Quebec French and Colonized Thinking

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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.

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Pro-Anti-Separatism Discourse

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 Pro-Anti-Separatism Discourse

Sugar Sammy-isms and Quebec Society

                I should preface this by stating my ambivalence towards Quebec separatism, not so much because of ignorance or lack of interest (I do care very much), but because either stance seems like a fight about containers instead of content — I would, for instance, prefer living under Françoise David’s party than Stephen Harper’s, but Elizabeth May’s rather than Philippe Couillard’s. I feel as though the (anti)separatist fight only contributes to the same void that sucks all of your energy and only reinforces, naturalizes an apparent dichotomy within Quebec. Separatism separates, no matter if you’re for it or against it, while I’ve always been one to promote unity through diversity — whether that’s in Quebec or in Canada does matter, but it isn’t the channel I’m personally choosing to pursue. Identity politics are tiring fights.

            That is not to say that it’s not a cause worth fighting for, I do encourage my separatist and antiseparatist fellow Québécois to fight for what they believe in, and to keep seeing the value in this fight — and through it, a province worth fighting for. However, some of the rhetoric used really, really bothers me. It is often through snarky comments that people reinforce their position, adopting a condescension, a “we’re just irreconcilably different” stance, creating a space in which this polarizing political division insidiously pervades all other elements of culture, identity, politics, and psychology.

            I would particularly like to address Sugar Sammy, prominent figure who markets his position on this debate, in a cheap way to not only make such people who feel strongly about antiseparatism as though this humour is “for them,” but also for the other camp, who enjoys this type of masochistic humour targeted at them, to be the butt of his jokes, or to find some fuel to their position, leaving his shows with an even stronger separatist drive.

            Ultimately though, it seems as though the political ideology he promotes (and many antiseparatists promote) is counter-productive: by constantly bringing the idea of separatism back on the table, in the current context in which even the main political proponent of it has largely abandoned it, he instills (they instill) life into it. They maliciously keep it alive to keep hurting it, to watch it suffer. He not only reminds separatists they are separatists, and gives them (makes up) reasons to fight in order to make money, but he also reaffirms antiseparatists in their position, ultimately rooting both camps firmly in what he markets as irreconcilable beliefs. It is particularly counterproductive for antiseparatists namely because of their “anti” stance: they emphasize an issue which is not one, only creating more separatists through provocative, snarky, condescending statements. They poke at a caged sleeping monster just to watch it scream. It is indeed twisted, and I would find some sad yet funny irony if it backfired decades down the road, with a combination of elements, and the separatists that antiseparatists created ended up legitimately reanimating the separatist movement only because of their paradoxical discourse. Of course, I cannot help but see that Sugar Sammy (my scapegoat) does it as a marketing strategy, which works extremely well (his stance is what almost solely led to his current success and fame), and which is further emphasized in Ces gars-là, a humouristic series where many one-liners are centred on his antiseparatism. I could write longer on the capitalistic drive behind his position, and the classist aspect to the issues he creates, but that would deserve specific attention. What I focused on in this reflection is that such snarky antiseparatist discourse actually creates much of current day separatism, which is entirely counterproductive and, in my opinion, rooted in some twisted desire to watch your enemies suffer, and constantly reframing them as enemies.