Quebec French and Colonized Thinking
Though I have an immense amount of respect and admiration for Dany Laferrière and his work (though not for the Académie française, I couldn’t care less about this normative, haughty, obsolete, and cliquey institution), a little something bothers me in his discourse about the French language in Quebec. He is very much revered, and rightfully so, as he is a wonderful writer, and so we take his words for irrefutable truth. His statements are never challenged, because an untouchable aura emanates from his eloquence. However, the content of his words need to be discussed. The last two times he attended the political/cultural talk show Tout le monde en parle, the one with the largest audience in Quebec, he has of course reiterated his love for the Quebecois twist to French, but he also stated something along the lines of the problem is not so much in the English words we use and adapt to Quebec French, which makes Quebecois French beautiful, but rather the insidious infiltration of Shakespeare’s language into the structure and grammar. He also added that then, our language becomes a language of colonized people (the English having colonized Quebec/New France/Lower Canada/Canada East). All of this said in a very dramatic tone. That’s indeed a very interesting topic, and it becomes particularly difficult to challenge his statements not only because of his reputation and definite talent, but also because of his own Haitian origins, which he writes about in the very texts that gave rise to his fame. But nonetheless, this idea is one which definitely requires nuancing.
I do consider as well that the English colonized Quebec, but this statement needs to be contextualized and further reflected upon, it cannot simply be stated like this, with all the authority on the matter that he detains, without unpacking such a loaded and emotional concept. First, this implies that French is not a colonizer language. In fact, the reason why there is such a thing as Quebec French is because of French colonialism in the first place. French is as guilty of being the colonizer’s language as English. I do think Laferrière realizes this, but it is crucial to explain this double-colonization that happened in Quebec in order to really provide an understanding of the linguistic, let alone cultural and identity, reality of Quebecois. We are colonized colonizers, and it is not right to selectively pick one of the two in order to make a point.
Second, why this need to make distinctions between “what is right” and “what is wrong” to use from English? Why is it okay if I say “j’vais checker le hood de ton char toute fucké qui est parké chez nous” but not okay for me to say “j’vais visiter ma mère mais j’vais arrêter par chez vous en passant” (instead of “rendre visite à” and “passer chez”). Why does, according to him, the former phrase showcase the beauty of Quebec French, while the latter is the proliferation of colonialism? In any case, both contain a number of language mistakes, but why would he rank them? All these mistakes are in fact due to the infiltration of English into our language. But giving more weight to structure rather than to vocabulary for instance is completely subjective. He argues that we reinstate our status of colonized people, and think like a colonized people, when we use structures from English, without really explaining his point of view. “Thinking,” to reuse his words, requires both structure and vocabulary, and vocabulary is even more important than structure in terms of communication and comprehension. Such a strong statement on his part needs to be better explained and nuanced. I understand this was a talk show and not an academic essay, but all the more reasons to be extra careful with such strong, unfounded statements. I’m open to his idea, but as it is, I’m very resistant to it, for it seems like yet other arbitrary boxes to scold the lower classes that apparently think like colonized people, while “educated” people are apparently free from this.