’t really have any opinions on them.
CARRIE: Okay, yeah that’s kind of what I meant.
NICOLE: Other than yeah other than France versus Canada.
NICOLE: That one they do think is better, in Europe usually. I don’t know.
CARRIE: So one of the one of the varieties that comes up sometimes, the joual. Do you know anything about it? Can you talk about that?
NICOLE: Yeah joual is really just a term – it’s a term that’s not really used so much anymore – again it was in the 60s, everything happened in the 60s – but it was just a way of describing the Québec accent, basically. So you ended up getting this – well we had this playwright called Michel Tremblay, who’s still around, but he started writing plays actually in joual. So written in the Québecois accent, as opposed to in a standard French accent. He was sort of part of this whole movement to raise Québécois to that level, to a higher level and in art forms too, right. I guess the term as well is really just kind of a short form for the Canadian or Québécois French, and like I said, it’s not really – I don’t hear it use very much anymore. It’s almost a derogatory term really now, I think.
NICOLE: Even though I don’t think it really was before, but it does seem to be now. Because I think it’s sort of thought being when you describe French in not such a nice way.
CARRIE: I did not know that.
NICOLE: Yeah. Anyway. I mean some people might argue with me for that, because I think it sort of depends on where you’re coming from, but I always thought it was okay too and then someone said, “no, not really.”
MEGAN: So just to clarify when you said standard French do you mean like European French? Is that what that would be?
NICOLE: Ohhhh, you’re gonna call me on that! Yes. Yes I do. It’s just a very difficult thing to define, because nobody really speaks that standard French. There’s sort of this international French they call it. Yeah, I guess I would call it European French.
MEGAN: Okay. So okay, so that variety is just called Québecois French then, is the best way to describe –
CARRIE: I’ve seen it described as more like a city version of Québécois French, but I don’t know if that’s accurate, that could be wrong.
NICOLE: Well, I think there’s a lot of different dialects even within Québec, and so people know if someone’s from Trois-Rivières and things like that, so there’s at least certain towns that are kind of known for having different accents. There’s obviously some differences. I mean overall Québécois French, which I was calling Laurentian French, really, is I guess characterized by a few things. For example, the t’s and d’s before – I don’t know how technical I need to go into these –
MEGAN: Not technical.
NICOLE: These sounds like /y/. There’s these weird French vowels like /y/ and /œ/ that don’t exist in English. You get this word tu [ty] in standard French, you end up sort of adding an s into it and saying [tsy], and du [dy] would be [dzy]. It’s called assibilation. You add a little s or z in between there. That’s very common. The vowels are different. Certain vowels will change where they don’t in European French. So you’d have like vite [vit]. Vite is “fast”. But you’d say vit [vɪt] in Canada. So vite and vit instead of just vite. Things like that. They have a lot more diphthongs too. In the vowels. So something like père – and this is where – I started learning French here in Canada, and I had probably a pretty decent Franco-Manitoban accent, but then I moved to France and it all went away. And so now I have more of a European French accent. So I’m not so good at doing the Canadian accent, which makes me sad actually. So the père [pɛʁ] for father is more like pay-er [paɪəʁ], and they have this sort of diphthong. But the dialect thing is actually interesting. Because I go to my kids schools a lot here, everyone thinks – they don’t know what to make of me, because they don’t understand why I have the accent that I do. And honestly people come straight out and say, “so, like, tell me about your accent.” And I’ve been at parent-teacher interviews, and I could see that the teacher wanted to ask me, but didn’t really have the courage, and then finally eventually after the third interview with, her she’s like, “um, where are you from?” And I have to say I’m from here, because I actually was born in Winnipeg, but I happened to move elsewhere. But I was born as an Anglophone and did French in school, and then went to France for a couple of years, and so I speak French, and I studied French, but now I come back here, and I don’t feel local, right. I really feel self-conscious about it. The teacher really didn’t understand why if I was born here, why I spoke like this, especially if I was only over there – because no, I was born Winnipeg, but I lived in France for a couple of years, and they go, “okay”. But they know that you know if you were really a Francophone and just spent some time in France, you wouldn’t actually change your accent. You would still have your accent from here. But it definitely makes me self-conscious, which is funny because it’s supposed to be the better – the more standard accent. But here it really it makes you stand out as not being local, not being from here. Which is not actually a good thing because of the Franco-Manitobans are a very small community, and it’s very – everyone knows each other or they know – and they’re very protective as well of their language. And so being from somewhere else? Not quite as good as being a Franco-Manitoban. Although things are changing. And I shouldn’t say everyone’s like that, right.
CARRIE: Right, of course not.
NICOLE: Yeah it’s not the case that everyone’s like that.
MEGAN: What’s the difference between Québécois French and the Franco-Manitoban French?
NICOLE: Alright so there’s a couple different Franco-Manitobans, but the main one – so they were actually people that came from Quebec about a century ago. So they share a lot of similarities, but they haven’t changed things in the same way as they did in Quebec. So one of the main one of the main differences I guess would be the r. So in the 70s, for some reason, everyone switched the way they pronounce their r in Quebec. And I shouldn’t say everyone, but Montreal and the urban areas really did. So instead of doing an apical r [r], which is like a [rə], they ended up doing like a French one, which is [ʁ], where its velar or uvular, in the back, and it’s a completely different r. And here in Manitoba you’ll hear that apical r a lot more than you would in Quebec. It really makes you stand out as being from a farm, right, or just being not very urban, not very smart. That’s kind of the type of r it is. And so here in Winnipeg or St Boniface I guess you do hear it, but you hear – you still hear probably more with people from rural French areas, but you hear it a lot more. And even my kids, when we moved from Alberta, where it was mostly taught by Quebecers, when we moved here, where it’s now mostly taught by Franco-Manitobans, my older son did ask about why they were using that r. He didn’t get it. He heard the difference, right? And he’s like, “everyone pronounces their r’s differently here.” So that’s a pretty obvious one. I think there’s also a lot of things that just come from being in such close contact with English. So there’s loads of monolingual Francophones in Quebec, of course, but there are not loads of monolingual Francophones in Manitoba. You’d be hard-pressed to find any Franco-Manitobans that don’t speak English pretty well, other than a lot older people. You’ll people who may not be so comfortable in English. But because they speak English in French on a daily basis, a lot of things, and going back and forth right, so a lot of it is influenced by English. So there’s a lot of what we call calques, so they change – they use what would be English words in French. So when I grew up, I learned all these words that that were called faux amis or false friends. I don’t know if anyone else has done these language classes where you learn about false friends?
NICOLE: So you learn you’re not supposed to say this even though it sounds like the same one in English, because it doesn’t mean it’s the same thing. Well they all use those here. So all those false friends that you’re not supposed to use, they all use them. It’s really weird. So I’m just trying to think of an example. “Support”, so like supporting a team or whatever. You’re always supposed to learn that it’s appuyer, not supporter. That’s a totally different word. But here everyone uses supporter, which is the calque from English right. They think the English “support” and they switch it over and they use it in French. And there’s a lot of examples like that, and all these things that I have a hard time using, because I mean they feel like errors, but that’s just the way they speak here right. It’s not an error, there’s a semantic shift in the word. Of course that comes from English, but whatever. I think as long – I think the big problem is that they may not use these always in Quebec, and they definitely do not use them that way in France. And so it comes down to a language purity question, and if you think that a “pure” language, whatever that means, is the better language, then you’re not gonna think that these calques are any good. You’re gonna think, “oh they’re too influenced by English”, and that kind of thing. But that’s not the way I look at things.
CARRIE: That’s not how language works.
MEGAN: No, it’s not.
CARRIE: These things happen all the time.
NICOLE: Yeah, so all these language laws that they’re trying to implement, they only go so far right. They can work at a sort of institutional level, but not on a day-to-day level.
CARRIE: No. tilting at windmills. So one of things that I thought about when you were talking about the vowels is that kind of reminds me of the Southern drawl.
NICOLE: Yeah. It does, sort of. I think what it was is that a lot of those diphthongs – I believe they existed in France at the time, right, and then when they got transplanted here they just didn’t evolve in the same way as they did in France. So there are some things that are innovations and are new pronunciations, but a lot of things are actually just from older archaisms from France that they brought over in the 17th century or the 18th century, and they still have that kind of – they have some of the same vocabulary items, and they have some of the same pronunciations – or similar. I mean it’s not gonna be exactly the same from the 1700s, but still. Just follow different paths.
CARRIE: Yeah. So what’s your favorite Canadian French expression that only exists in Canada?
NICOLE: Oh boy.
CARRIE: Because I found some that I thought were kind of cool, but then I thought maybe you would have better ones.
NICOLE: I don’t know which – what did you find?
CARRIE: I’m gonna probably butcher this, but there’s accouche qu’on baptise, which means “speak up”, but literally something to do with “birth that is baptized” or something?
CARRIE: Avoir les shakes – I don’t even how to say “shakes”, cuz I just want to make it English.
NICOLE: Avoir les shakes that probably is English. That’s the way they would pronounce it.
CARRIE: But there are so many more that I just –
NICOLE: Well yeah, I mean I think one of the main things that people love is that the way you swear in Quebec is different than the way you swear in France. So it all has to do with religion here. Everything.
MEGAN: Oh! Tabernacle!
NICOLE: Yes, exactly. Hostie, and all these – and it’s not native to me. It’s funny because I can’t swear in Québecois. I can swear in European French, but it just doesn’t come out. I love it. I do love hearing it. I think that’s what it is: I love it, but I can’t do it. That makes me sad.
NICOLE: But yeah, it all comes from religion, and the host, like Hostie and tabernak. That’s tabernacle. I also didn’t grow up Catholic, so it’s all foreign to me. I don’t really know what any of those things are or what they mean.
CARRIE: Yeah I was gonna ask you what at tabernacle was.
MEGAN: We still don’t know.
CARRIE: Yeah cause we talked about it in our second episode, the swearing episode, and I was like, “oh, I actually don’t even know what that is.” And then I didn’t even look it up.
MEGAN: Yes. I meant to.
NICOLE: When I teach it, or when I used to teach French, I always had a swearing class, cuz people like that. I would often use that as a good opportunity to get the students involved, saying, “who knows what this is?” Cuz I didn’t really know it was either. But I guess the host, that’s the thing-
CARRIE: The wafer.
NICOLE: The wafer.
CARRIE: That one I can figure out.
MEGAN: Yeah yeah.
CARRIE: I know enough Catholicism to know what a host is, but not enough to know –
NICOLE: The tabernacle is something up on the, the, I don’t know.
CARRIE: The altar?
NICOLE: The altar.
NICOLE: Or something that’s at the altar. I’m not even sure. That’s very embarrassing.
CARRIE: I’m glad it’s not just me.
MEGAN: Someone’s gonna tweet at us when we release this episode and tell us what tabernacle is.
CARRIE: They never did last time. But maybe this time.
MEGAN: That’s true. This is a plea. So that I don’t have to google it.
CARRIE: Alright. So I guess we’ll ask now: why is it bad to judge Francophones in Canada or anywhere else for that matter?
NICOLE: So there’s all these different sort of layers of French in Canada, and everyone ends up kind of being denigrated by somebody else. So the Métis in Manitoba, certainly there’s lots of examples of when they went to – they tried to go to regular French schools or French University or college or anything and they get made fun of for the language, and it just made them feel bad about themselves. I heard some really crazy things like – so we didn’t talk a lot about the Métis French, but there’s some towns in Manitoba that are really Métis towns, and so the French they speak is really Métis French. It’s not even a standard Québécois French or anything or standard St. Boniface French or whatever. But there were federal jobs, for example – I met someone who applied for a job, and you need to be bilingual for that job, and she didn’t get it, even though she was a native Métis French speaker. Because she couldn’t pass that test. That was a written test. But the thing is she would have been dealing with people in person, in her language, in their language. But so economically it’s actually – besides all the sort of social things or making people feel bad which is also something you probably don’t want to do, there’s also reasons where using a standard as the standard – I actually shouldn’t call it a standard – using a different dialect as a standard is problematic, because it’s not taking into account the local realities. So locally what’s important is that people speak what’s local. It shows that there there’s a sense of belonging, things like that. It’s similar with speech pathology and things like that. So if they’re analyzing kids here, there is no norm for the local kids. So they’re using norms from Quebec or from elsewhere – and actually I’m doing some research with a colleague who is a linguist and speech pathologist specifically on that. Because we found and he’s found that the kids are failing in certain things, like for example the pronunciation of r. They’re actually failing that and they’re being branded as not being able to pronounce those, and they need to go in for speech path. But they’re getting a whole host of different r’s all over, right, so either it’s just taking them longer, because they have to absorb them all, and before they can figure out how to pronounce their own r. They’re not getting the same consistent input, or maybe the actual r is different here.
MEGAN: And r comes in late anyway.
NICOLE: It does come in late.
MEGAN: If they’re getting so much input.
NICOLE: Yeah, consistently coming in even later. I think there’s actual educational ramifications, and economic ones, and people are not going to get a job, or they’re going to be labeled as speech delayed, and things like that, when they’re not. I think there’s real problems that go even past the normal social things, which I think are – socially, I think it’s bad to discriminate. But I think it goes further than that.
CARRIE: Yeah. Are there any other questions?
CARRIE: Is there anything else you want to talk about Nicole?
NICOLE: Oh, I could go on forever, so I think you want to cut me off.
NICOLE: There’s just so much really. At the provincial level, at those federal level, at different areas, it’s just lots.
NICOLE: It’s a very interesting topic TO ME.
MEGAN: I learned so much. I always say this. I think this is my new thing is just to say how much I learned.
CARRIE: Did I learn this much, or this much?
MEGAN: This much. You can’t see what I’m doing. Or if anything. But yes I did, I learned a lot.
CARRIE: Yeah, so thank you so much for coming on again.
MEGAN: Yes thank you.
NICOLE: Thank you.
CARRIE: And: don’t be an asshole!
MEGAN: Do not be an asshole.
CARRIE: Alright. Bye!
CARRIE: The Vocal Fries Podcast is produced by Chris Ayers for Halftone Audio. Music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @vocalfriespod. You can email us at email@example.com.