par Adele St. Pierre
evolves with time
34. Rites of Passage
40. Frogs Cheeping
48. Identity Crisis
|Attention Francos! I am looking for about 6 Franco-Americans aged from
30 to 60 to do recorded interviews with for my thesis project. If you are
French speaking, are third or fourth generation Franco (that is to say,
you have parents, grand-parents or great-grand-parents immigrated to Jay
from Quebec to work in the mills at the turn of the last century) and you
fit into this age bracket, I would like to talk with you! The interview
entails a short conversation based on a list of questions I will ask you
about family, school and work as well as a list of objects that I will
ask you to name in French. If you fit these criteria and are interested
in participating, please contact me. (email@example.com or 418-523-4052).
Language evolves with time
Back when the automobile began replacing the horse and buggy, people called it a "horseless carriage". Maybe some of the readers out there today remember it being called this? For many years, both forms of transportation existed at the same time because while some were wealthy enough to buy a car, others were not (or just did not want to). For this reason, people saw both vehicles on the road and could distinguish between the one with the horse and the one without the horse. Today, you won't hear a 17-year-old ask his dad if he can borrow the "horseless carriage" to go out on a Friday night. He'll ask for the car. (But if you ask me, he should say something more like "Hey pops, can I borrow the debt-provoking gas-guzzling laziness-inducing metal hunk of death tonight? ... But that's another story.) The short of it is that "horseless carriage" has become obsolete from the language. I'm not even sure if the average youth would immediately associate this word with the standard automobile either.
I'm not going to talk about the French equivalent of "horseless carriage" today, but I used this example to illustrate a point. Language evolves with time. Some words, when they no longer make sense for our actual surroundings, can disappear from use and you'll only find them in a dictionnary. This isn't always the case. (In fact, it's most often not the case!) Some words in use today, if you look at them closely and break down their meanings, don't make any sense at all.
Take the word "croque-mort" for example.
According to the Petit Robert, "croquemort" is a "pompe funèbre
chargé du transport des morts au cimitière". In other words,
it's the person who prepares the body after death for burial. In English,
it's a mortician or an undertaker.
Well, there's more to it than that, of course. If you look up "croque-mort" in the Grand Robert de la Langue Francaise however, you get a different take. Apparently, the "figurative" meaning of "croquer" in the word "croque-mort" means "to make disappear". This makes sense. The undertaker comes and he takes the body away; thus, the body "disappears". The only thing with this is that under the definition for "croquer", you don't find this meaning at all so you have to wonder.
A more interesting explanation is one that I learned from one of my professors here at Laval. (He talked about this word in class and I got the idea to write about it for the LFA.) According to him, the word takes its meaning from the fact that the person who took dead bodies away from homes had a special way of determining if the person in question was really dead or not : he'd bite the toe of the dead person! (If you were just pretending to be dead for some strange reason, this would wake you up in a hurry, pas peur!)
On that note, if you happen to be eating your lunch while reading this, I'll let you go back to "croquer" whatever it is you were eating.
I've gotten into the habit of taking an old walkman radio with me when I walk to and from the University so that I can listen to the news on Radio Canada. On Friday, there was a report done on the new anti-smoking laws in New Brunswick and two of the people that were interviewed used the word "asteure". Hearing this word coming from the mouth of two young adults made my day.
"Asteure" means "now" or "right now". The French say "maintenant". When I went to live in France after graduating from UMF, "asteure" was one of the the words I had to rid from my vocabulary. Since no one in France understood what I was saying when I said "asteure", I had to take up the word "maintenant". At that point in my life, I remember thinking that "asteure" was a word that existed only in Jay.
Several years later, when I came to Quebec as an assistant with the May Term from UMF, I went to see a movie called 12 February 1848. This is the date that the English-run Canadian government hanged several French-Canadian rebels who had been involved in a short-lived, armed independence movement. On the scaffolds, when asked if he had any last words, one of the men, the leader of the group, shouted out that he was not afraid to die. Then he said, "asteure, c'est à votre tour de souffrir" ("now, it's your turn to suffer." ... or something like that). The movie itself was pretty slow-moving and I admit I could have fallen asleep several times, but hearing this word woke me up. It was the first time I had heard it used by anyone but my family members!
In fact, what the actor said was "à cette heure". Said slowly, you might hear the three distinct words; said quickly, you hear them as though they are one word. (Like when one of my friends says "Imonna" for "I'm going to".) Translated literally, "à cette heure" means "at this hour".
In the Glossaire du Parler Français au Canada, you will find the word written with an "h" : "astheure". According to this glossary, the word comes from Old French and can be found in the literary works of such French writers as Brantôme (spelled "à st'heure") and Lamontagne. The Glossary also says that the word was highly used in the dialects of Northwest France, notably Normandy, Brittany and Picardie, three regions from whence many of the first colonists to New France came.
One of the things I like about living in Quebec is that I get to hear words like "asteure". Words like these, that I used to think were strange, made-up concoctions, are used here in Canada. (Although you will hear the word "maintenant" used interchangeably; my professors, for example use "maintenant". My friends do too, but once in a while they let fly an "asteure".) I will never regret the time I spent in France; however, I wish that I had come to Quebec earlier in my life. It would have been an easier language transition, for one thing, and I would have learned sooner that the French we speak in Jay isn't so strange after all.
I recently got my hands on a copy of Maine Speaks, an anthology of poems, short stories and essays by Maine authors. This is not the first time I have read some of the stories in this book. When I was a junior and senior at Jay High School, I took a writing class with John Rosenwald and Ann Arbor and they had us read a piece by Stephen King and another by Robert Chute. As an adult with a different perspective on the Maine I grew up in, I flipped through it to see what I might find in relation to the Franco-American culture that is so prevalent in our state. From individual character names in stories, like Leonard Pelletier in John McPhee's "North of the CP Line," to the title of Carolyn Chute's story, Letourneau's Used Auto Parts, it is easy to see the influence of French Canada in Maine. What's more, there is an American Indian poem translated into French as well as several stories that directly pertain to the French culture.
"Germaine" by Denis LeDoux decribes the departure of a family from their Canadian farm. Those of you who read these articles regularly know that manyFrench-Canadian farm families left their homes between 1860 to 1930 to find work in the New England states. Some of them were able to make enough money working in the mills to pay off their debts and return to their homes, but as you know, many did not. If I had to guess, the family in this story did not return. Germaine and his wife had decided not to rent their farm while they went south because they planned to come back, but the implications of their failure to do so rings loudly in the last line : "There was nothing left." Perhaps the author of this piece, who is a Maine resident, is writing about his own family's history. In this case, we know that they never made it back to Canada because he is now integrated in Maine.
Then there is "The Bad One" by Gerard Robichaud. I really enjoyed this piece. A large Franco-American family living in a small apartment - two to three children per bed ? are asked by the local priest to take in a French-Canadian orphan girl, a bad one. The priest tells them that one more person in such a large group would practically go unnoticed, and the father and mother of the family feel powerless in front of their priest to say no to his request. And so Sophia, the "bad" girl moves in. They soon find that this young woman, who has been known to fight and rebel against everyone, just needed to be a part of a big family that would accept her.
And finally, there is the story called "The State Meet" by Fred Bonnie. In this story, a group of high school cross-country runners are going from Portland to Bangor in order to race. One of the boys on the bus tells another boy, a Franco, that "they had to beat all those Frenchies", probably the Francos of the Old Town area. Another boy pokes fun, saying that the bumpy road they are on at one point must have been built by the Canucks, which is a slang term for Franco American or French Canadian. To these boys, the playful competitiveness and the "jokes" are just a game between the non-Francos and the Francos; what we know is that it probably stems from the more serious strife that existed between the two groups a couple generations back.I recommend these three stories to anyone. For the Franco-American, they may give you a view into other's lives who share a common history with you. The non-Francos may understand a little better this particular cultural aspect of your town and state. But, like Lemar Burton used to say on Reading Rainbow, "You don't have to take my word for it!"
Rites of Passage
One of the rites of passage for doctoral students in the Laval University system is the retrospective and the prospective exams. The first exam requires the student to come up with her own rope and hang herself... I mean compile her own bibliography based on a few broad topics related to the thesis project and then read and retain all the material in order to answer, in the time of one month, in fifteen pages each, the three questions given to her by the thesis committee. One of my topics is "geolinguistics", which is simply a branch of study that aims at the study of language from a geographical perspective. Inside this topic is the sub-topic of immigrant cultures and their experiences, both in terms of their experiences in their new culture, their reactions to it, and their eventual assimilation.
I got my hands on a great book by Joshua A. Fishman titled Language Loyalty in the United States : the Maintenance and Perpetuation of Non-English Mother Tongues by American Ethnic and Religious Groups (1966 : Mouton, Paris) that has given me some wonderful insight into four different immigrant groups : the German-Americans (GA), Spanish-Americans (SA), Ukranian-Americans (UK) and, of course, Franco-Americans (FR). Each one of these groups is unique, certainly on the language level, but there are many characteristics that they share.
The GA and the SA, unlike the FA and the UK, have
immigrant histories that date back to colonial times. However, the similarity
ends there. The SA have not experienced the same positive experience as
a minority group in the US as did the GA. After the American conquest of
the southwest in 1848, the Spanish were given citizenship, but only a second
rate one. The development of the south-west, certainly the supposed gold-rushes,
overwhelmed the area with white Anglo Americans who did not accord the
Spanish residents much respect. Outright discrimination and segregation
of the people became an accepted rule; immigrants from rural Mexico who
flooded into the country from 1910 to 1920 to fill a labor force need met
with the same hostility and continue to live in low socio-economic conditions
that prevent them from moving up the social ladder. The reason for the
GA positive experience - at least until the anti-German sentiments swept
the nation during the periods between the two W!
With the exception of the colonial GA and later GA and UK refugee immigrants after WWII, all of these immigrant groups came to the States for economic reasons. The FA came to work in the textile and paper mills of New England, the SA came to work in the agricultural domains of the southwest, and the GA and the UK came to work in the mining towns of the east coast and Chicago. With the exception of many GA immigrants, the other groups are comprised mostly of men and women with little to no education or refined labor skills.
All groups, perhaps less so among the pagan-oriented UK, have strong affiliation with their respective churches : the GA to the Lutheran orthodox or Catholic churches, and the FA and the SA to the Catholic church. The Church served as a sort of glue for the communities, giving them a common meeting place to socialize as well as worship.
These are just a few of the similarities and differences that I can fit into the scope of this article. I will end on the note that despite them all, one thing is clear for all of them : despite pressure - both covert and overt - to assimilate and accept the American way of life, somehow there has persisted several communities where the ethnic language and culture of the original immigrants. These are national treasures that I wish the American government would protect and exploit for its bilingual/bicultural potential in an ever-increasing global world.
Reading my books up here in Quebec City!
Still plugging away at reading my books up here in Quebec City! Last week's theme of different immigrant groups and their experiences on American soil has moved on to that of assimilation patterns.
As you know, America has been called the great melting-pot of nations. And it's true. I am amazed at the numbers of immigrants who have come here and been absorbed into the American way of life, so completely most times that only the family name (if that sometimes!) remains as a vestige of a by-gone era and country.
Almost all the literature I've been reading regarding this assimilation process tends to agree on a certain pattern. The first generation of immigrants, that is to say the adults who arrive here, speak only their mother tongue. They are said to be monolingual. If they arrive as groups and establish communities within their adopted city (which is usually the case), they marry people who are also monolinguals. Their children will most likely be monolingual until they start school, at which time they will be exposed to English. These children will eventually master the English language and be bilingual. Depending on whether or not they marry a bilingual who is interested in passing the language on to the children, the next generation may be either bilingual or monolingual English. In most cases, it is the second of the two.
The reasons for this are simple and they apply to all immigrant groups, not just Franco-Americans. During the first generation and part of the second, the situation is called Űcompartmentalized'. This means that the minority language is confined, or restricted, to certain domains of life : the home, the church and sometimes work place and/or school. These domains function in the minority language because the first generation monolinguals have no choice but to use their own language. The second generation, though it acquires the majority language, English, is obliged to know the minority language if they wish to communicate with the first generation.
Eventually, these monolingual domains start giving themselves over to English. This usually happens in the third generation. The parochial school may have closed, the Church may have switched to English to accomodate different community members, and finally the third generation marries more and more outside of the bilingual community. When English starts to replace the minority language in these domains of life, the situation is called Űuncompartmentalized'.
The difference in these two situations is that the first is in a process of drifting towards English. Here, the minority language still functions and the people who speak it do so with ease and command. In the second situation, we see a shift towards English. Once this shift takes place, the minority language is said to be Űdying'. It's use is restricted to several individuals.
Reading all of this, of course, saddens me greatly. The French language situation in the Jay and Livermore Falls area is definitely one of advanced compartmentalization and doomed to death. However, being the idealist that I am, I don't always think this has to be the case. Recognizing impending death of language is the first step in taking measures to reverse the process. We may never have the kinds of laws and schools to protect its use like they do in Quebec, but as individuals we don't have to accept this fate. Grandparents ? and parents ? can speak French with the grandchildren, help them with their French lessons if they are taking classes, etc. Being bilingual, or at least having a working knowledge of a second language, is as useful a tool in today's world market as knowing how to use a computer or drive a truck.
"Un gateau aux bleuets"
The last time we saw our Franco-American friend, he had gotten his French friends from Paris all confused by asking them to bring "un gateau aux bleuets" (a blueberry cake) as dessert for a supper. (To help jog your memory, a "bleuet" in France is a flower...). This time, the Franco and his wife are again traveling through Paris and decide to look up their French friends."Oh, mon ami d'Amérique!" The Frenchman says, "Viens manger avec nous ce soir! C'est ma fête!" ("Oh, my American friend! Comme eat with us tonight. It's my birthday!")
The Franco hardily agrees (those French people can cook and he won't miss it!). On their way to the Frenchman's house, the Franco and his wife stop by a chocolate shop and order a box of chocolates. He tells the lady behind the counter to wrap up the box as a gift and then continue on their way.
When they get to their friend's house and the Franco offers his gift to the Frenchman, he asks, "Et bien, quel âge avez vous?" ("Well, how old are you?") The Frenchman, confused, wonders why the Franco wants to know. "Mais, c'est votre fête aujourd'hui! Ça fait que, quel âge avez vous?" (It's your birthday today! So, how old are you?")If you're like me, you're wondering where the confusion is. France, being the Catholic country that it is, has this tradition where each calendar day of the year is represented by a saint. Most calendars will have the name of the saint written in italics for each day. If you happen to share a name with one of the saints, when it is that saint's day, you can say "Aujourd'hui, c'est ma fête".
In Québec, if you say, "Aujourd'hui, c'est ma fête", people will ask you how old you are because here, "fête" means "birthday". It's also pronounced a little differently so that it rhymes a more with "bite" than "bet". (But that's a whole other story!)
In France, your "birthday" is your "anniversaire" and they sing "joyeaux anniversaire" to the tune of "happy birthday to you." In Québec, people also say "anniversaire" to mean "birthday", but it's more rare than saying "fête". And as you may guess, the song they sing, also to the tune of "happy birthday" is "bonne fête".
Regardless of the confusion, it only takes a few minutes to clear up some of these differences that exist between French from France and French from North America. And regardless of the fact that our Frenchman was not celebrating the turning over of a new year, you can rest assured that he kept the chocolates. (I would have, too, knowing what I know about European chocolate!)
"trappe à souris"
Those of you who have been with me for a while may remember an article I wrote about the "mousetrap". In North American French, the word is "trappe à souris". This word has often been treated as an anglicisme, a hypothesis that is overthrown once you consider the fact that this same word is currently used in the French spoken in Switzerland, a country which is not in contact with English.
Today in my course on Anglicismes with Claude Poirier (the leading expert on North American French and probably one of the most mind-bogglingly intelligent professors I have ever met) we talked about a certain number of words or expressions in the French language that have been wrongly identified throughout the years as coming from English. Today I would like to talk about one of these expressions : "Il fait cru" (which is, word for word "It is raw", meaning "it is humid and cold out".)
I personally did not recognize this expression, but perhaps some of you Francos have heard this expression or use it yourselves. In any case, this expression is said to be derived from English. According to Poirier, there are two ways to argue this supposed fact.
First, if you think about the English expression that the French one is supposed to be a loan of, you have to wonder. Do people actually say "It is raw" in English when it is cold and humid out? At the most, you might say "The weather is raw" or maybe "the wind is raw", but I have never heard anyone say, nor have I ever said myself, "It is raw."
Secondly, and more importantly, is the argument that Poirier makes when he compares the use of this expression in various Francophone countries. "Il fait cru" is an expression that is used in the French language spoken in all the francophone countries except for France. This means that a Swiss, a Belge and a Quebecois would have no problems understanding each other if they used this expression. A North African French speaker, as well as the French Cajuns in Louisiana and the Creole French of the Caribbean would, too.
What all of these countries have in common is the fact that they were settled by the French at about the same time in history. What this means is that "il fait cru" is an expression that comes from one of the regional French languages spoken outside of Paris during the 17th and 18th centuries. With this in mind, and considering that only the Quebecois and the Louisiana Cajuns have any kind of sustained contact with English, it is false to argue that "il fait cru" would come from English.
If the French of France do not use this expression, it is because it comes from a regional French that did not expand to Paris. If the French speakers in all of the Francophone countries use "il fait cru", it is because the people who settled in these places (who came from regions surrounding Paris for the most part) used this expression in their regional French. It's a simple question of conservation of a regional expression; English has nothing to do with it. Neat, huh?
A Real Anglicisme
Last week I talked about the expression "il fait cru" ("it is cold and humid") and discussed Claude Poirier's argument about the word being falsely labeled as an anglicisme. This week, I'm going to talk about a real anglicisme : "char". In Franco-American French (or at least at my house!), this is pronounced like "sh" + the "ou" of "ouch" and the throaty French "r". I grew up saying "la char", but apparently here in Quebec the word is masculin, "le char".
According to Claude Poirier, the word "char" is an anglicisme of "car". This type of borrowing is called a "calque". A bilingual can borrow a word straight from one language into another, or he can make a "calque" which means that he takes a French word with a similar sound or look and adds the English meaning to it. In other words, a direct borrowing doesn't just take the word, it takes the meaning with it. A calque, if you will, is not the borrowing of the word itself, but rather just the meaning which is then tacked onto the French word.
"Char", in France, is a wagon of a train. Since WWII, the word "char" has taken on the meaning of a "military tank". If a Franco-American used the word "char" in France, then, he would not be understood because the meaning for the same word in these two cultures does not share the same meaning. Rather, I should say, the Quebecois would have no trouble understanding, in context, all three meanings. Here, we have the advantage of being exposed to the France French words through literature and the media. In France, the same is not true because it is rare for French people to be encountered with terms and expressions from Quebec.
In any case, if you are in France and you want to talk about your car without getting any strange looks, you should use the word "voiture". If you are traveling through Quebec or New England, feel free to talk about your car with any of the following words : "voiture, automobile, auto" and, of course, "char". (If you ask me, the French lose out by limiting themselves to just one word!)
The word "char" is actively used here in Quebec and in New England. It has been part of the language for so long that no one recognizes it anymore as an anglicisme. At this stage, then, the loan word is here to stay and ready for use.
In closing, and while I'm on the subject of Anglicismes, I'd like to leave you with a word to the wise : if you find yourself in a "char" with a Franco who doesn't speak too much English and you see a moose crossing the road up ahead, just tell him to "peser sur les brakes". If you see that he's about to hit it, be a little more assertive and yell something like "Mautadit, pèse donc sur les calinnes de crimme de brakes!". Or, on the other side of extremes, for example, if you find yourself driving along behind my mother on route 133, roll down your window and say something like "Voyons, donc, pèse sur la gaz, Constance." And she may or may not listen to you.
Economy...that saves you time and effort
This week I'm going to talk about economy... not the kind that saves you pennies, but rather the kind that saves you time and effort when talking. For example, in English, the verb "to be" is conjugated in the negative as such : I don't, he/she doesn't, you don't, we don't and they don't. If you notice in this series, the only pronouns that require a change in conjugation is he and she. Language, like any thing else, takes effort. You have to remember to use doesn't with he and she. Wouldn't it just be easier to say he/she don't? If you agree, you aren't the only one. A lot of people say this. You might be one of them. This process is called "alignment", that is to say, a person aligns the conjugation of "to be" for he and she with all the other pronouns. In linguistic terms, this is known as "economy".
There are plenty of examples of linguistic economy in French, too. To stay on the same theme, let's look at the verb "être" in the imperfect tense (equivalent to English pronoun + was + verb in ing form). The conjugation gives you the following : j'étais, tu étais, il/elle était, nous étions, vous étiez, and ils étaient. That's alot to remember! So how does a person go about economizing in this situation? First, she has to clean a little house!
The two problem cases in this conjugation, if you haven't noticed already, is the nous and the vous forms. Technically, however, the only real problem case in North American French as it is spoken in New England is the nous form. You might remember an article I wrote many moons ago in which I discussed how the "vous" form is rarely used in North American French because people tend to use "tu" only.
So, how does the problem of the nous form get solved? Alignment! You can't get rid of the nous form altogether, because it is essential for a language to be able to say "we". Thus, you align by using on, which is a less formal way of saying nous. On, as luck would have it, happens to conjugate in the same way as il and elle. What you get then, is quite simply "on était".
This is, of course, by no means unique to North American French. You'll hear it every where in the world where French is spoken. The difference, though, for a Franco-American is this : most often, a Franco is not schooled in written French nor does he have access to the written language on a daily basis, nor does he get to listen to people who speak a formal French on the evening news or at the movies, for example. In Paris and Quebec, on the other hand, where people have these things, they will more readily be able to switch to the formal use of nous étions when the situation arises.
As a Franco myself who was illiterate in French for most of her life, the form nous étions was foreign to me until I started learning to read and write French. To this day, I admit also that I don't often use it. I guess that means I don't keep very high muckety-muck company!
The heavy snow that fell all day last Thursday had me worried that we were in it for another round, but nature was just playing a trick... spring really is here! It was a beautiful weekend here in Quebec and last night I heard frogs cheeping for the first time this spring. I wasn't expecting to hear frogs in the middle of my concrete and brick bound neighborhood, le quartier Saint-Jean-Baptiste, but there they were. (One of my neighbors has a small hand-made pond in her courtyard and there are frogs in it.)
It made me think of home. The frogs must be out and singing in the pond across the street from my parent's house. I love that sound. I remember my sisters and I going to pick up frog eggs in jars to watch them hatch into pollywogs, and a picture my sister Diane took of my brothers in a canoe, whacking frogs over the head so they could fry up the legs in butter. I highly recommend it. (The frog legs fried in butter, not whacking them over the head!)
Hearing the frogs made me think of an article I read last week about mosquitos. You're wondering what frogs have to do with an article about mosquitos and what either of them have to do with the coin français articles, aren't you? For starters, frogs mean spring, spring means summer and summer means mosquitos. Secondly, the word for mosquito in North American French is one of my favorites : maringuoin.(Neither of the two n's are pronounced).
Maringuoin comes from a language called tupi, spoken by a tribe of Brazilien natives. The French apparently tried to create a colony there from 1555 to 1560, but they failed in their endeavors. The word, however, remains... but not in France. In France, a mosquito is called a moustique. It has a history that dates back to the same time period as maringuoin.
During the 16th and 17th century, sailors from all over Europe who were exploring the new world were in good contact with each other, sharing their knowledge, their meals and their words... like moustique. This word comes from the Spanish word mosquito. Well, well. As you can see, the English also borrowed this word from the Spanish at the same time in history. In French, however, there was a transformation of the spelling. It first appeared in a manuscript written by a Norman (from North western France) as mouquite. It eventually became the word moustique. (Don't ask me how... the article doesn't go into any detail!)
This summer, when you're out on a warm night, think about how neat language is and how the simplest word like maringuoin (or moustiques or mosquitos) can have an interesting history. And then go ahead and kill 'em dead!
CANAC-MARQUIS, Steve and Claude POIRIER, "Origine commune des francais d'Amerique du Nord : le temoignage du lexique", in Le Francais en Amerique du Nord : etat present, editor A. Valdman, J. Auger and D. Piston-Hatlen, Quebec, Les Presses de l'Universite Laval (forthcoming).
Look At What's Happening in Waterville, Maine!
by Joshua Anchors, writing for Adele St. Pierre
Every Saturday morning at 9:00 a.m., Jorgensen's Café in downtown Waterville is alive with the French language. At least six tables are usually pulled together and people sip coffee while catching up on the latest town news and gossip. They talk for an hour or two in French, with occasional tangents in English, and then get up to leave, happy to have spent the morning with friends.
They call themselves Les Bavards, the gossipers, and most of them are Franco-Americans from Waterville who are interested in retaining their maternal language. Many of them speak French fluently, while others haven't spoken French in years. For these people, this weekly French table serves as an important tool for uncovering, or re-acquiring, a language that is buried beneath years of speaking only English.
Sylvanne Pontin, a young Franco-American resident of Waterville, launched the idea of Les Bavards over three years ago as a way of uncovering her own French background. She thought it would be fun to establish an informal venue for people interested in learning and speaking French to meet and talk. It was a simple idea, and evidently a very attractive one for many people, because now Jorgensen's Café is packed every Saturday morning.
Many of the people who come to Les Bavards on Saturday mornings are regulars to the group, kind of like Norm from the sitcom Cheers. Occasionally, however, there are newcomers like myself, who are always welcomed with a friendly bienvenue. Two months ago when I went to Les Bavards for the first time, I was surprised at how quickly they integrated me into their group. Within ten minutes of sitting down, I had heard several juicy pieces of town gossip, had given a brief version of my life history, and was asked to help out with Waterville's Franco-American Festival this coming summer. I left the long table an hour and a half later with the French language flowing through my veins, and feeling a true part of this new community.
The wonderful thing about Les Bavards is that, as long as you have some coffee, a few tables, and a handful of French-speakers, anyone in any community can imitate the idea. It only takes one person like Sylvanne to get an idea like this rolling, and there's no reason why you can't do the same, whether you live in Jay, Livermore, Livermore Falls or elsewhere. It isn't uncommon for communities to form book circles or music groups or have potluck dinners at the town hall, so why not a language group? To borrow an old phrase from old folk traditions, "There's nothing like a language to bring people together."
"This 'PhD' is a racist pig. See pp. 255-262".
I've read some ridiculous things in my life. One of the most ridiculous comes from a man named Robert Cloutman Dexter, who wrote a PhD thesis entitled The Habitant Transplanted : a Study of the French Canadian in New England in 1923.
The first thing I saw when I opened this big brick of a book was a little piece of paper that someone had put inside the cover with the following message written on it : "This 'PhD' is a racist pig. See pp. 255-262". So, of course, I didn't waste any time and went right for these pages. There are two sub-chapters in this section. The first one is entitled "Sex Attitudes" and the second one "Mental Health". We'll just look at the first one today.
At the beginning of this sub-chapter, Cloutman writes : "In such a consideration, reliance must be had on impressions and observation rather than on statistical data." Ikes! My thesis director would throw me out of the linguistics program if I ever wrote such a line! As PhD students, the idea of writing anything without being able to back it up with concrete research is absolutely out of the question. As soon as I read this sentence, I knew I was going to be in for a good read of ridiculous crap!
According to Cloutman and his "observations" (how many he made, and in what communities is left to the reader to guess), the "French Canadian child reaches adolescence somewhat more quickly than the native or the northern European [...]; the girls and boys, but particularly the former [...], are intensely concerned with matters of sex". He adds that "overt immorality is indulged in" by these youngsters so that "crimes against chastity is [very] serious". Finally, he deals his final blow with another whopper : "There is apparently among the French-Canadians a somewhat stronger sex impulse than is common among the native-born".
Racist statements of the like are usually based on superficial observations. From an outsider's point of view, I am sure that Cloutman focused on the fact that French-Canadians at the time married young and they had many children. But what does this prove about their attitudes? And what does this have to do with "crimes against chastity"?
Because he was writing in 1923, perhaps Cloutman did not have the kinds of studies available to him that would have explained the nature of the French-Canadian situation at the time. (Some of you may remember an earlier article I wrote about the "revenge of the cradle" and how the Church encouraged its people to have large families"). The French-Canadian immigrant at the turn of the last century was poor and uneducated, but he was also a hard-working, God-fearing Catholic. It must be mentioned also that the tradition of this group of immigrants focused on the family, so getting married young and starting one was simply a tradition to be followed and having large families was a dictate of the church.
With a name like Cloutman, this man is obviously NOT a Franco-American. You have to wonder just how many Francos he had actually observed in order to make his conclusions about them. Did he ever talk with one? Maybe he heard from a friend of a friend of a friend that this is how it was. Whatever the case, his statements are nothing more than racist heresy. On the one hand, they make me laugh because I know that they are wrong. On the other hand, they make me cringe because it's easy to recognize in this chapter the kinds of superficial, based-on-nothing statements that people make today about other groups of people that they don't know anything about except from what they think they see or what they hear from others.
A glance at modern Quebecois literature
by Adele St. Pierre and Josh Anchors
This winter, Josh and I both read a book called Chercher le vent by Guillaume Vigneault. (Some of you might be familiar with his father, the musician Gilles Vigneault). Guillaume Vigneault is a young, Quebecois writer and this book won him two prestigious literary awards. It's the story of a middle-aged man, Jack, whose life is at a cross-roads. He has just found out that his ex-wife, who has since remarried, is now pregnant. With his ex-brother-in-law, he decides to take off on a road trip with no particular destination in mind. Interestingly enough, one of the places he stops at along the way is Bar Harbor, Maine.
Chercher le vent is one of several Quebecois books that we've read in which the characters find themselves in Maine. This book is a little bit different, however, because the characters don't go to the classic hot-spot of Old Orchard Beach, but rather to Acadia National Park where they rent a cabin for about a month. While in Maine, Jack meets an affluent elderly woman who speaks French.
Maine, to some extent, almost seems like a secondary home for Jack. In a way, it is a therapeutic trip for him. Like many other Quebecois, Maine is the get-away that Jack needs to help him think and come to terms with his life. Even though Bar Harbor isn't that far from Quebec, it's a world away. Luckily for him, though, the language barrier is not too much of an issue because he is able to communicate with this older lady.
Continuing his American road-trip, Jack makes a brief pit-stop at Disney World in Florida and then finds himself in Louisiana, directly in the heart of Cajun country. Here, he visits the French quarter and takes a temporary job working at a small, fast food joint for an African American man. During his time in Louisiana, Jack tries to speak French to some older folks in the area but with no success. He says that the people are embarrassed to speak with him and just revert to English.
What is unique about Chercher le vent is how it shows the multiple faces of America. The more affluent coast of Maine, the materialistic pop culture of Florida, the poverty in the rural American south and the little pockets of subculture and regionalism you can only find by getting out of the big cities. In an age when many books written by foreigners about the US seem more like politic and social critiques of our country rather than literary explorations, Chercher le vent is a refreshing read. You get the impression that the narrator, or rather the author, is familiar with the United States from a traveler's perspective and not through a politic lens. By meeting the people who make up the country, he gets to know what that country is all about.
What we really enjoyed about Chercher le vent is that it is a modern glance at people, how they think, what they do and what they learn on a trip. During the 1960's, when Quebec was having its Quiet Revolution, the art and literary world was grappling with its past and trying to sort out what it meant to be Quebecois today. From our experience, the work that came out of that time period was focused on the past. Today, the Quebecois have emerged from that time period as a culture that has realized its potential not only for what it has to offer in terms of history, but for what it has to offer as a functioning society. Thus, its artists can produce literature for the sake of literature. If you can read in French, this book is well worth picking up. If not, it will surely merit a translation in the next few years. Happy reading!
Familiar with the Fact
Those of you who can read and/or write French or who have taken a couple years or so of French in school are familiar with the fact that the French language has accents. As a student in Madame Aucoin's class at Jay High School, I was never sure where they went, if the line pointed down toward the beginning of the word or toward the end of the word. Of course, I'd try to make ambiguous little marks and hope she wouldn't notice and take off points for spelling, but she always noticed. (As if, for one minute, I didn't think people had been trying to bowl her over with that trick for years!) I've since wised up quite a bit and, for the most part, I've got most of it memorized. If not, there's always the dictionary. (In high school, we were just too cool for dictionaries...)
Since high school, I've always come to realize that Madame Aucoin wasn't just being a ninny when she took off points for accents. In French, an accent is just as important as a letter. Leaving one off or putting one in the wrong place affects a word's pronunciaton. Take for instance, the word chante, which means "to sing". If you write "il chante" ("he sings"), the last letter you hear pronounced is the "t". If you add an accent aigu on the "e", it becomes pronounced, like in the past tense : "il a chanté" ("he sang"). (You can get the same effect if you add an "r" to the end of the word to get the infinitive : chanter). If you don't add the accent on this "e" in the past tense, towers won't fall and empires won't crumble, but the person reading the sentence will see mistake. And if that person reading your sentence is a teacher, you're going to lose a point!
The accent that I wanted to focus on in this article, though, is the accent circonflexe¸ which looks like a little upside-down v. This accent, unlike the one I wrote about in the last paragraph, doesn't necessarily have anything to do with pronunciation.
In some cases, it is used to mark a difference between homonyms, or words that have the same pronunciation. The past tense of the verb devoir ("to have to") for example, is du, like in the sentence "J'ai du chercher le mot dans le dictionnaire" ("I had to look up the word in the dictionary"). Because the French equivalent for "due" is a homonyme for du, you have to add the accent circonflexe over the "u", like in the sentence "Elle a payer son dû" ("She paid what was due").
In other cases, the accent circonflexe is used to mark the absence of the letter "s". Many moons ago, I wrote an article about how the writers of the 15th century wanted to remind readers of the noble roots of the French language all the way back to Latin. As the French language evolved, the pronunciation changed. The latin word costa for example, which means "coast" used to be pronounced with the "s". Over time, the "s" stopped being pronounced. People continued to write it for many centuries, until the grammar reforms of the 15th century decided on putting an accent over the "e" to represent the un-pronounced "s".
There are many words like this, such as hôpital (hospital), forêt (forest), hôtel (hostel), and prêtre (priest), just to name a few. When the French ruled England and the French language was the official language of the royal court (from the early 1100's to about 1400), these words were still being pronounced with the "s". So when the English borrowed these words from French into their language, they did so with "s" intact. The proof is in the way we pronounce and spell these words in English today.
For my readers out there who are students of French, I hope this article was helpful to you. And the next time you're having a hard time with your accents, there's no reason to consider defenestration... just remember that you're never too cool to look it up in the dictionary.
The driving distance between Quebec City and Montreal is a short three hours, but the difference in the way people from these two different cities speak is fairly great. In order to explain these differences, one has to consider history and the intensity of contact with English.
In an article I read to prepare for my doctoral exams entitled "«Les causes de la variation géolinguistique du français en Amérique du Nord: lÝéclairage de lÝapproche comparative», Claude Poirier explains that the major language difference between the two cities originates in the first colonists.
As a whole, the province of Quebec received colonists from areas north of the Loire River in France. To further differentiate, the city of Quebec had statistically more colonists from central France. In other words, people who settled in Quebec City came from Ile-de-France (AKA: Paris) and its surrounding areas. The French administration that operated out of New France also lived and worked in Quebec City. The influence of the Parisian dialect in this area of French Canada, then, was very great. In Montreal, however, there were fewer original settlers coming from Paris and there were no Parisian administrators living and working there. The people who settled Montreal came from more rural areas of France.
The original settlers to these two cities, then, influenced the way the French language was spoken. One of the major differences was the pronunciation of the letter "R". In Montreal, "R" is rolled with the tip of the tongue. In Québec, it is "grasseyé", meaning it is pronounced more at the back of the throat. (While I was growing up, I remember noticing that my Matante Claire sometimes said her "R's" differently than my mother and my father did; she was rolling them like they do in Montreal. Other people in town also pronounce their "R's" this way. You might be one of them!)
The Montreal "R", however, is disappearing. It can still be heard amongst the older generation, but the younger generation has started pronouncing their "R's" like à la québécoise.
The other difference between the speech in the two cities is the contact the French language has with English. In Montreal, this contact is much more intense. There are English speaking quarters and bilingualisme is more common. As a result, anglicismes are a little more frequent and those people who use English words tend to pronounce them in English. In Québec City, people also use anglicismes, but they are less frequent and people tend to modify the pronunciation to fit French phonetics.
In a conversation I had with the above-mentioned Claude Poirier (he's my thesis advisor), he told me that people in Quebec City tend to modify the pronunciation of English borrowings as a rule of cultural custom. The love-hate relationship the Québécois have with English pushes them to modify the pronunciation in order to hide the fact that they are using an English word. In Montreal, however, because of wide-spread bilingualisme, people tend to preserve the original English pronunciation. They think it is quite ridiculous to modify the pronunciation and they have no qualms about using it tel quel (as it is). Alas, if the distance between Québec and Montréal is minor by modern standards, in terms of language one is still a world away from the next.
Claude Poirier's article can be found in Langue, espace, société: les variétés du français en Amérique du Nord, under the direction de Claude Poirier, et al., Sainte-Foy, les Presses de lÝUniversité Laval, pp. 69-95.
Quebec City--Montreal--ça fait que
Last week, I talked about the language differences that distinguish Quebec speakers of French from Montreal speakers of French. To jog your memory, one of these differences is in the relationship the two groups have with the English language. In this article, I would like to continue in this vein by talking about the little word so which competes with the French equivalent of ça fait que.
Linguists agree that minority language groups borrow words from the majority language that help fill a vocabulary gap, certainly for culturally particular things. So how do you explain the use of so when there is a perfectly good French equivalent to be had?
According to Raymond Mougeon and Edouard Beniak, as the contact between two languages intensifies, not only does the borrowing increase, but the borrowing goes beyond the need to fill a void in vocabulary. Thus, in places like Ontario, Montreal and New England, for example, the use of the word so instead of ça fait que in French phrases is very frequent.
According to these authors, so started out as a simple code-switch. A code-switch is the use of a word from one language while speaking another and this is typical of bilingual speakers. When this same word, by frequent habit of being used by bilinguals becomes part of the speech of monolinguals, the word takes on the status of being a full-fledged loan word. In some cases, the loan word replaces the original French word.
Since I moved to Quebec in August of 2003, I have never heard a Québécois use so in his or her speech. I have never been to Montreal, so I can't say from first hand experience that the Montreal dwellers do... that is, up until a couple weeks ago. I met someone from Montreal at a souper my friend was having, and I was surprised to hear how his speech was fairly riddled with the word so.
I haven't noticed an abundant use of the word
so in talking with Francos from Jay and Livermore Falls, but maybe that's
because I wasn't paying attention before. In any case, if you are a French
speaker and you notice yourself using so instead of ça fait que,
you can do either one of two things: Correct yourself and revert to the
original French word or consider yourself as speaking in a completely normal
way in light of this article you have just read!
MOUGEON, Raymond et Édouard BENIAK (1991), Linguistic consequences of language contact and restriction: the case of French in Ontario, Canada, New York, Oxford University Press.
"six parts" "cipâtes" "cipailles"
I was talking to a Franco-American woman of Acadian descent the other day who said that one of her favorite traditional dishes to make is something called "six parts" (pronounced see-par). I had never heard of this word nor this recipe before so I asked her to describe it to me.
"Six parts" is a somewhat of a stew. The reason she calls it "six parts" is because it has six different kinds of meat in it. (If it weren't for the fact that she includes cubed potatoes and sometimes carrots in it, it would be a perfect addition to the Atkins diet!) She takes all her meat and cuts it into cubes and puts it, along with the potatoes and carrots, into a roaster. Then she makes a dumpling dough. According to her, this dough is a little more like a pie-crust. She rolls it out and covers the top of the stew and cooks it that way.
By the time she finished telling me her recipe, I realized that I had heard about this dish before on several different occasions. The reason I didn't recognize it right away was because I had never heard it called "six parts" before. The words I know are "cipâtes" (pronounced see-pout) and "cipailles" (pronounced see-pie).
Perhaps some of you have heard of this recipe or make it yourself. It's quite possible that the version I just described doesn't at all resemble the one you make, either.
The first time I heard of this recipe, the word used was "cipâtes". I've heard other people talk about this recipe and refer to it as "cipailles", too. Sometimes the same person will use both words while talking about the same recipe! But no matter how people chose to call it, this dish is typical of Acadian French, not Québécois French.
In my class on anglicismes last spring semester, the word "cipailles" showed up on a list of French words whose origins are English. According to my professor, Claude Poirier, "cipailles" is a transformation of the English word "sea pie". Unfortunately, we didn't get into the details of the contents of the recipe, but it would seem like there would be some seafood somewhere in there, right? Maybe in the beginning there was; the Acadians were, after all, a sea-faring people. Perhaps after they were driven from Acadia by the English and had to live further inland, they adjusted their recipe (without changing its name) to fit what was available to them to eat, such as wild game. This seems to make sense if you consider the following:
Most people who make this dish have specified that the meat that goes into it is supposed to be wild game, especially rabbit and deer. On the bottom of a deep baking dish, you put a layer of cubed meat and potatoes and you cover it with a pie crust. You continue to layer meat/potatoes and pie crust until you run out or until you reach the top of the dish. Apparently it takes a while to assemble and even longer to bake, but according to my sources, it's worth the trouble and its definitely worth the wait!
As you know, Canada is officially a bilingual country. This means that all road signs, public services, etc., need to be in both French and English. It's the law. (Those of you who have been to Quebec may have noticed that this is not true... things only appear in French. This act of rebellion is actually written in the law books, if you were wondering.) To my knowledge, no other province in Canada has actually enacted a law stating that English or French be the only language used on public signs, etc. Thus, in my recent trip to Nova Scotia, I was surprised to find areas where nothing was posted in French. Such law-breakers!
Here's the thing: Nova Scotia was once Acadian and thus French speaking. After the "Grand Derangement" when the English pushed the Acadians out, it became English speaking. After 1759, however, the Acadians were allowed to return to their homeland. The only problem at that point, however, is that their homeland was no longer really theirs. In fact, it is said today that the Acadians are a people without a country.
It seemd to me, as an outsider looking in, that province is having an identity crisis! First of all, driving and biking around, I noticed a serious inconsistency in language use on road signs. Sometimes things were written in both French and English, other times in English only. Never did I see a sign with only French written on it.
Second of all, there's the issue of flags. I once spent a month traveling in the Western U.S. with a couple of friends from Germany and they were so surprised at how flag-happy the American people were. Though I have to agree that Americans are a flag-happy bunch, I must say that we have good competition in Nova Scotia! The only difference is that in this province, some people fly the Canadian flag, others the Nova Scotian flag and yet still others the Acadian flag. Of course, there are people who fly a combination of two or three flags.
Now that I am back in Quebec, I notice to what extent this province is sure of its identity. The Canadian flag is rare here, and as I mentioned earlier, you won't find road signs or anything of the like written in English. I've heard people make snide comments about this. The Quebecois, they say, should get with the North American program and switch to English. The Quebecois, they say, are a bunch of hard-headed provincialists who should abide by the bilingual laws of the nation. If I didn't agree with such ignoramus statements before, it was simply because I love the Quebecois and their anti-assimilation attitudes and because I enjoy being in a place that asserts its difference as opposed to the norm. Now, I have another reason to scoff.
If the rest of the country, which by law should be bilingual, only makes a half-a** effort to accommodate the French faction, then why should the Quebecois make an effort to accommodate the English faction? Perhaps this is a poor attitude to have, but look at it this way: obviously, national law is not strong enough to enforce the actual practice of bilingualism in all the corners of the country. And if the Quebecois want to ensure the survival of French in their province, then they have to take rash action like making laws to keep English out.
My final point is this: French communities in places like Nova Scotia, which are too scattered and not as uniform as in Quebec to start making the kind of provincial laws that would help protect the use of the French language, will all but likely disappear in the future. What might turn this around is a federal government which recognizes and supports them in their efforts by actually enforcing the bilingual laws.
asteur ou bédon--septante, octante, et nonante
It's been a most beautiful week here in Quebec and the Festival d'été de Québec (Quebec's Summer Festival) has been filling the air of the city with music from all over the Francophone world (and some non-Franco parts...for example, ZZ Top played on the Plains last Sunday!) After a day of sitting in this apartment in front of books and paper and computer, I have enjoyed going out to hear some of it. And I've met some interesting people, like my friend Beatrice's Swiss friend.
At one point, the Swiss friend used the word septante. Beatrice chuckled and told me that septante was Swiss French for soixante-dix (seventy). I'd heard this word before. Last year, in a seminar in Phonetics, our assignment was to interview two people from the four major Francophone counries of France, Switzerland, Belgium and Quebec. The Swiss woman I had interviewed told me she was born in septante-huit (seventy-eight). Immediately after, she sort of blushed and chuckled and repeated me the date as soixante-dix-huit. Why are these people chuckling?
Traditionnally, Parisian French is held up as THE all-or-nothing way of speaking of French. (I've talked about this in previous articles). To make a generalization (though I really shouldn't because there are always exceptions to every rule!), the French have a tendancy to chuckle at regional differences spoken by Francophones from other countries because they consider these differences to be somewhat cute and charming, but only in a slightly covert, condescending way. (I know because I've experienced it myself a million times in France when I'd use a word typical of my North American French).
People like the Swiss woman I interviewed have also picked up the habit of chuckling at their own regional words when speaking them to French people (the Swiss woman I interviewed told me after the interview that she thought I was French). Why are they chuckling at themselves? For fear of being chuckled at first, I guess. This woman knew the Parisian French word for 78, yet she used what came naturally to her, that is to say, the Swiss word. Only after she said it did she realize that it wasn't "right" by Parisian standards and she felt a need to correct herself.
Here in Quebec, there are many more people who consider themselves variationists. Well, at least at the university level. I would consider myself one, too. Variety is not something we chuckle at here. Rather, we are kind of curious about it. As for the average person in the street, variety in word choice doesn't seem to bother him, either. The attitude seems to be that if the point being made comes across, then why call attention to one word that differs from the standard use? Because, after all, the French language has many faces and no particular version of it has the right to crush any of the others.
Quebec has been a great place to live and it has freed me in a sense. I remember being sort of traumatized in France. I had to be very careful not to let fly some words, like asteur (maintenant; right now) or ou bédon (ou bien donc; or) for fear of being looked at like I was speaking an alien tongue. I hear these words (and many others) in the streets every day, at the university, etc. I've noticed lately that I've started using them myself again (though habit has kept me from using them in the presence of Beatrice!).
The point I am trying to make here is that as Franco-Americans, it is important for us to travel to Quebec where we can hear the way we speak also spoken by others of all ages. It helps reinforce our notion that the language we are speaking is, in all senses of the word, "the right French". I don't discourage travel to France. Quite the contrary. It has to be one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. However, when traveling there, it is important to understand this cultural difference of language use and expect to be chuckled at if you use some word that differs from the standard. Just take it with a smile and don't beat yourself up thinking that you don't speak the "correct" French. Just think of Quebec and be assured that there, you would be "correct." Afterall, sixty million people can't be wrong!
(FYI : septante is also used in Belgium and Acadia; two other number differences found in these places are octante (quatre-vingt, eighty) and nonante (quatre-vingt-dix; ninety).
As many of you Francos know, the word "bibite" means "insecte". (The two "i's" are pronounced like in the word "hit" and the final "e" is silent). One of the last times I talked with my mother on the phone, she used this word in an expression that I had never heard before. I believe the phrase exact was something along the lines of "Ton père là, i' est en bibite parce qu'i' fait chaud".
If you do a literal translation of the expression "être en bibite" then, you get something like "to be in an insecte"! But that's not what it means, of course. (If you keep reading, you'll find out what it means...)
I looked up the word "bibite" in the Petit Robert but didn't find anything to indicate its existence. Many years ago, I probably would have jumped to the ridiculous conclusion that "être en bibite" cannot possibly be French if the Petit Robert doesn't mention it. But now I know better than to make any kind of rational judgement about North American French based on what the Petit Robert has to say. The Petit Robert, after all, doesn't take into account the variety of French spoken by North Americans. (This is normal... their buying public isn't North American, it's French from France). So I checked out my trusty Glossaire du Parler Français au Canada and found not only the word "bibite" and the expression that my mother used, but other interesting information as well.
First things first. "Bibite" apparently, is an old French word for "petite mouche" (little fly), but in the dialects of Bas-Maine and Brittany, it simply means "une bête quelconque" (any insect).
In Canada, the word "bibite" took on two other meanings. The first one is "un individu remuant, roué, plus ou moins honnête, dont il convient de se défier" (grosso modo: someone you can't trust). You could use the word "bibite" in a simple phrase like "celui-là, c'est une bibite!" The second meaning is best given by use of the phrase "il avait la bibite aux doigts", which means "his fingers were numb with cold".
Finally, the fourth entry for the word "bibite" is my mother's expression. (Drum roll please...) "Etre en bibite" means "être mécontent" (to be unhappy, to be upset). Lastly, there is the expression "en bibite", which means "très, beaucoup" (a lot, hard). For example, you could say the following, "Il travaille en bibite" (He works hard) or "Il y avait du monde en bibite" (There were so many people).
To close, I would like to ask you to say the following sentence ten times really fast (North American style): "I' travaillait en bibite avec la bibite aux doigts quand qu'une bibite lui a mordu pis là i' 'tait en bibite" (He was working hard with frozen fingers when a bug bit him and then he got upset).
If you look up the word aucun in Le Petit Robert, you will find that it can be used as an adjective or as a pronoun. You will also find that both adjective and pronoun have a literary or an old meaning as well as a current meaning. Let's start with the current meaning and work our way backwards.
As an adjective, the word aucun is used with a negative value and means "no, not, none", like in the sentence "Il n'y a aucun rémède" ("There was no remedy"). As a pronoun, the word aucun also has negative value, like in the following sentence : "Je ne connais aucun de ses amis" ("I don't know any of his friends").
Moving on now to the definitions that appear under the heading littéraire ou vieux (literary or old) we see a use that is quite contrary to the ones I just mentioned. For both the adjective and the pronoun, the use is positive and the meanings are "some" and "one of" respectively. In this case, the word aucun could appear in the sentences "Il avait aucun expérience" ("He had some experience") and "Elle travaille plus qu'aucun de ses amis" ("She works more than one of her friends"). In the plural, aucun becomes d'aucuns. "D'aucuns sont pas là", for example, means "Some people were there."
If you want to believe Le Petit Robert, the use of aucun that I just elaborated upon in the previous paragraph can only be found in books. Le Petit Robert however, whether it is considered the bible of modern French or not, does not always take into account the way the French language is actually spoken in other parts of the world. In fact, often times, when the Petit Robert says that a word is littéraire or vieux, this word can still be heard in regular usage in other parts of the francophone world. This is the case with the word aucun with its negative sense.
I looked up aucun in the Glossaire du Parler Français au Canada (1933) and in the Dictionnaire nord-américain de la langue française (1977) and sure enough, there it was with the definition that Le Petit Robert has qualified as fallen out of use. This is not to say that every single Québécois uses this word with this meaning. I must admit that I have never heard it used this way here. However, this can be easily explained.
Those of you who have read earlier articles might remember that the Glossaire (1933) was published with the intention of listing all words that were considered non-standard in Parisian French and that since the 1960's, the Québécois have aligned their French language more and more with standard French. Because I live in the city where people tend to go to school longer, have more contact with French people, movies, literature, etc., this probably explains why I don't hear aucun used in the positive sense. I would be willing to bet that in the countryside of the Beauce region or elsewhere, for example, people still use aucun with the positive meaning. Its presence in the Dictionnaire nord-américain (1977) seems to back me up on my hypothesis.
Thus, although the fate of the word aucun with its negative sense has been sealed in France, it can still be heard in North American French. Though I can't say with any certainty to what extent people use it in the province of Quebec, I can say that it is current in the French spoken in Jay, or at least in my mother's French... afterall, it was her use of d'aucuns in a conversation I had with her last weekend that triggered my curiosity in the first place!
You call it rillettes, we call it cortons
One of the regional specialties of Le Mans, the town I lived in in France from 1998 to 2000 (where did the last five years go??), was rillettes. When I first moved there, everyone kept telling me that I needed to try the rillettes. After about a month of living there, I was at the open market with my friend Yves and we stopped in front of a meat vendor who let me try some of his homemade rillettes. After tasting it, I wondered what all the fuss had been about... the rillettes were nothing new to me. At home, they just had a different name: cortons.
If you look up the word cortons in the Petit Robert, you won't find it and you might think I am about to base this entire article on a word that doesn't exist. This is not true! The word cortons is a variant pronunciation of cretons, which you will find in various Canadian French glossaries. Originally, the word creton (which comes from the Normandy region of France) meant "a piece of grease". Perhaps by analogy, because cretons can be in fact quite greasy, people started calling this particular meat paté les cretons.
Those of you who come from Franco-American families or who are interested in trying some of the food from this ethnic group have most likely had your share of cortons. And if you have endured enough Maine winters, you have probably been gêlé comme un corton (frozen like a corton) once or twice in your life!
Cortons is simply a pork paté. It can be eaten warm or cold and tastes especially good on homemade bread, though saltine crackers come in a good second place. Corton is supposed to be a specialty. However, some people, and I won't mention any names, but my Uncle Frank eats it regularly on his morning toast.
Cortons is very simple to make. According to my mother and her sister's, the best corton is made with what is called the bartan, a piece of meat from the leg and butt of the pig. There is a bone in the bartan that apparently gives corton its distinctive taste. If you can't get yourself a bartan, any piece of pork (with the bone in it) from the store will do.
In a large pot, cook a four pound piece of pork in one and a half quarts of water with one large, chopped onion, 4 cloves of chopped garlic, a tablespoon of salt and a half teaspoon of pepper. When it boils, drop the heat to medium, cover the pot and cook for an hour and a half. While it's cooking, you can't go out to mow the lawn or walk the dog... you should watch the water level to make sure it doesn't drop too low. If it does, add a little more.
Once the pork is cooked, allow it to cool then remove the meat from the bone and grind it. Put the ground meat back in the pot with the onion, garlic and water and cook on low for another ten to fifteen minutes. Adjust the salt if needed. When the water has evaporated, pack the paté into small containers, freeze or refridgerate, eat right away, give to neighbors, etc. (Or call my Uncle Frank and he'll gladly come over and take care of it for you...).
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