"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Friday, January 25, 2008


And now for something completely different....

English isn't my first language, French is. These two languages are one and the same for me and I couldn't be whole if I had one but not the other. Some things, I'm more comfortable doing in English, others in French, and for some I can effortlessly glide between my two mother tongues. I am very fortunate to have had parents who made their children's bilingualism a top priority.

My English is impeccable because I was mostly schooled in English, with French being reserved for home. My French roots are very rarely betrayed; it's usually a slip of pronunciation that makes people smile and realise that I'm not kidding when I say that I didn't speak English the first five and a half years of my life. My French is now impeccable, but it wasn't always so. French is a notoriously slippery language to write so while I spoke it fluently my spelling and grammar were atrocious. I worked at this until French grammar became as effortless as that of my adopted tongue.

I grew up in the vicinity of the Metropolis, where speaking and writing polished French wasn't something to be looked down upon. But where I am now, at the border with an English-speaking province, proper French has been worn down and daily speech is filled with anglicisms--English terms made French.

The speech here grates on my nerves. I work in a legal environment and it annoys me to no end to hear English terms used instead of French ones. If I want to be understood, I have to speak like everyone else, but I don't want to talk like that because I don't want these errors to be ingrained in me. I have nightmares of speaking to a lawyer about a 'chaîne de titre' rather than a 'historique de propriété' or a 'applicant' rather than a 'demandeur.' Often, I find myself doing something I know looks irritating and snobbish; I'll say the proper French term and then put the anglicism in air quotes. Oh, yeah. That's the way to endear yourself to your colleagues.

Quebec has draconian language laws that violate basic human rights, but living here has shown me that the way to save French is not to measure the size of letters on signs but to promote proper speech patterns. Modern English was born from Norman French, a French that has hardly changed in more than five hundred years. But it is mutating rapidly now and merging once again with English. Quebec is trying to hold back the flood and I realised today that I, who has always whined about the language laws, am one of those trying to sandbag the dam.

For the French I insist on speaking, no matter how much it irritates others, is a French that the natives of France have given up long ago. While they spend their 'weekend à faire du shopping pour un sweater après avoir parquer le car', I spend my 'fin de semaine à faire du magasinage pour un chandail après avoir stationné l'auto.'

Perhaps should loosen up. Maybe if I say 'applicant' à la française enough times it'll stop sending shivers up my spine?

No comments: