By Katie Engelhart - Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 0 Comments
Some French speakers are bewildered by the loosening of long-held rules of grammatical etiquette
In July 2011, Franz Durupt, a young journalist for Le Monde’s website, committed an error of grave proportions. On Twitter—in an otherwise unremarkable comment about the eurozone crisis—he referred to Laurent Joffrin, a Parisian editor, using the informal second-person “tu” instead of the formal “vous.” Joffrin did not let the lexical affront slide. He tweeted a 31-character battle cry: “Qui vous autorise a me tutoyer?” (“Who said it was okay for you to ‘tu’ me?”)
The now notorious exchange was reprinted endlessly in French broadsheets. Joffrin came to epitomize France’s semantic old guard. But, as wise folks might one day say, real life is more complicated than a Twitter stream. In recent decades, France’s grammatical structures have loosened, leaving some French speakers bewildered, says Australian French professor Bert Peeters, co-editor of the book Tu ou Vous: l’embarras du choix. What used to be a simple snap judgment—formal or informal?—has become “an uneasy choice.”
The seeds of this malaise were planted in 1789, when Parisians stormed the Bastille and France was awash in revolution. As the French masses rose up against a long-entrenched aristocracy, “vous”—the syntactic equivalent of doffing one’s cap—was demonized. “Revolutionaries wanted to do away with all that aristocratic business,” says Peeters. “They wanted everyone to be on a ‘tu’ basis. But that didn’t last long.” Enter Napoleon Bonaparte, the emperor famed for restoring the ancient regime; re-enter the formal vous. Continue…
By Lise Ravary - Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 12:45 PM - 0 Comments
It would speak French. And mix curry with maple syrup.
Lise Ravary is a columnist and blogger for Le Journal de Montréal
A few months ago, I wrote about the largely white, mostly Francophone and very boring reality of the Montreal area where I live. It came back to me as I pondered the Québec the Parti Québécois wants to build and the accusations of self-loathing thrown at those who do not practice identity nationalism.
Why does it bother me so much? I am a Canadian and I belong to the Québec people. I am proud of my French Canadian roots and of the culture that nurtured me. I grew up in a working class part of town. We did not go to Place des Arts to hear classical music. We watched québécois sit-coms on TV. I am proud to be a native French speaker.
I attended university in English. The experience didn’t assimilate me or turn me into the stereotypical West Island Anglo hag. If anything it reminded me that the Quebec of my dreams would speak French and would work to keep it that way. Like the Danes are proud to be Danish and speak Danish. Since we live amongst some 340 million English speakers, we would all speak English well enough. We would stop believing the canard that only Québec has an original culture.
By Philippe Gohier - Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 8:15 PM - 18 Comments
Capping immigration won’t do anything to protect the French language
When François Legault launched the Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec (CAQ), his all-but-confirmed vessel to re-enter Quebec politics, he addressed the group’s manifesto to “all those who want to change.” “It’s time to get Quebec moving again,” he wrote. Indeed it is.
Even for Legault’s critics, of which there are relatively few these days, it’s hard to find much to quibble with in his mission statement—education should be “the absolute priority”; culture and the protection of the French language are essential; public services should be… well, they should be better; and Quebec should do more to attract investments. As Vincent Marissal points out in this morning’s La Presse, Legault has so far proven himself enormously adept at “surfing on general ideas,” so much so that he’s emerged as the most credible candidate to replace Jean Charest as premier. Continue…
By Kaj Hasselriis - Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 12:10 PM - 13 Comments
English replaced French as the official language of instruction in schools in 2008
When Governor General Michaëlle Jean visits Rwanda next week she might have to bite her tongue about the country’s new language policy. After a century of close ties to France and Belgium, the East African nation is phasing out français and embracing English. “English is becoming more and more dominant in the world,” says Arnaud Nkusi, anchor of Rwanda’s state-owned TV news. “It’s all about business. You have to move with the rest of the world.”
Jean’s trip will mark the first state visit to Rwanda from a Commonwealth country since it joined that 54-state organization late last year. But cozying up to Britain and its former colonies is only the latest chapter in Rwanda’s move to English. Many say it all started with the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when members of the country’s Hutu ethnic group killed up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The country blames France for helping arm the instigators, and then not doing enough to stop the carnage.
In the wake of the genocide, Rwanda’s main donor became the United States. Meanwhile, thousands of exiles returned to their homeland from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda—neighbouring English-speaking countries where many Rwandans picked up the language. Then, in 2006, a French judge dropped a bombshell. He accused Rwandan President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, of helping start the genocide because of his alleged complicity in the rocket attack of April 6, 1994, that killed Rwanda’s Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana—the spark for the massacre. Furious, Kagame shut down the French Embassy, kicked out the ambassador, ordered Radio France Internationale off the air in Rwanda, and closed the local French cultural centre.
Two years later, in 2008, Kagame announced that English—which became one of Rwanda’s official languages in 1994—would replace French as the official language of instruction in the country’s schools. In the wake of that momentous step, thousands of Rwandan schoolteachers were fired because they couldn’t teach the new language.
According to Nkusi, there has been very little public resistance to the government’s pro-English campaign. Kagame has a firm grip on power and Rwandans are not known as protesters. In fact, most citizens are reluctant to give their opinions even in private. But during an interview with a group of Rwandan teacher-trainers, some of them open up. “French flows in my veins,” says Ladislas Nkundabanyanga. “My father taught me French and my friends all speak French.” Nowadays, though, he knows kindergarten students who don’t understand the word “bonjour.” As a result, he’s convinced the French language in Rwanda is doomed. Nkundabanyanga’s colleague, Beatrice Namango, agrees. The new policy, she says, is “like telling me to keep quiet. It’s stopping me from talking.”
The teacher-trainers’ boss is a Canadian named Mark Thiessen, from Williams Lake, B.C. He likens the slow demise of French in Rwanda to the death of Aboriginal languages in Canada. “Slowly, French in Rwanda will disappear,” Thiessen says. “It might take one or two generations, but it will.”
Nkusi says he’s partial to French, too, but he sees the language change as an economic necessity. “French is the language of the heart,” he says, “but English is the language of work.” And Rwandans are working hard to show they’re competitive in an emerging African market. Every building in the country looks like it just got a fresh coat of paint, and the GDP is growing by an average of five per cent a year. “The country’s wealth is not in the soil, it’s in the minds of its citizens,” says Nkusi. “The leadership is smart enough to know that and develop an information technology sector like India’s.”
Nkusi also parrots a popular line of Kagame’s. “Rwanda isn’t becoming unilingual,” he says, “it’s simply making room for new languages.” Rwanda’s capital only has one private French school left, but a Chinese school just opened up, too. Besides, Nkusi adds, Rwanda is now a member of both the Commonwealth and la Francophonie, the organization of French states—like Canada. Michaëlle Jean might like to highlight that, too.
By Martin Patriquin - Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 24 Comments
Is the era of fighting over Quebec language laws officially over?
Quebec, so the cliché goes, is home to poutine, smoky bars and maddening language debates, and indulging in all three is something of a rite of passage. Alas, a recent government health initiative means the combination of fries, cheese and gravy will effectively be outlawed from the cafeterias of many government institutions by 2012, while lighting up in any public space has been illegal for nearly five years. Language issues, meanwhile, are far less the stuff of spittle and hot blood than they once were. Battles between English and French used to occupy the headlines and even spill out onto the street. Now most English Quebecers apparently choose to stay quiet.
Fighting language laws seems especially passé. Twenty years ago, the right to have English on exterior commercial signs spawned an English rights movement that saw the birth of the Equality Party, and renewed linguistic tension across the province. Now, as Premier Jean Charest’s Liberals prepare to clamp down on English education rights, the old guard of that movement is lamenting the distinct lack of rage in its ranks. “Anglos don’t want to stick their necks out anymore,” says Robert Libman, former leader of the Equality Party. “There’s a sense of ‘What’s the point?’ The white flag has been waved, and it’s now lying encrusted on the ground.”
The current fuss—or lack thereof—is over an amendment to the current language law. In 2002, alarmed by a trend of parents exploiting what it called a legal loophole, the governing Parti Québécois outlawed a somewhat obscure practice that allowed certain students, otherwise ineligible under the province’s language law, to attend English school: if they attended a private English school for a year, they and their siblings could receive public education in English forevermore. (Under Quebec law, only those with a grandfathered right can attend English school.) The PQ’s Bill 104 closed the loophole—but lawyer Brent Tyler challenged the law all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled it unconstitutional last October.
By Martin Patriquin - Friday, April 25, 2008 at 2:11 PM - 0 Comments
This is one of the campaign signs used by the ADQ in the Montreal…
This is one of the campaign signs used by the ADQ in the Montreal ridings of Bourget et Pointe-aux- Trembles. Rough translation:
DECLINE OF FRENCH IN MONTREAL
RESULT OF THE PEQUISTES/LIBERALS:
AN INCREASE OF 22 PERCENT IN IMMIGRATION
PRONATALIST POLICY [that is, have lots of babies]
AND A FREEZE ON IMMIGRATION
ADQ’s P-a-T candidate Diane Bellemare told le Journal de Montréal that the signs were meant “to differentiate [the ADQ] from the other parties.” Pretty sure it worked. Maka Kotto, PQ candidate in Bourget says it also worked for some guy named Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Photo Catherine Lefebvre / Journal de Montréal