par Adele St. Pierre
dans le Métro
54. Asking Questions
Mass in Quebec
Gems of 2005
66. Ma matante
70. Greetings all!
88. Okay, d'abord!
90. Store names
94. Pig Bucket
101. wreath de cocottes
Zazie dans le Métro
Now that I've passed my first exam and am moving along on the second one (which is actually a 30 page paper describing and outlining what my dissertation will be), I have a little bit of time to read books for fun. Last week, I picked up a copy of Zazie dans le Métro by Raymond Queneau. I have read a book by him and liked it, so I thought I would give this one a try.
Zazie dans le Métro was published in 1959 and recounts the humorous story of a young girl who goes to stay with her uncle Gabriel in Paris for a couple days. She is obsessed with wanting to take the metro, but because of a workers' strike, the system is not in service. I have only read the first five chapters or so, so I can't tell you if she ever gets to ride on one... if you want to find out, check out the book or rent the movie directed by Louis Malle.
The reason I am writing about this book today is because it is full of the kind of French words and expressions that are supposedly typical of North America. At first, I started underlining them, but after a while, I just stopped because they were every where. Even though I know that Queneau is a French author, I started having my doubts. Could he be Québécois? I asked a few of my friends and they assured me that he was not.
In Zazie dans le Métro, you will find words like d'aucuns meaning "some" (which I wrote about only recently) and asteure meaning "now" (which I wrote about last winter). You will also find the word la celle, like in the following sentence: "Elle prit la première rue à droite, puis la celle à gauche..." ("She took the first street on the right, then the on the left.")
La celle, as you can see from the translation, means "the one" and is a noun. On a French test, you would have points off for improper grammar because in standard French, celle is a demonstrative pronoun that should appear alone (or followed by -là).
La celle, according to the Glossaire du Parler Français au Canada, comes from the French dialect of Normandy. Considering that the majority of French colonists to the New World happened to come from Normandy, it is no surprise that the word was carried over the ocean where it continues to be used on this continent, at least among the Franco-Americans. (I have never heard anyone use it hear; I am assuming since the 1960's it has probably fallen out of general use in Quebec).
The masculine version of la celle is le celui and the pluralized form is les celles. La celle has an alternate pronunciation which the Glossaire spells la ceule, as well as an alternate pronunciation for les celles, which the Glossaire spells les ceuses.
I was pleasantly surprised to find this word (and others) in a book whose plot takes place in Paris and which was written by a French man. Zazie dans le Métro is a written testimony to the connection that Parisian French has with North American French once you step outside of the grammar books. If you are able to read French, I highly recommend it!
The other day I was going through my notebook for Le Francais en Amérique du Nord, one of the classes I took here at Laval in the fall of 2003. I was looking for the notes I had written concerning a particular pronunciation, but I also ran into a paragraph about how to form questions in French.
There are several ways to formulate a question in the French language. The first one, and perhaps the most common, is "est ce que" + question. For example, you might ask: "Est ce que c'est vrai?" ("Is it true?"). The second way to ask the same question would be "C'est vrai?" The difference between these two questions, aside from the fact that the first one has more words in it, is the intonation. In the first case, the "est ce que" is a sign that the person speaking is asking a question and the intonation remains relatively flat. In the second one, because the "est ce que" is missing, the speaker needs to say "c'est vrai" with a rising intonation on the word "vrai". If the speaker fails to raise the intonation, "c'est vrai" simply becomes a statement and no on will give an answer!
A third way to ask this question is, "Est-il vrai?" This is considered a very formal way of asking if something is crazy. It is commonly the form people use when writing. It is rare to hear people actually ask a question this way; however, if ever you meet the French president and you want to impress him with your French, I would suggest you resort to this question form!
There is yet a fourth way to ask this same question, but you won't here it in France. It is typical of the province of Québec and all the other areas in North American where the Québécois have settled and it looks like this: "C'est-tu vrai?" (Note: "tu" is pronounced "tsu"). Those of you who study French in school may look at this form and wonder how this works. Since "tu" is French for "you", the literal translation of this last form is "Is it you true?" I admit, when looked at this way, it really doesn't make sense! But then, some words have more than one meaning...
In this case, "tu" is not the pronoun "you." Rather, it is called an interrogation particle. This means that "tu" can be attached as a particle after any verb in any phrase and the phrase takes on the meaning of a question. For example, in the right situation, usually around 4:30 in the morning, my father might look over at my mother's plate and ask himself, "Elle mange-tu un sandwich au spaghetti?" ("Is she eating a spaghetti sandwich?") And if, after a closer look, he realizes that she really is eating a spaghetti sandwich, his next thought might be this: "Ça a-tu du bon sens?" ("Does that make any sense?"). If you refer to an earlier article I wrote about swear words, you can imagine that this last question can take on some color by adding "crimme", "câline", "cristophe", etc., right before the question...
Lastly, I should also mention that the Acadians also formulate questions in this fourth way. However, the pronunciation of the particle for them is "ti". Those of you whose parents or grandparents come from New Brunswick or other areas of Acadia will probably recognize this probably. Apparently, because of the bigger number of Acadians who settled there, you can hear this in Waterville, Maine.
Bicycles--Just don't forget to oil the chain!
Luckily, the recent gas price hikes haven't effected me at all. The last time I got behind the wheel of my car was when a few of my sisters were up about three weeks ago; I gave them my spot in the street right in front of the apartment and moved my car about three blocks away. I suppose I should go check on it today to make sure it is still there! Anyway, what has made me exempt from all the fuss is that I use my bike to do pretty much everything. And so I would like to dedicate this article to the words for bike in French.
Growing up in Jay, the word we used was bicycle. According to the Petit Robert, bicycle was introduced into the French language from English around 1869. The Petit Robert also says that this word is "ancien" in France but that it is still in use in Canada. After having lived in both of these places, I would agree. I never heard a French person use the word bicycle, but I often here people using it here.
Those of you who are familiar with dictionaries will know what I am talking about when I mention the International Phonetic Alphabet, or the IPA. In a good dictionary, each word will be followed by its pronunciation in brackets. (The word bike in English, for example, would look like this : [baik].) In the Petit Robert, the word bicycle is said to be pronounced like this : [bisikl]. (In the IPA, the letter "i" sounds like "ee" in beet.) The problem with this pronunciation is that it isn't accurate for North American French speakers.
The lexicographer who wrote the entry for bicycle in the Petit Robert was obviously aware that the French Canadians use this word. However, he also (obviously) didn't do his homework because no one pronounces bicycle here the way they have it written out! What you will hear in Canada and amongst the Francos is this : [bIsIk]. There are two differences to note in this pronunciation.
The first difference is the small capital "I" instead of "i". In the IPA, the small capital "I" sounds like the short letter "i" in the word hit. The second difference is the absence of the letter "l" at the end of the word. While the short "i" is an historical vestige (meaning that the French Canadians preserved a pronunciation that was once typical in France), the second one (the dropping of "l") is a pronunciation typical of all French people who are speaking informally.
From bicycle comes the word bicyclette. The Petit Robert says that this word came into use around 1880. When I was in high school, this was the word we had for bike in our French books. I am not sure why, considering it isn't that common to hear people use it. In my two years in Canada, I have heard it once. In France, never. I think one of the only people I know who uses this word is my younger sister, and she only does it to be funny!
Finally, there is the word vélo. Vélo is short for vélocipède. A vélocipède is simply a "vehicle with a seat on two wheels which functions by pushing on pedals with the feet". According to the Petit Robert, vélocipède was first attested in French in 1829, but that it is no longer used today. Vélo, which is the most common word for bike in France (but of course you'll also hear it in Canada), came into the language around 1890. From vélo, the French have created VTT (vélo tout-terrain), which is the equivalent of "mountain bike".
Alas, this concludes my quasi love poem to bikes, one of human kind's best inventions (if you ask me!). The next time you're at the pump shelling out $168.00 to fill up your tank, maybe you will think of this article... and maybe you will go home and pull out that old bicycle, bicyclette, vélo or VTT (whatever you decide to call it!) out of the corner of the garage and put it to use. Just don't forget to oil the chain!
Several weeks ago, I had some visitors from Europe: a Ukranian woman who used to be one of the students in my English conversation courses at the University in Le Mans, France, and her husband, a Frenchman from the French Alps. They stayed for a day and one night before heading off towards a little place called Port au Persil about a half-day's drive up on the north bank on the St. Lawrence River. I love playing the guide for people who come here because a) I love this place and b) taking people off the tourists' beaten path is a better way for them to see the city!
At one point during the day we took the ferry across the river to the city of Lévis. It was pretty hot that day, so my Ukranian friend and I went into a small convenience store to buy something cold to drink. At the counter, the cashier punched in the price of my friend's water bottle and said, "Une et neuf" ("One (dollar) and nine (cents)). My friend, whose maternal language is Ukranian but who speaks an impeccable French, replied: "Vous voulez mon numéro de téléphone?" ("You want my phone number?") It was a mystery to me how she could possibly not have understood what the cashier wanted!
On the sidewalk, my friend seemed confused. She had told me earlier during the day that she had a hard time understanding the Québécois and here was another instance of it. Why, she asked me, did the cashier say "une et neuf" when the word "dollar" is masculine? She should have said "un dollar neuf". Luckily I was there to set her straight! I explained to her that the woman had not made a mistake at all... in Québec, though we use the word "dollar", we also (and more frequently) use the word "piastre" (pronounced "pea-as"). And "piastre" is a feminin noun. Hence the "une" in the phrase "une et neuf".
"Piastre", according to the Petit Robert, is an "ancienne monnaie de divers pays" ("former monetary denomination of various countries") and has been in use since 1595. In France, then, people do not use this word to mean a dollar, like it is the case in French Canada and amongst the Franco-Americans. In fact, in the entry for "piastre" in this dictionnary, it is written that this word is part of the popular speech in Canada.
I thought my friend's experience with the simple phrase "une et neuf" was interesting. It is such a small thing, but at the same time it is not. Imagine if I hadn't been there to explain the situation? My friend would have gone home with the idea that the Québécois speak an incorrect French. She would have thought that people here incorrectly say "une dollar". It is because of these kind of small misunderstandings that European visitors to Québec go home and tell others that the Québécois speak poorly. And this judgment, as you may conclude on your own, is a very BIG misunderstanding because it is not true. This kind of judgement can create a superiority complex between Europeans and the Québécois, that is to say, those who speak "good" French and those who don't. It can even, as it has in the past, lead the Québécois (and thus Francos) to accept this judgement as true.
What I like about what I have been learning in Québec and what I hope to be relaying to you in these articles by writing about the particularities of Québécois French words, is that at the heart of every possible misunderstanding concerning word use is a logical explanation. If we take the time to search beyond the surface, most likely we will find it. And might I add, such is the truth behind all things... not just words!
Sticks and Stones
As I was driving home to Quebec from Maine along 73 North (which follows the River Chaudiere), I tried to get a look at the color of the water. While I was home in Jay, one of the people I had interviewed for my project told me that this particular river is very muddy and that this muddiness is at the heart of an interesting story about the Franco-American people.
Until I met and interviewed this person, a few other people had talked about the names that people used to call each other back in the day. And I am not talking about what the English speakers were calling the French; rather, I am talking about what the different French speaking groups called each other.
As you know, the North American French speakers originate from two different groups: the Acadians, who settled in the Maritimes, and the Quebecois, who settled in the St. Lawrence Valley. These groups are distinct in some aspects of their culture and also in some aspects of their speech.
At the turn of the century, when the French Canadians were migrating south into New England to find work in the factory towns, masses of people from these two groups found themselves living suddenly in close vicinity. Often, however, the people from the different places tended to group together and stay pretty much to themselves. This seems to be precisely the case in Jay: the majority of Acadians lived in Riley while almost all the Quebecois lived in Chisholm or Livermore Falls. Those Acadians who did live in Chisholm, however, still kept to themselves, apparently living amongst each other in one street.
Living in this close proximity together, these two different groups came up with names for each other. The Quebecois called the Acadians PEI's (pea eyes). The letters P, E and I meaning Prince Edward Island. Not all of the Acadians who came to this area were from PEI, but apparently no one seemed to notice or care and this is the name that stuck. A couple of the people who mentioned this to me told me that the name was used more in playful banter than to be mean. However, one person that I interviewed to get info on the Riley community told me that he once heard a Quebecois woman from Chisholm visiting a friend in Riley yell out the door to one of her kids: "Hey, don't play with that PEI!" So who knows?
As for the Quebecois, the name they got was jarrets noir. The same person who had told me to check out the color of the river told me that this name was used particularly for those Quebecois hailing from the Beauce region through which this river flows.
In the days before washing machines, people washed their clothes in rivers. The women who washed their families' clothes in the River Chaudiere would lift their dresses and wade into the river with their dirty laundry and scrub it. Since the river itself was so muddy, as they stood in it, the mud would collect on their jarrets ("thighs", according to the person I interviewed or "the backsides of the knees" according to the Petit Robert French dictionary), turning them noir (black).
I would be interested in hearing more stories about how these names were used in the Jay and Livermore Falls area. If you can recall an instance in which someone called you either of these names, I would like to hear about it! Was it used in a friendly way, or in a demeaning way? For the history of the French people in this area, I would like to be able to describe the relations between the two groups of people who settled here and your stories will help me do this in an accurate way.
When I left Quebec over five weeks ago, it was a relatively warm fall day. But things change fast; upon my return last week, winter has announced its arrival. My double windows are up, I've stuffed all the cracks with old newspapers and applied plastic over the entire frame of each one to keep the cold out, last night we changed the clocks back and hour, and I've pulled out my mittens, hats and scarves. Yesterday morning, I even dug my skates out of the back of my closet and went to the Place de Youville in the Old City to skate. Pretty soon we'll be trodding through snow and sledding in the plains.
The winter conditions here in Quebec have shaped the culture of the people who live here. Snow on the ground never stops anyone from doing what they need to do; for example, last winter I saw a couple with a U-haul moving during a pretty raucous snow storm. They celebrate the cold with Carnaval, there are public skating rinks everywhere, the Plains are set up for awesome cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing. It's a veritable winter wonderland.
While these winter conditions, which outshine any that can be had in France, have shaped the culture and the traditions of the people who live in Quebec, they have also contributed to the originality of the way they speak.
Let's take the simple word glace as an example. In the dictionary, you will find that this word has four distinct meanings: "Frozen water"; "ice cream"; "glass (like in a window)"; and "icing (for cakes)". The word glace lends itself to many expressions that both the Quebecois and the French share. In the spirit of the coming winter, I will focus today's article on the ones that derive from the first meaning, "frozen water".
In both Quebec and France, you can hear patiner sur la glace ("skating on ice"), casser la glace ("break the ice") and couche, mer, bloc and cristaux de glace ("layer, sea, block and crystal of ice"). The bank of expressions using the word glace in the singular form in Quebec, however, doesn't stop there. In order to describe the physical reality of the place they live in, the Quebecois have created expressions that do not exist in France. Their equivalents in English are well-known to us Mainers and Northeastern U.S. dwellers. The Quebecois call "black ice" glace noir or glace bleue. A "patch of ice" is a plaque de glace.
In the plural form, both countries share the expressions navires pris dans les glaces ("boats stuck in the ice") and glaces flottantes ("floating blocks of ice"). Again, the Quebecois have added a few more expressions: la fonte des glaces ("the melting of ice") and pont de glace ("ice bridge").
There is also the extended meaning of glace applied to the kind that is made artificially, like an ice cube or the kind I skated on yesterday morning. In both France and Quebec, you can rafraîchir une boisson avec de la glace ("chill a drink with ice"), but other than that, things differ. While in France, if you want an "ice cube" you should ask for un glaçon. In Québec, you should ask for une glace because here, un glaçon is used to mean a piece or block of ice that forms naturally, like on a rooftop. If you were in a bar or a restaurant, say, on Rue St-Jean and you asked for de l'eau sans glaçons ("water without ice"), the waiter might think to himself: "Bien sûr que non... crimme, ça ne rentrera jamais dans le verre!" ("Of course not... cripes, it would never fit in the glass!"
My partner, who is in Cajun country right now, wrote up a great article about the fleur-de-lys symbol and his friend Brian Kritz took a wonderful picture to accompany it. Please use this as next week's article. And Abbie, if you have room for the photo, that would be great. It adds a visual to what a lot of people won't know just by reading the name for it.
Thanks a bunch!
by Josh Anchors
A few weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated
much of the Gulf Coast I headed down to Louisiana to do relief work for
the government. I'm now on my seventh week based in Baton Rouge, and though
I have little time off, I've milked what little free time I do have to
explore Louisiana's remarkably distinct culture--much of which is rooted
in French history and tradition.
Jarret noir, part deux
Several weeks ago I wrote an article about the term jarret noir. According to a Franco-American in town, this term means 'black thighs'. Back in the day when Québécois women washed their clothes in the Chaudière River, the muddy water would color their legs as they washed. The color of their legs then gained them the name jarret noir, and this became a nickname for Francos in the Jay-Livermore Falls area (and perhaps elsewhere around New England).
Last week, I received a letter from a reader who had also heard this term used with the meaning of 'black legs'. However, she wondered at the explanation. Why, she wanted to know, if the water was so muddy that it colored people's legs, were they washing their clothes in it? Also, it was her understanding from her mother and her grandmother's talking about it, that people didn't wash their clothes in rivers, but rather in small streams.
In her letter, the reader offered another explanation quite different from the one mentioned above. In her version, it isn't women's legs who are black, but men's. The men in question are those who worked at clearing forest areas in order to create arable farm land. Those of you who have done this kind of work know what it entails cutting brush and trees, pulling up stumps, piling up all the brush and branches and stumps and burning them. This was hard work, to say the least. This was also very dirty work.
When burning the brush, trees and stumps, the ash ? as we all know, is black ? flies everywhere, lodging itself into a person's hair, in his nostrils, on his hands, and, of course, in his clothes. You can imagine, then, that the men who worked in these conditions came home at night covered in black from head to toe! In between these two points can be found, of course, the legs.
However, if a person who works around ash will be covered in it by the end of the day, why would the nickname only focus on the legs? Shouldn't he have had a nickname more along the lines of corps noir ('black body')? It seems kind of random to pick only the legs. Perhaps because the legs are the closest to the ground and they got most of the ash? Or perhaps there is the added blackness that comes from wiping your ash-covered hands on your thighs? This is, afterall, a common reflex of all people who find themselves with something stuck on their hands!
Without doing proper research into the term, I cannot say with any certainty which of these explanations is the proper one. Perhaps both are equally true. But then again, perhaps neither is! Maybe someone else out there has a third or a fourth explanation for jarret noir? I would love to hear it!
For about a year now, I have been working as the English assistant on a bilingual dictionary project for the artifacts in the Parks Canada collection. My supervisor, Gynette, is a 45 year-old-ish woman from a region in Quebec known as Saguenay-Lac St-Jean. Like me, she is one of the younger daughters in a family of eleven. We got along splendidly, both of us having been raised in the same kind of way.
Last week, while I was eating lunch with her and a couple other co-workers, we got on the subject of tea. She has been collecting teacups and kettles for many years, and her collection includes everything from antique to just plain old weird. She drinks only loose-leaf Earl Grey tea from England and has quite an elaborate method for making it.
At one point, she turned to me and asked me if my parents drank tea. When I said that they did, she asked me if they put sugar and milk in it. I told her yes. In fact, one of the last times I was home, my father made me a cup of tea with milk and sugar. It reminded me of mealtimes at home when I was a little girl, when my father would sometimes let me take a sip of his tea. Sometimes, if he was finished eating and there was leftover tea in his cup, I would drink the rest. It was always a delicious treat! If my mother made her tea this way, I wouldn't know; I never stole a sip from her cup.
Gynette was not surprised at my answer. I think she was expecting it! According to her, the British drink their tea with milk and sugar. The French, who are more coffee drinkers to start with, drink their tea without adding anything to it. She went on to explain that after the conquest of Quebec by the English in the late 1700's, the English custom of drinking tea with milk and sugar spread to the French colonists then under British rule. When she told me this, I was reminded of an experience I had in France.
During my second year in Le Mans, I was asked to work as an interpreter for a group of Indian tourists staying in Le Mans for a week because they spoke no French and their host-families spoke minimal English. During this week, the Indians put on a dinner and at the end, they served tea... with lots of milk and sugar! The French host-families, being polite, drank it, but none of them liked it this way. Given the choice, they would have drunk a nice, strong cup of coffee anyway! At the time, I didn't think anything of this, though I was very happy to drink the tea this way! At the most, I figured it was a cultural difference between the Indian people and the French. After my conversation with Gynette, I now know better. This custom of drinking tea with sugar and milk is an influence that the English had on the Indians (whom they colonized, as you may know) as well as the Quebecois people.
So, it is probably no coincidence or simple matter of taste that my father drank his tea with milk and sugar (today, he no longer puts milk in it). His father did too (not his mother, because she was diabetic) and so did my mother's father (her mother just drank water, apparently.) Perhaps some of you Franco readers out there do the same, or can remember your parents doing the same. And now you know why!
Jarrets noirs, take three
In response to the recent articles I wrote concerning jarrets noirs, I have received two more emails from people with information about what this term means.
First, let me recapitulate. My first informant told me that jarret meant "thigh" and that they were noir or "black" as a result of wading into the river to do the laundry. (In this case, then, we'd be talking about women's thighs.) My second informant told me that the jarrets, or "legs" were colored noir by ash resulting from brush fires built to clear land. (Here, we'd be talking about men's legs.) The two people I received emails from this week, whose explanations are the same, gave me yet another take on the term.
Like the first two informants, the second and third told me that this nickname was used to designate French Canadians from the Beauce Region. As you may know, this area is primarily a farming region situated south of Quebec City.
Back in the day, farmers from this area would transport their produce to the markets in Quebec City and Levis. (This second city is located along the St. Lawrence River across from Quebec City). Because the river was not always deep enough to make this voyage by boat, these farmers often walked part of the way with their herds, flocks and wagons full of produce. Because the roads were dusty and muddy, by the time they got to the cities, their clothes would get dirty, in particular around the calves and ankles. (One of these two informants mentioned only the calves, the other mentioned both calves and ankles.) Hence the term jarrets noirs used to distinguish someone from the Beauce Region from other regions. I imagine that the people who made the trip were men while the women would have stayed home with the children. In that case, I am not sure if jarrets noirs was a term reserved only for men or if it encompassed both men and women.
As we can see from the three different explanations, they all have to do with one particular part of the human anatomy being dirty. In the first case, it is the thighs. In the second, it is legs in general. In the third, it is the calves and ankles. As I mentioned in the first article, the Petit Robert defines a jarret as the area behind the knee. So what exactly is a jarret anyway? The Glossaire du Parler Francais au Canada doesn't help clear up the question.
Though we find the word jarret in this glossary, there is no definition for it. Rather, there is an expression, avoir du jarret, which means "to be a good walker". In that case, I wonder if the word jarret simply refers to the fact that the people from the Beauce Region were good walkers - they would have had to be, considering the distance on foot from their farms to the cities. If by the time they got to the cities they were all dirty from the mud and the dirt on the roads, then people might have said, "Ah voilà! Les jarrets noirs qui arrivent!" ("Oh look! It's the black walkers!")
Finally, Jarret noir's diversity doesn't end with what it may mean. The pronunciation also varies. According to the glossary, the final t in jarret can be pronounced or not. According to my fourth informant, the e in jarret is pronounced more like an o. It's amazing what can happen to a word's meaning and pronunciation after it has traveled for so many years in the mouths of so many different people!
Midnight Mass in Quebec
by Josh Anchors
The Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste, planted
in the heart of the historic Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighborhood in Quebec's
Old City, is one of those immense Catholic cathedrals whose steeples punctuate
the horizon with dramatic effect. Its very existence is a breathtaking
feat of architecture and a testament to the faith of those who built it.
Quebec Gems of 2005
by Adele St Pierre and Josh Anchors
A recent article in one of English Canada's major newspapers, The Globe & Mail, noted that while 2005 was a blockbuster year for French Canada's film industry, it proved quite a flop for the English Canadian industry. This seems to be a rather consistent trend here in Canada, where Quebec generates a surprising abundance of quality film, music and literature for a single province.
Much of Quebec's emphasis on the arts can be attributed to their fierce determination to preserve the French language in North America. If Quebec produces its own popular art, then its residents won't be forced to rely on the gargantuan American pop arts industry. Artistic creation is also an expression of identity for Quebec, who struggled for many years under the shadow of colonial powers and English Canada. Through art, which is heavily subsidized and funded by Quebec's provincial government, Quebecois are able to develop a deep attachment not only to their language, but also to the unique characteristics of their homeland.
In honor of Quebec's remarkable artistic spirit, we have compiled a list of some of our "gems of 2005," in the hopes that some of you will have the opportunity to partake in this feast of creation that is occurring only a few hours north of chez vous. And remember, books in French can be ordered from bookstores, foreign films can be requested at video stores (and generally dubbed, with DVD technology), music can be ordered online, and words are in the dictionary. Or you could just take a road trip up to Quebec and get it while you're here!
Books: (Adele) Un dimanche à la piscine à Kigali by Gilles Courtemanche. For those of you who enjoyed the American film, Hotel Rwanda, this book will take you several levels deeper into the Rwandan genocide. It rejects the Hollywood clichés that plagued the American film, and takes readers into the heart of a terrifying chapter in the history of humanity. (Josh) Chat sauvage by Jacques Poulin. This is a simple, pleasant read that unravels in Quebec City, in Old Orchard Beach, and a bit in northern Quebec. Poulin is widely known for his road trip novel, Volkswagon Blues, which some compare to Jack Kerouac's On the Road.
Films: (Adele) La neuvaine, directed by Bernard Émond. Phenomenal, see it. And while you’re at it, check out Memoire affective, La face cachée de la lune, and Les États-Unis d’Albert. (Josh) Gaz Bar Blues, directed by Louis Bélanger. Though this film came out several years ago, it was by far the best Quebecois film I saw in 2005. Who would have thought that so much could happen at a family-owned gas station in suburban Quebec?
Music: (Adele) The Cowboys Fringants: These guys (and girl!) play a traditional sound with a modern edge. They are the creators of my favorite song for 2005: Une étoile filante (A Shooting Star). (Josh) Chloé St-Marie. Lively, haunting, beautiful music in French, English and Inuit. Put down that Céline Dion disk and listen to this new voice for a while!
People: (Adele) Roy Dupuis. Quebec's version of Brad Pitt, though a bit more raw and real. And a darn good actor to top off the looks! (Josh) All the people walking down rue St-Jean in Quebec City every day. If you ever visit Quebec, begin at the Chateau Frontenac and walk down rue St-Jean as far as you can go. You'll thank me later.
Word: (Adele) Tabernouche: Some of you may remember one my previous articles about Quebec swear words, in which I discuss this word as being a gentler spin-off of the word tabernacle. It spans generations, from my four year-old neighbor to my 60 year-old landlord, and every time it makes me laugh. (Josh) Farter. I discovered this verb earlier this year when I went to a cross-country skiing center in Quebec and noticed they had a "salle de fartage." I imagined a room filled with a dozen men discussing last night's baked bean supper, but I quickly learned that farter simply means "to wax" skis. An innocent enough definition, but I still haven’t gotten to courage to say it in public.
Franco-Americans and the I.P. strike of 1910
Historians tend to agree: French Canadian immigrants and the Franco-Americans living and working in New England in the early 1900's were difficult to unionize. This characteristic made them highly sought-after workers among employers who were interested in hiring cheap labor who wouldn't complain about working conditions. In fact, the French Canadians were often recruited to break strikes and it is said that they generally had no qualms about sending young children to work in order to contribute to the family income. This group of immigrant workers was not highly appreciated among other groups who were working towards creating unions that would protect their rights as workers.
In his article titled Franco-Americans and the International Paper Company Strike of 1910, Anders Larson (1993) uncovers some interesting information showing that this perception of French Canadians and Franco-Americans as being anti-union might not be totally accurate, at least for those living in the Jay-Livermore Falls area and in Rumford, Maine.
In 1910, the workers at the Jay mill successfully conducted a 13 week strike against the International Paper Company. In neighboring Rumford, however, the strike was unsuccessful. This fact is puzzling to Larson. Considering that both of these towns have a high population of French-Canadians, he wonders two things: For starters, why were people traditionally known to be anti-union involved in a strike? Secondly, how is it that one of them succeeded and the other one failed?
Through his research, Larson is able to shed some light on the questions. According to him, the traditional picture that historians have painted of French-Canadian immigrants and their children is based on the experience in large industrial centers of New England. In these centers, the industries were mostly textile and cotton. The majority of the French-Canadian work force in these particular types of mills were women. Larson argues that it is wrong to characterize an entire group as being anti-union if the workers of that group are mainly represented by women (Catholic ones at that) who traditionally, regardless of culture, don't rise up against authority.
In the paper mill, though, the workers are men. This was true in both Jay and Rumford, according to the U.S. Census that Larson researched. French-Canadian men, unlike women, were in better positions to question authority and therefore involved themselves more readily in union activities and the strike. If, unlike the strike in Rumford, the one in Jay was successful, Larson concludes that it is a question of homogeneity of population. In Rumford, the French Canadians workers were numerous (24%), compared to 23% American-born workers, but the large percentage of other groups (54%), made it more difficult to organize everyone. Language barriers, for example, would have been an issue. In Jay, there were only two major groups of people: the French-Canadians and the American-born Francos (46%) and the English speaking Americans or Canadians (46%). The other 8% were people belonging to other immigrant groups. The workers in Jay were able to organize with more ease; language might have been an issue, but considering that most of the workers either spoke French or English, all you needed to successfully get most everyone on the same page to run a strike is at least one able-bodied, intelligent bilingual.
It's 10:30, Saturday night and I've just walked in after spending the evening with some long lost relatives. Over a month ago, I got an email from a woman (I'll call her Julie) who was working on the St-Pierre family tree and wondered if I might help her fill in some gaps (she had seen my articles posted at the Franco-American Woman's Institute web site). Tonight, I finally got to meet her. At 4:00, her niece picked me up and we drove over to the bridge to the city of Lévi. Julie lives with her mother, who I fell in love with immediately. This woman is 90 years old, smokes like a chimney (Marlboro would love her, too: "See," they'd say, "smoking doesn't kill you!") and can cook up a storm. Eventually, two more of her daughters and their husbands came.
Though I was slightly worried about how the evening would go (for example, what if I had nothing in common with these people?) by the time I left, I felt like I had always known them. I had also laughed my face off and got to eat more than my share of sucre à la crème (it's kind of a ridiculously good fudge...). One thing I really liked about the experience was listening to them talk. I felt like I was sitting in my parents' kitchen having dinner with my aunts and uncles.One word in particular that was used throughout the evening caught my attention: matante ("aunt"). Julie's niece called all of her aunts matante this and matante that. Why should this catch my attention, you're wondering?
The word matante results from the fusion of two words: ma and tante, which means "my aunt". Though I am no expert on the history of this word, my guess is that the word tante was always used in such close association with the word my that eventually people didn't make the distinction between the two words, but rather saw it as one. Proof? People, including myself, will say ma matante or la matante à ma mère.
If a French person heard me say either of these two word phrases, he would surely look at me funny. After all, my word phrases translate literally to "my my aunt" and "the my aunt of my mother". Here in Quebec, I have run across this word many times in social situations; however, in these past situations, the people who said ma matante (unlike Julie's niece) were doing so as a joke. This particular word, which was once common and used across the board by everyone, has since become stigmatized. In other words, one doesn't say ma matante whenever and wherever he pleases for fear of being judged as a simpleton. It appears to me that matante is socially acceptable in family situations, but not in gatherings like parties with friends and acquaintances. The same goes for mon mononcle ("my my uncle").
In my family (and perhaps many other Franco families out there), the use of ma matante and mon mononcle is not at all stigmatized. The reason is simple. The words matante and mononcle were handed down by way of oral tradition. We learned them as single words, and use them as such, adding the articles ma, mon, la, or le in front of them as we would to any other noun. And, without having gone to school in French where we would have learned that matante and mononcle are actually two words, who can blame us for not knowing that we were breaking a law of grammar? Grammar schmammar!
Raining buckets--"Il mouillait à seau."--"Il moug a syo".
Weatherwise, the month of January has been strange so far in Québec. While yesterday the temperatures never made it up past negative 13 degrees celsius (equivalent in farenheight = pretty frikin cold), today it was 4 degrees celsius with a constant heavy rain. I heard on Radio Canada the other day that the Winter Carnaval planners are more than a little upset with the weather. (Though there's no reason to get upset with the weather; if the average North American wasn't such a consumer-driven, gas-guzzling energy hog, the weather wouldn't be behaving like it is... but that's another story).
Anyway, as I was transcribing one of the interviews I did last October with some Francos in town, the person I interviewed said, "Il mouillait à seau." With the rain falling outside, I suddenly felt inspired to write about this expression. (I'm also tired and looking for a way to procrastinate...)
"Mouiller à seau" (pronounced like "mwiyi a syo") means roughly "to rain buckets". If you look up the verb mouiller in the Petit Robert, you will not find that it means "to rain". Instead, you will find "to dampen" (a sponge, etc.). Look up the same verb in the Glossaire du Parler Français au Canada (1930), however, and you will see that the Francos aren't changing the definition around or getting anything wrong. The verb mouiller with the meaning "to rain" originates in the dialects of France, among them the ones spoken in Normandy and Brittany, two regions from which many of the first French colonizers came during the 16th and 17th centuries. (In France, the verb for "to rain" is pluvoir and the equivalent expression would be "Il plu comme vache qui pisse" = "it's raining like a peeing cow".)
Even the pronunciation of the two major words in this saying are particular to North American French. Some of you may remember an article I wrote several months ago in which I discussed the way Francos sometimes pronounce "g" at the end of words like famille and fille ("family" and "girl"). This is also the case for the verb mouiller when used in the present tense. In that case, it would be pronounced something like "Il moug a syo". As for the word seau, the French don't pronounce it like we do either. If you are a French speaker, say the letter "s" and add the French word for water ("eau") and you will get the pronunciation that the French use. (For the non French, imagine the sound of "oh" only with the letter "o" being a little more open...).
While the pronunciation of mouille with a "g" at the end is a normal linguistic process that is characteristic of Franco-American French, the pronunciation of seau like "syo" is inherited from the dialects of Western France.
With any luck, the rain will stop soon (or maybe turn to snow) and the temperatures will drop again so that winter can be winter and the Quebecois can have their infamous Carnaval. In the meantime, I'm going to go back to transcribing my tapes and watch it mouille à seau out my window.
mouver is déménager.
Today, along with about eight or nine other people, I helped my friend Maxim move out of his apartment and into his first house. It was a cold day out, but this was easy to forget after going up and down stairs for a couple hours carrying boxes and other miscellaneous stuff. While I was walking home after all the boxes and furniture were in the new house, I was thinking two things: 1) Thank God it's not me that has to deal with all the crap in those boxes and 2) what the heck was I going to write about for this week's French Corner article? Here's what I came up with:
In the Francophone world, the word for "to move" is déménager. Last year, while working as a transcriber for a UMaine professor who is doing a study on Franco-American French, I ran into this word on a number of occasions in the speech of different people. As I transcribe my tapes for my own study on the French spoken in Jay and Livermore Falls, the word has also appeared several times. However, the more frequently used word for "to move" amongst the Francos I interviewed (and those that I listened to for my professor, for that matter) is mouver (pronounced moo-vi).
To look at the word mouver, it is easy to make the general assumption that it comes from the English word move. In fact, it's what I thought until I opened up the Glossaire du Parler Français au Canada (1930). In this dictionary, I discovered that the word mouver existed in several of the regional dialects of France and that it has several definitions.
The first one is "déplacer, remuer, transporter d'un lieu dans un autre." (= to move or shift from once place to another). In this case, what's being moved or shifted is an object, like a piece of furniture. The equivalent for this word in the Petit Robert is mouvoir. Hmm... this word is perhaps less English-looking than I originally thought! A second definition is pretty much the same as the first, but the object in question that is being moved is a boat. Another definition means se hâter, or "to hurry". In the dialects of Brittany and Poitou, for example, you can say mouve-toi to mean dépêche-toi ("hurry yourself along").
In the definition that fits what I did today, English come into play. Under this definition in the Glossaire we find this note: "Etym. - Ang. to move" (origins - English - to move). So, though I was not wrong in assuming that English is at the root of the word mouver, I was off base by thinking that the word was simply borrowed as is. The process is not as simple as just taking the word directly from one language and plugging it into another. Here's how it works:
The word mouver exists in dialectal French. In the English language, the word move resembles mouver in both written form and in pronunciation. However, while in the French dialects you can mouve an object, in English you can move an object or yourself from one abode to the next. These meanings, as you can see, are pretty similar! When two words from two languages resemble each other so closely, there can be a transfer, or a borrowing, of meaning. In this case, the French-Canadians borrowed the English meaning of to move and applied it to the already existing French word mouver. The technical term for this process is called semantic borrowing (semantic = "meaning"). And now that my brain is as tired as my muscles, I am going to mouve-moi from this here chair to my bed.
Dispatch from the Land of Mardi Gras
By Josh Anchors
North America’s first Mardi Gras was anything
but wild and crazy. It’s likely, in fact, that the droning hum of swamp
insects drowned out all other noise on that third night of March 1699,
when Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville and his party of French explorers
camped for the night near a small bayou at the mouth of the Mississippi
After much hair-pulling and nail-biting, I successfully completed my doctoral exams last week at Laval University (Quebec).
For the benefit of the Francos I interviewed from Jay-Livermore Falls for my study, I will be presenting my project this Thursday, February 16th at 6:00 p.m. in the North Dining Hall A at the University of Maine at Farmington. It's open to anyone who is interested and free of charge, bien sur.
Hope to see some of you there!
Le français parlé de Jay-Livermore Falls. Étude lexicale dans un éclairage socio-historique
The Franco-Americans of Jay-Livermore Falls. Their history and their lexicon
Several weeks ago, I presented my doctoral project at the University of Maine at Farmington. The goal was to keep the people I interviewed for my research (and anyone else who is interested) up to date about what I am doing. For the benefit of those people I interviewed who were not able to make it to the presentation itself, I will summarize here.
The title of the project is Le français parlé de Jay-Livermore Falls. Étude lexicale dans un éclairage socio-historique, which in English means roughly: The Franco-Americans of Jay-Livermore Falls. Their history and their lexicon.
The socio-historical aspects. From the existing literature on the Francos of New England can be drawn a typical picture of both the immigrants and the Little Canada's. For lack of space, I won't go into the details. Since most of the case studies focus on large cities and industrial centers, one question remains to be answered: "What was the French-Canadian experience like in smaller, rural communities?" From this question stems a second: "How does this experience compare with that described for larger cities and industrial centers?"
To answer these questions, I will comb through a number of documents (the U.S. censuses for the decades 1870-1930, the L.F. Advertiser archives, etc.) with the goal of describing the immigrants and the Little Canada of Jay-Livermore Falls. I will then compare this description with the one that already exists and propose an explanation for any differences that might exist between the two. From a recent article I wrote, you are already aware of one blaring difference: while traditionally Francos are described as being anti-union and pegged as strike-breakers, the Francos of Jay-Livermore Falls successfully pulled off a strike in 1910 against the IP paper company.
The language. My major goal in coming to Laval was to do a descriptive study on the French spoken in Jay-Livermore Falls with the intention of comparing it to the French spoken in Quebec. My intention was to focus on phonetics (pronunciation), morphology (word formation) and lexicon (vocabulary), but in the end I decided to focus on only the last of these aspects. Here's why.
What I have discovered over the past two years is that the phonetics and the morphology of any language are very slow to change, if at all. Studies show that this is precisely the case for Franco-American French - essentially, the French you can hear now in New England communities like Jay-Livermore Falls is a well-conserved Quebecois French of the turn of the last century. The lexicon, however, is less stable. Over time, words can take on new meanings or change grammatical categories. Also, since the French in Jay-Livermore Falls is in contact with English, it will also have borrowed words to add to the picture. Since I want to eventually compare Jay-Livermore Falls French with Quebecois French, it is naturally in the lexicon that I will find the most interesting results.
Essentially what I will be doing is writing a dictionary. Since it is an accepted scientific truth that there is no "real" French, but rather many different varieties of French sharing the same history, it won't be necessary to reinvent the wheel by describing every single word that exists in the interviews I did with about 30 Francos from Jay-Livermore Falls. Rather, what I will be doing is extracting those words that differ in some way from that which we find in the French dictionaries. I will then comb through about 30-odd Quebecois French glossaries and other studies to see which of the words I will have found and studied in dictionary form can also be found in Quebecois French. Fun, non?
The study that I have just described will be the focus of my life for the next couple of years. Academically, it's importance lies in the fact that it will help fill in some of the gaps on the previous studies conducted on Franco-Americans and the French they speak as well as add to the general study of regional French in North America. But just as importantly, it will also serve as a lasting testament to the French-Canadian people who helped shape the history of Jay-Livermore Falls and to their offspring who give this place its character today.
"Ça limone. Ça doit feeler mieux."
At the turn of the last century, many French Canadians were concerned with the state of the French language as it was spoken in Canada and felt that it needed to be cleaned up. Not only did this mean that the Anglicisms had to go, but also many French words that were no longer in use in Parisian [Standard] French. A. Rivard and L.-P. Geoffrion belonged to this camp of people who wished to see Canadian French align itself more closely with Parisian [Standard] French by getting rid of the Anglicisms and the archaic words by replacing them with their modern equivalents. What sets these two men apart from the rest, however, is that they believed it would be important to record these words before they disappeared. The fruit of this idea - which I have often made reference to in my articles - is titled the Glosssaire du Parler Français au Canada (GPFC) and was published in 1930.
One of the words that figures in this glossary is limoner (pronounced lee-monn-i). Limoner is a verb and, in my vocabulary, it means "to complain". However, other people I talked with in my interviews told me that it also means "to argue" or "to nag". The GPFC says that the French equivalent is pleurnicher, which can mean either "pleurer sans raison" ("to cry for no reason") or "se plaindre" ("to complain"). Unfortunately, the GPFC does not tell us if the word originates in one of the regional French dialects (in Normandy or Brittany, for example) or if it comes from Old French.
To see if the glossary was successful in contributing to the demise of such a word since the 1930's, I decided to test its use. Here's my re-enactment of the conversation which took place at Chez Victor where I was having a beer and a burger with my friends the night before I drove home to Maine for a week in mid-February:
Adèle: "J'ai acheté une casse-tête
pas possible pour faire avec ma mère, mais vraiment je l'ai achetée
pour faire limoner mon père." ("I bought a ridiculous puzzle to
make with my mother, but mostly I bought it to make my father complain.")
Alas! As you can see, the GPFC has indeed been successful in eliminating the word limoner from modern Quebecois French- unfortunately for me because this happens to be one of my favorite words. Luckily for me, the GPFC never made it to the Jay-Livermore Falls area so there remains at least one place in the world where others and I can still use it without any qualms. If the GPFC had made it to Jay-Livermore Falls, I would not have the memory of this sentence (as spoken by my father somewhere near the end of my mother's chemo-therapy sessions in 2004) to fall back on when I feel like smiling or chuckling: "Ça limone. Ça doit feeler mieux." ("She's complaining. She must be feeling better.")
After I had finished presenting my project at UMF a month ago, a certain Mr. Turmel came up to me with an observation he had made about the way I had pronounced his name when I had seen him and his wife come into the room. "Do you notice," he said to me, "how you said 'Tsurmel' instead of 'Turmel'?" He added that this particular way of pronouncing "t" as though it had an "s" attached to it is quite common around Jay-Livermore Falls but not in France. He's quite right.
The pronunciation of "t" like "ts" is one of the most striking characteristics of Quebecois French (and thus any group whose ancestors hail from here, like the one in Jay-Livermore Falls). The same can be said of the pronunciation of "d" like "dz". These pronunciations occur only when the letters "t" or "d" are followed by the vowels "i", "u" or the semi-vowel "y". The words petit (small) and dîner (dinner) are thus pronounced "pi-tsi" (or "tsi") and "dzi-ni", whereas words like tout (all) and danse (dance) would never be pronouced "tsou" or "dzans".
In Quebec during the 1950's, this particular way of pronouncing "t" and "d" was stigmatized and phoneticians and teachers tried to eradicate it in order to align Quebecois French with France French. A radio or television host during this time, for example, would not be hired if, during his or her interview, he let fly a "ts" or a "dz"! This is no longer the case today. Since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960's and 1970's, people have embraced this particular pronunciation and have accepted it as part of what make Quebecois French what it is.
Curiously enough, there is seemingly no written record of this particular type of pronunciation in the historical descriptions of France French. If this isn't a leftover pronunciation of the French spoken in France up to and during the colonization of the New World, where did the Quebecois pick it up then?
Linguists do not believe that the Quebecois created this pronunciation on their own, nor do they believe (like some have in the past) that the English language is the cause. Instead, they believe that it DID exist in France French up to the era of colonization, regardless of the fact that it is not attested anywhere in the literature. According to him, the assibilated pronunciations of "t" and "d" in front of "i", "u" and "y" was probably a latent trait in France French (that is to say, not widespread). Among the colonists who came from north of the Loire Valley to Quebec, however, this trait was common and it is these first settlers who brought it to the new world where it became widespread.
Regardless of its origins - and we'll never know for sure what those are! - this particular pronunciation of "t" and "d" is well rooted in North American French. It is perhaps the most distinctive trait between the French spoken by the Quebecois (and the Franco-Americans of Quebecois origins) and the French living in France.
(Reference: POIRIER, Claude. (1994), Les causes de la variation géolinguistique de français en Amérique du Nord. L’éclairage de l’approche comparative, in Langue, espace, société : les variétés du français en Amérique du Nord, Claude Poirier (dir.), Sainte-Foy, Les Presses de l’Université Laval, pp. 69-95.
"Ferme ta crapette!"
While watching some television show on Saturday night in which the singing was apparently pretty bad, my mother was inspired to say out loud: "Ferme ta crapette!" (pronounced "farm tah crahpet"). When she called me this Sunday morning (and when I say morning, I mean morning as in before 7:30!) I had to admit in my half-awoken stupor that I have neither heard this nor seen it written anywhere before. One point Connie, O points Adèle.
If you haven't already guessed, "Ferme ta crapette!" means "shut your mouth!" according to my mother. In my search through the dictionaries and glossaries I have here, there is no trace of this meaning. In the Petit Robert Dictionary, for example, we find the word crapette with the meaning "jeu de cartes" or, in English, "a card game". This is the same meaning we find in Belisle's Dictionnaire nord-américain de la langue française (1977).
In the Glossaire (1930), the closest thing to crapette we find is crapet (pronounced "crahpeh") with three meanings: 1) a woodman's ax; 2) a freshwater fish; and 3) an affectionate term for a young child. For this last meaning, the authors note that in the dialects of Berry and Nivernais, people pronounce " cropet' ". Usually, a t followed by an apostrophe means that the t is pronounced, but I can't be 100% sure as there is nothing in the key of the dictionary to tell me whether that is the authors' intention here. In Belisle's dictionnary mentioned in the last paragraph, we also find all of these definitions, but in Clapin's Dictionnaire canadien-français (1894), we only find the second definition under the heading "crapais".
Usually the connection between two things can be made by analogy and it becomes apparent how one word can lend itself to a figurative meaning, but this doesn't seem to be the case here for crapette meaning "mouth". The only thing I can possibly think of is this: Say once, a long time ago, a woman or a man was in a store or a restaurant with a young child who was schniffling and whining and annoying everybody and his brother and his dog. Maybe at one point someone had the idea to yell out: "Ferme ta crapette", meaning "shut your kid up!". And who knows, maybe this idea stuck and people started using it in general to mean "shut up!" Okay, okay... it's ridiculous and highly unlikely, I know, but let's not forget that it's early Sunday morning and I am only thinking half-straight.
Regardless of what the dictionaries lead us to believe, I am sure that this expression was common at one time. And who knows, maybe some people in the countryside of Quebec still use it. Perhaps some of you readers out there have heard this expression before and even use it once in a while. Let me know... I'd love to hear from you! As for me, I am going to add "Ferme to crapette" to my vocabulary bank and use it when need be. When I do, I'll let you know how it goes. (Hopefully the person I use it on will just look at me funny and not beat me up for my insolence).
"How do you announce to a young child that a new baby has been born?"
The last part of the interviews I conducted with Franco-Americans from the area for my project was a series of questions that required one-word responses or expressions. Almost all of these questions were adapted from the interviews done in French Canada by Gaston Dulong during the 1960's. One of these questions was, "How do you announce to a young child that a new baby has been born?" In the anglophone world, a typical response might be that the storks bring them in the night; in the French Canadian folklore, however, I found out that storks have nothing to do with it. Rather, American Indians do!
The saying is this: "Les sauvages sont passés", or literally, "the savages have passed through". (One of my interviewees said, "Les Indians sont passés"). In the Glossaire (1930), under the word "sauvage", which can also be written "savage", I found this expression under the heading "attendre les sauvages" ("waiting for the savages"), which means "to be on the point of delivering". We also find "les sauvages vont passer" ("the savages will pass through") as well as "on va avoir/on a eu la visite des sauvages" ("the savages will/have come by for a visit").
You may remember from an earlier article that the goal of the Glossaire was to give a sort of final resting place for many French Canadian words, expressions and pronunciations that the authors wished to see slowly weaned out of Canadian French. Add to that the fact that words of a language are highly subject to the social and political environment in which they are used, you could probably guess that the saying has fallen out of use up here in the great north.
Your modern, politically correct sensibilities probably made you cringe upon reading the literal translation of "les sauvages sont passés". This would only be normal considering that today the word "sauvage" evokes derogatory, negative connotations. You be wrong, however, in judging the Franco-Americans who use this expression as backwards, uncultivated individuals.
In the proper historical context, the word "sauvage" was the term that the early colonists and first settlers used when talking about the Native People of the New World. And when used in the expression "les sauvages sont passés" by Franco-Americans, be assured that no derogatory connotation is implied. They are simply using an expression passed on to them by their parents and grand-parents who came here, let's not forget, way before the word "sauvage" took on any negative baggage.
Pâques, or Easter
For this week's article, I thought it would be interesting to marry my curiosity for words, their meanings and their origins with the name of the upcoming religious holiday of Pâques, or Easter.
According to the Petit Robert, Pâques (prononced "pahk" or "powk", depending on where you are from) has its roots in three languages: Latin (Pascha), Greek (Paskha) and biblical Hebrew (Pesa'h). The meaning of the word Pâques, which is both a feminine and a masculine noun, is contingent upon whether or not it is used in the singular or in the plural form.
As a singular feminine noun, la Pâque is an annual Jewish holiday commemorating the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. By extension of meaning, one can say manger la pâque, which means, "to eat the Pascal lamb".
As a plural feminine noun, Pâques is the Christian holiday celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon of the spring equinox to commemorate the resurrection of Christ. By extension of meaning, you can use the phrase faire ses pâques to mean "receive the communion (on Easter day)".
Finally, since 1283, Pâques can also be used as a masculine noun. This resulted from the dropping of jour de from the phrase jour de Pâques ("Easter day"). Therefore, when saying vacance de Pâques ("Easter vacation") or œufs de Pâques ("Easter eggs"), it is the masculine noun that you would be using.
The word Pâques lends itself to the figurative expression Pâques ou à la Trinité which means roughly "very late, never" and to the proverb Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison, which signifies "Christmas on the balcony, Easter in front of the embers", or more simply: "Warm Christmas, cold Easter." Also, the word Pâques is at the origin of the feminine noun pâquerette, which is a plant whose white or rose-colored flowers bloom around Easter time.
Finally, as in the anglophone world, the francophones also hide eggs on Easter day for their children. The only difference in this tradition is the way in which the eggs are delivered: for the English speaking children, the Easter Bunny brings them; for the French speaking children, they fall out of les cloches de Pâques, or Easter bells.
Now that I have done the work on the French end of the spectrum, perhaps one of you (or more, by all means!) will be inspired to look up where the word Easter comes from in a good dictionary. Perhaps you will find that the word Easter also pâques a few surprises!
ferme ta crapette!
Several weeks ago I wrote an article about the expression ferme ta crapette! ("shut your mouth") that my mother said while listening to really bad singers butcher songs on television. This expression was interesting to me because I couldn't find it in any of my dictionaries and its origin seemed a mystery.
One night, while I was sitting for my neighbors' two children, we watched the French version of Walt Disney's Robin Hood. At one point, while Robin Hood and his right hand man are running away from the evil king's thugs, Robin Hood yells out, "Ferme ton clapette!" to his sidekick who is complaining about something.
When I got home, I checked out clapette in the Petit Robert. I didn't find clapette, but rather clapet. A clapet is a noun meaning a "valve or small cover for a pipe". By analogy then, people can say ferme ton clapet if they are sick of listening to you yack. Hmm... that's the same message my mother wanted to convey to the singers on the television! But if the meaning between ferme ton clapet or crappett is the same, three other things about this expression are not the same.
First, clapet is masculine (as indicated by the article "ton") while crapette is feminine (as indicated by the article "ta"). Secondly and thirdly, there are the two differences in pronunciation. Clapet has an "l" and a silent "t" (=clahpeh) and crapette has an "r" and the final "t" is pronounced. How do we get from clapet to crapette? The answers are in the Glossaire du Parler Français au Canada (GPFC).
First, let's consider the pronunciation of the final "t". In the GPFC, in the entry for clapet we find the definitions "small ax" and "talkative", among other things. According to the historical information, this word was spelled clapète in Old French. The combination "ète" signifies that the final "t" was pronounced back in the day, even if today it is not. This pronunciation would have been preserved in North American French.
As for the difference between the masculine and the feminine article, this is not a question of change but rather confusion of words. Why do I say this? Well, along with clapet, we find clapette in the GPFC. A clapette, which is a feminine noun, means "ax", a "fish", etc. Since the word clapète and clapette have the same pronunciation, it would be easy to confuse which one is masculine and which one is feminine, especially if you speak French as part of an oral tradition like most Franco-Americans.
Finally, the problem with the "l" and the "r". Unfortunately, I don't think there is a simple response to this question. One thing is certain, though: my mother is not the first person in the history of people who speak French to pronounce an "r" where you would expect to hear an "l". During the 1972, Marcel Juneau from Laval University published his study of all the governmental archives of Quebec from the 16th and 17th century, titled Contribution à l'histoire de la prononciation française au Québec (1972). He uncovered many words in which the switch from "l" to "r" (and vice versa) and I can attest to having heard some of my aunts say mirieu (for milieu) meaning "middle" and other people say aplès (for après) meaning after.
So that's the mystery about clapette uncovered... and proof that my mother wasn't coming out of left field when she said ferme ta crapette. Phew!
In the French language, a noun can be either masculine or feminine. Livre ("book"), for example, is masculine while fleur ("flower") is feminine: un livre and une fleur. The distribution of gender to nouns is completely arbitrary. There is no logic or rule that helps the speaker or student of French keep the gender of his or her nouns in order. How does a person know which one to use, then? Memorize, memorize, memorize! (For native speakers, this "memorization" is simply a part of their natural language acquisition.)
I grew up speaking French. The gender of French nouns has therefore not been too much of a problem for me. However, all is not won! When I lived in France, I picked up hundreds and hundreds of new nouns that I did not learn at home. For these words, just like any other student learning French from scratch, I simply had to memorize which gender the nouns took. This was not difficult. The real problem was this: some of the basic nouns that I learned at home were used in France with the opposite gender.
Imagine the scenario. I am 22 years old, eating dinner with some new friends who ask me how long it takes me to get to the university. I tell them un heure, à peu près ("about an hour"). The girl to my right says something like, oh oui? une heure? I've made an error, she thinks. I pick up on her subtle correction and think that I've made an error, too. And yet, why? I'd always said un heure at home. Regardless of this, in about 2.3 seconds I conclude that my parents and anyone else who taught me to say un heure must have skipped class the day they were supposed to learn the gender of this particular noun.
As I've learned with time, most conclusions that are formed in 2.3 seconds are totally ridiculous. I was talking with one of the other students at the university a few months ago, and when I told him that people in my town say un heure, or "hour", instead of une heure, I was surprised to find out that this was not strange to him at all. He told me that the gender for the word heure was not yet fixed when the colonists came to settle New France. The proof is in the dictionaries and other studies which exist on Québécois French. In the Glossaire du Parler Français, for example, we find both un heure and une heure!
Knowing this is quite a relief. It explains a few other cases of nouns whose gender in Jay and Livermore Falls French differs from France French. Many people in town, for example, say une groupe, une bol, and une garage ("group, bowl and garage). All of these nouns in France French (and up here in Québec) are masculine: un groupe, un bol, and un garage. Like the word heure, none of these cases presents an error. An Acadian friend studying here at Laval tells me that garage is also feminine in her neck of the woods. A quick search in the lexicology index of the Trésor de la Langue Française here at Laval shows me that the word groupe is also feminine amongst the Québécois immigrants who settled in Detroit. As for bol, if I am yet to find any information on it with a feminine article, I am not going to make the mistake I made in the past of concluding that this difference in gender constitutes an error. I'm sure to find something eventually... I'll keep you posted!
Every day, no matter what language you're speaking, you use words whose sound and meaning are simply taken for granted. This is not necessarily a bad thing: if we stopped and thought about the origin of every word that came out of our mouths, you can imagine how slowly a conversation would move along! Nonetheless, it's always interesting to take a word and try to figure out where it comes from. This week, the word that has peeked my interest is mouvinne.
Mouvinne is what many Francos around town, including myself when I am home, use to mean "movie". When I worked as a transcriber for Prof. Jane Smith's interviews with Francos from Biddeford, Waterville and Van Buren, I also heard it used by some of the people interviewed. Since I've never been able to find this word in any dictionary, I assumed it came from the English word movie, and in order to match the pronunciation ("move-in") with the French rules of spelling, I spelled it mouvinne.
The other day, I was going over one of my interview transcriptions with my thesis director. When he came across mouvinne, he asked me what it meant. I was surprised to discover that he had never heard or seen it; I had always assumed that if this word is used among the Francos of Maine, then it must also be known in Quebec. When I told him what mouvinne meant, he seemed even more puzzled. "If mouvinne is an anglicisme for movie," he asked, "where does the -inne ending come from?" As a solution, he proposed that maybe mouvinne was some kind of combination of the word movie and drive-in.
Out of curiosity, I decided to dig a little bit. Since my office space at the university is right in the middle of the Trésor de la Langue Française au Québec (TLFQ) library, digging around is pretty easy to do. As in the past, however, I found nothing. I asked one of the research assistants what he thought of the word, and though he'd never heard of it either, he suggested that I consider looking under moving. "You never know," he said. You never know is right! Sure enough, I found moving with the meaning "movie" in two different studies: one by E. Blanchard (1914) on ‘proper french’ and one by W.N. Locke (1949) on the French spoken in Brunswick, Maine.
The word mouvinne, as I spelled it, has thus nothing to do with the word movie, nor is it a cross between movie and drive-in. Rather, it comes from the word moving picture, which is what people back in the day used to call a movie. The French Canadian immigrants in Maine and New England, having no word of their own for this new invention, borrowed the English word moving. Considering that -ing is very often pronounced -in in English, it is no surprise that the adopted pronunciation among the Francos would be move-in.
Perhaps some of you are wondering, when they borrowed the word moving, why didn't they bother the word picture with it? My guess is that, while moving can be easily adapted to a French pronunciation, picture is less so. But there I go with my assumptions again... and as I learned this week, I really shouldn't assume anything!
Some of you may remember our Franco-American friend lost in Paris. He's the one who missed his dinner date because he showed up at noon rather than at night because for him, dîner is the noon-time meal and souper is the night-time meal. Anyway, here we find our Franco once again in Paris with his lovely Franco wife and daughter. They have accepted an invitation to dinner at their friends' house and, now that they are wise to what dîner means in France, they've shown up around seven like everyone else who's also been invited. But if getting there at the right time is no longer a problem, his conversation with one of the other guests puts him in an embarrassing situation.
Perhaps you know the scene: people are showing up fashionably late, accepting l'apero (or before-dinner drinks) from the hosts and munching on apero munchies, smoking cigarettes like it's their job and talking about politics, philosophy and literature. Our Franco friends are milling around and being asked if they're Québécois and getting surprised looks from people when they say that they are actually Americans. "Des Américains qui parlent français? Mon Dieu, c'est possible ça?" One of them asks.
After a few drinks, our Francos are feeling quite happy and stealing the show. These French people are really getting a kick out of their accent! At one point, one woman asks them if they have any children. Proudly, our Franco says that he has a six year-old daughter. "Elle joue aux catins avec les autres enfants dans la chambre à côté," he tells her. ("She playing dolls with the other children in another room.")
Suddenly, things get a little quiet. Ice cubes clink against glass. Someone clears his throat. The woman talking to our Franco gives him a sort of horrified look and tells her husband to go check on petit Jean in the other room. When he comes back, he tells his wife that there's nothing to worry about. "Ils jouent aux poupées," he tells her. ("They're playing with dolls"). Recognizing the word poupée from his high school French classes, our Franco repeats himself : "C'est ça que j'ai dit, ils jouent aux catins." ("That's what I said, they're playing with dolls.")
"Ha ha ha! You Québécois are SO funny! Ha ha ha!" The woman, herself a little tipsy and forgetting that she's talking to Americans, laughs out. Other people start laughing, too. Someone calls our Franco a big joker. And then people go back to drinking, munching, smoking and talking about politics. Everyone, of course, except our Francos. Only when they get home and whip out their dictionary do they see why the woman would be horrified and why people would think he was pulling their legs.
In France French, a catin is not "a doll", but rather "a prostitute." If our Franco used catin to mean "doll", he only did so because that is the word he learned for "doll." If you look it up in the Glossaire du français parlé au Canada (1930), you'll find that this meaning existed in many French dialects and that it could also be used to mean "my wife." Let's hope that when our Franco keels over and goes to meet their maker, God (who speaks French, by the way) will understand the difference between France French and North American French when our Franco says : "Avez-vous vous ma catin?" ("Have you seen my wife?")!
Part of my doctoral thesis requires me to reconstruct the history of the French-Canadian settlement at Jay-Livermore Falls. The little that is said about this group of immigrants in the history books focuses on the village of Chisholm. Since I am yet to find one shred of anything written about the French population that settled at Riley, I had to come up with other means of extracting information. This is why, last October, I drove over to Victorian Villa in Canton and picked Fred Légère's brain for about three hours.
Fred was the perfect person to interview about Riley. Not only did he live there for the majority of his life, his memory is ridiculously keen and he was able to fill me in on what life was like then for him and for the French people. My questions focused, for example, on the relations between the French people and the other groups who lived in Riley, the social life of the village, and the work and lodging conditions. Part of my goal is to compare and contrast the French population living in Riley with the one living in Chisholm. Using my interview with Fred, the Register of 1909 and the church registers, here are some of the things that can be said at this point in the study.
For starters, the French population at Riley was much smaller than the one at Chisholm. In the 1909 Register, for example, 278 French-Canadians lived in Chisholm while only 82 lived in Riley. In both villages, however, this group of immigrants composed the majority of the inhabitants. In Chisholm, there were only 152 non-Francos and in Riley, there were only 73 non-Francos.
Secondly, in Riley, the great majority of the French people were of Acadian origins while at Chisholm, it was mainly Québécois. Fred's memory for this detail is right on the money. In the 1909 register, a quick look over of the names of French people living in Riley reveals a great many that are typically known to be Acadian : Légère and Richard, for example. Another document that backs up this fact is the St. Rose marriage register. Here, I find that the vast majority of French people living in Riley who married at St. Rose were from New Brunswick.
Moving on now to the subject of worship and education, we find that the villages differ again. Though both of them had a school and a church, the ones in Riley were served by English speakers while the ones in Chisholm were served by Francos. This can probably be attributed to the following fact: the mill built the church and school in Riley for its workers; these people being from many different backgrounds, no one language was favored. Rather, English was the order of the day. In Chisholm, however, it is the French-Canadian parishioners who raised the money to build their own church and school. It is thus they who could choose the language in which their children would be taught and in which they would hear the weekly sermon.
For lack of space, I do not presently have the opportunity to go into more details about these two French settlements of Jay-Livermore Falls. C'est dommage. I am aware, however, that a group has been meeting with plans to write a book about the history of Riley. I am anxious to see the finished product and hope that it comes out soon as I am sure it will prove to be a handy (and only!) reference for me as I continue my own research.
Written by Joshua C. Anchors.
In 1998, the Mississippi Department of Marine
Resources published a volume of essays entitled Marine Resources and History
of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In this eclectic collection, French language
scholar Rebecca Larche Moreton writes that “Mississippi Gulf Coast French
is now on the verge of dying.”
Everyone here in Quebec seems to be on a
bicycle. As soon as the ice melted towards the end of April, life began
rapidly transforming from a four-wheeled, gas-guzzling affair into a two-wheeled,
leg muscle affair. The bike racks are jam packed, the streets are filled
with spandex-wearing cyclists, and everybody seems happy to be cruising
outside rather than stuck in their overheated cars.
Bonjour from Nice, France!
Bonjour from Nice, France! Despite the fact that I started this whole trip on about 3 hours of sleep in 48 hours, things are going well. There are twenty-one students in the group (20 girls and one boy) and I teach eleven of them every day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
One of my students is a young Canadian from Calgary (Alberta) who already spent a summer in an immersion program in Québec. Her French is therefore pretty advanced and she has picked up the Québec accent for certain words. It's very charming and I love hearing her talk because it reminds me of my beloved adopted province and my friends there.
Apparently, I have an accent, too. And it doesn't take long for people to detect it! On my first night here, the other assistants and I went to eat in a little restaurant in the old part of Villefranche, a quaint little place situated on a walkway (which is actually a staircase), and when I went inside and asked for the bathroom, the woman doing the dishes turned around and said, "Ah! les Québecoises!" I'm getting this reaction quite a bit from strangers, but almost all of the time, people ask if I am Canadian. The French, I have heard, don't often make the distinction between the province of Quebec and the country of Canada. Perhaps they think everyone in Canada speaks French. In any case, eventually, I am just going to stop telling people that I am actually American and let them think that I am Québécoise. It will save me a lot of time in explanation!
It's not just my accent that draws people attention, but also the words I use and my family name. Let's start with the family name.
On Wednesday, when France played Portugal in the semi-finals of the World Cup (that's the huge, international soccer tournament that occurs every four years for all you Football fans out there), I went to reserve a table at a patio restaurant where they have two televisions to show the match. When I said I wanted to reserve under St. Pierre, the waiter put his hands together in prayer and bowed his head. He laughed and said, "La France souhaite la bienvenu au Canada!" ("France welcomes Canada"). Not surprising that he would say this. The origin of the name comes from the parishes people lived in, which were often named after saints. This was a custom of French people living in North America, not in France, so that today any family name starting with "Saint" can easily give a person's identity away.
Finally, there is the vocabulary. Aside from the two assistants I work with (who are American), there is also a French woman on our staff who organizes the afternoon and evening outings and a French man (the regional director) who comes by every three or four days to check up on how things are going, and they are always pointing out words to me and asking what they mean or saying "That must be from Canada."
Luckily, this time around, I have a clue. When I lived in France from 1998-2000, I had less of a clue and too easily let myself be intimidated by the French who looked at me funny when I said things differently or used words they didn't get. Now, I just plow ahead and explain what it means with a smile on my face and keep on using the word and don't plan on changing my accent any time soon. The Francophone world is a lot bigger than this little hexagon of a country they call France and there is more than one way to speak the French language!
Dispatch from France #2, Cheese
One of my favorite things about France is the cheese. And I'm not talking about those chemical squeeze concoctions, those spongy cheese sticks or the individually wrapped neon yellow cheese slices. I'm talking about real cheese made from actual milk from an actual cow or an actual goat.
I've heard that in France, there are so many varieties of cheese that you could eat a different kind every day. I am sure that this is no exaggeration because even the smallest grocery store has a cheese counter with a great number of cheeses to choose from.
Normally, people buy several kinds of cheese at a time and eat them throughout the week between the main dish and the dessert, or simply at the end of the meal without a dessert following it. Each person cuts off a small portion of one or two kinds of cheese and they put it on small pieces of baguette that they have either cut with a knife or ripped off with their hands.
The reason people eat cheese like this at the end of a meal is because the enzymes in the cheese help digest what has been eaten. (It's also just really good!) Where do the enzymes come from? This might gross some people out, but they come from the natural microorganisms that grow in cheese made from un-pasteurized milk.
Americans, however, do not fare so well eating French cheese, apparently. I have heard stories about Americans getting sick in France after eating French cheeses. The reason for this is quite simple. The average American digestive system is not accustomed to dealing with products made from un-pasteurized milk. When such a person eats some of this cheese then, the microorganisms in it might make him or her sick.
In the United States, for example, it is illegal for the average grocery store to sell un-pasteurized milk or any products made from it. (You can get it at private businesses, though, like my cousin Gloria's store in Leeds). It is also illegal to import any of these kinds of products into the States. And because the U.S. government has a tendency to think that everyone needs to conform to the American way of life, they have tried in the past to push for laws that would require French cheese makers to use pasteurized milk. This was the case back in 1998 to 2000 when I lived in France. The French were very upset with the U.S. government for this... and with good reason!
First, French cheese made from un-pasteurized milk is wonderful. If you ever get a chance to try some, you will never want to eat Velveeta again. Secondly, it is a natural way to fight sickness... by introducing small amounts of microorganisms into the digestive tract on a regular basis, the body will build up a better immune system. (A better immune system means fewer visits to the doctor and thus fewer medical bills, no?)
Unfortunately, I will not be able to bring any of my favorite cheeses home after my trip here in France. If I did, it would get confiscated at the custom's desk. Imagine getting in trouble for wanting to eat something good and good for me!
Fête national, or La Saint-Jean Baptiste
By the time you read this article, you will have already celebrated America’s birthday. I hope it was a safe and happy holiday for everyone.
Since I left for France, where I am teaching French to American high school students on immersion in Nice for the whole month of July, I was not in the States to celebrate the Fourth of July. I did, however, get a chance to celebrate Québec’s Fête national, or La Saint-Jean Baptiste (after the patron saint), on June 23rd and 24th.
I was very excited to be a part of this holiday this year. On Friday, the 23rd of June, around 8:30, a couple of friends and I walked down Saint-Jean street and headed up to the Plains of Abraham. The streets were crawling with people of all ages, from babies to senior citizens. People had been drinking most of the day, so you can imagine the hooting and the hollering! People carried small Québec flags, or draped larger ones over their shoulders. In the Plains, there was a huge stage and people crowded everywhere, stretching hundreds of meters back away from it. From where I sat, the people on the stage looked like ants. The music started around 9:00 and the last band put its guitars down at 5:00 the next morning. (This people know how to party!).
The next morning, the 24th, it was the church’s turn to celebrate. Bells rung from 10:00 on, church doors stayed open all day, and chairs were set up outside in front of the churches for outdoor service.
In a way, Québec’s Fête national, is like America’s Fourth of July. It is a chance for people to show their national colors, to be proud of the place they live in. It is celebrated in the summer, in public, with music and food and drink. People come together for one common cause and there is (hopefully, at least) peace amongst them. But they also differ greatly.
The quick run-down on the 4th of July is this: In the summer of 1776, the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to form a committee that would draft a document that would formally sever the colonies’ ties with Great Britain. This document was written by Thomas Jefferson, and the final version was officially adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4. One year later, on July 4, 1777, Philadelphia marked Independence Day by adjourning Congress and celebrating with bonfires, bells and fireworks.The custom spread to other towns, where the day was marked with parades, picnics, contests, games, military displays and fireworks. It was only in 1870 that Congress finally established Independence Day as a national holiday.
La Saint-Jean Baptiste is much older than the 4th of July. It was originally a pagan holiday, celebrated on the Summer Solistice (the 21st of June) over 2000 years ago. But with the rise of Christianity, the Church modified the date a bit (to the 24th) and blessed it as Saint-John’s Day. All the way up to the French Revolution, the French king would light a fire on the night of the 23rd to honor the holiday. This custom was brought over to the America’s, and as early as 1636, the colonists were celebrating the holiday in the New World.
Eventually, the holiday took on a more political feel. In 1834, Ludger Duvernay, founder of the Saint-Jean the Baptist society, had the dream of uniting all the Canadians under one national sentiment that would lead to political reform. He chose the 24th of June, La Saint-Jean Baptiste and invited about 60 people ?both French and English speaking ? to a banquet where he held discussions on how to best govern the country so that both groups would be equally represented. Since this date, La Saint-Jean Baptiste has become a political symbol. It is the day when the Québécois celebrate their patriotism and their pride in for the Québec society.
In a couple weeks, I’ll be celebrating France’s national holiday, La Bastille on the 14th of July. I’ll let you know how it goes!
In the Quartier St-Jean Baptiste, where I live, there are two churches. Both of them are on St-Jean Street, about 800 yards from each other. The one closest to my apartment, just a few blocks away, is called the St-Jean Baptiste Catholic church. I walk or bike by this church almost everyday and, during the winter, the choir I sing in practices in the basement every Tuesday evening. The other church is called St-Matthew’s, an old Anglican church that is today a library where I go often to check my email. Today, for five little Canadian dollars, I got a two hour tour of these churches as well as the cemetery adjacent to St-Matthew’s. There was a lot to learn!
As you well know, Quebec was founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain. The original settlers were French. In 1759, however, after the decisive battle on the Plains of Abraham, New France became an English colony. These two groups of people brought with them to this city their respective religions. The French were Catholic, and the English were (among other religions) Anglicans or Protestants.
Considering that the French were here first (and by first, I mean the first Europeans, because the French were by no means the first people to settle this continent...), I would have assumed that St-Jean Baptiste Catholic church would have been built first. But no; St-Matthew’s was.
Originally, at the site that is today St-Matthew’s Anglican church, there was a house which belonged to the grounds keeper of the protestant cemetery located right in front of the house. The first burial in the cemetery dates back to 1772. In 1822, the grounds keeper’s house was converted into a small chapel. With time, the house was brought down and a church was built. Over the years, the church was enlarged and a bell tower was added.
St-Jean Baptiste Catholic church was not built until 1845, and the event that people can thank for its construction was a fire! In 1845, a fire ravaged the St-Jean Baptiste neighborhood, leveling many of the houses that once stood there. This leveling created the space needed for the people still living there to build a neighborhood church. This original church, however, also burned down in the second neighborhood fire of 1881. In this same year began the construction of the church that I live next to presently. It’s construction was terminated in 1921.
As of 1977, St-Matthew’s church is classified as an historical monument. St-Jean Baptist Catholic church was only classified as such in 1993. The difference between the two is that the first one is today a library (it was converted over in 1980) and the second one is still a church. But barely. There is only one mass per week and the parishioners are becoming more and more scarce. At the end of the tour, our guide told us that the St-Jean Baptist church will eventually be converted into a non-religious, cultural space. The problem with this conversion, however, is that the church is much larger and infinitely more ornate than St-Matthew’s, which means that reparations and maintenance of such a space will be very costly. The second problem is that no one knows yet what this space will be. There is a suggestion book at the back of the church, though, so if any of you have any stellar ideas, let me know and I’ll pencil them in!
As is often the case in my life, I don't get much rest in between my projects and travels. Like this week for example. Only four days after I got off the plane after a month in France, a little disillusioned still, I embarked on a one-week teaching endeavor. The class consisted of four American students from the University of Maine (Orono) who have been studying French in the summer immersion program here at Laval since late June. My job was to make up the last week of their stay here. To make it interesting for them and for me, I decided to focus the class on Québécois French: it's history, formation and evolution, and finally, its present usage (accent, vocabulary, etc.).
One of the supporting documents I used in my class was an excerpt from a book titled Un ange cornu avec des ailes de tôle by Michel Tremblay, one of Québec's most reknowned playwright's and writer. My intention in using this excerpt was to give the student's an idea of how the Québécois accent is rendered in writing, Michel Tremblay being a writer who really capitalizes on the uniqueness of this accent. As we were going along, however, one of the students pointed out a word that seemed out of context for her. Let me explain.
In the story, Tremblay is a young boy. It's Christmas and he has just received a book - the first he's ever been given - called L'auberge de l'ange gardien written by the Comtesse de Segur. In English, a comtesse is simply a "countess", but the young boy thinks that the writer's first name is Comtesse and that de Segur is her last name. When he asks why the woman's name is Comtesse, his mother tells him that Comtesse is not her name. In response, the young Tremblay says, "C'est quoi, d'abord, si c'est pas son nom?"
It's the word d'abord that my student stumbled on. This is not surprising. In standard French, the word d'abord means "first" and is used when listing off a series of things that a person has done or will do. For example, d'abord je mange, puis je me couche ("first I'll eat and then I'll go to bed"). Knowing this, a sentence like the one I cited at the end of the last paragraph would translate literally into, "What is it, first, if it's not her name?"
But alas! As you are all aware by now from reading past articles, you know that the meaning of words cannot always be taken for granted when crossing the border from France to Québec! And in Québec (as well as in the Franco homes of Jay-Livermore Falls), d'abord means something equivalent to alors in French, or then in English. The sentence would thus read, "What is it, then, if it's not her name?"
This particular meaning of d'abord can be found in the Glossaire du français parlé au Canada (1930) - of course! - as the fifth meaning under the word abord. It originates in the Lyon region of France as well as in Switzerland. In his Dictionnaire nord-américain de la langue française (1979), Belisle notes that the use of the word d'abord with the meaning "then" is part of the colloquial speech of common people. In my house, growing up (and still today) it was most commonly used at the end of phone conversations as a sign that the person was getting ready to hang up. In the case of my mother on the phone with any one of my aunts, however, (and this was especially true when I needed her to do something urgent for me, like get my brother Tony to stop sitting in my little rocking chair) there could be anywhere from 142 to 168 Okay, d'abord's before she actually meant it and hung up. But we can laugh about this now, right? Okay, d'abord!
Many moons ago, I wrote an article about Québécois swear words. I am coming back to this subject today because I recently saw a film in which the Québécois sacres were a point of conversation. Before jumping to what this conversation was about, it might be a good idea to do a short review of what a sacre is.
The Québécois have two kinds of swear words: the jurons and the sacres. The jurons are your standard swear words, the ones you would hear in France or elsewhere in the francophone world, inspired by such taboo subjects like bodily functions, sexuality and religion. The sacres are also inspired by religion, but unlike the jurons, they are not used outside of Québec (or those places in the world where the Québécois have settled, like in New England) and they are not limited to God or Jesus' names. Some examples of sacres are câlice ("chalice") and tabernacle (often pronounced "tabarnak") and finally, all sacres have softened versions that can be used more freely in public. In the case of the two examples I just gave, the softened versions would be caline and tabernouche. (The difference is the same between damn and darn in English, for example).
Moving on... The film I saw was called Bon cop, bad cop. The plot is pretty simple: a murder takes place on the border of Ontario (which is primarily English speaking) and Québec (which is French). Because it isn't clear whose jurisdiction the murder took place in, one cop from each province must work on the case. Both of them speak English and French, so the movie is fairly evenly done in both languages. Throughout the film, of course, the Québécois cop uses sacres quite liberally. At one point, he takes the time to explain to the Ontarian cop how to use them correctly. He takes the example of câlice.
Here's what the Ontarian cop learns. There is more than one way to use a sacre. There is, of course, the old fashioned way: just belt one out at random when you've smashed your finger or someone cuts you off at an intersection. (This is essentially what my first article on the subject was limited to...).
Another way to use a sacre is to turn it into a noun. To insult someone, you can call him or her mon vieux câlice (the words mon and vieux mean "my" and "old"), which is what the Québécois cop calls a suspect he has just arrested and shoved into the trunk of his car.
Finally, as the Québécois cop is giving the suspect a few punches and kicks, this reminds him of the third way that you can use a sacre... turn it into a verb. For example, he says that you can câlicer quelqu'un une claque ("to slap someone"). And to give a second example of using câlice as a verb, he says "je m'en câlice" when the Ontarian cop tells him that he really shouldn't be shoving a suspect into the trunk of his car. In English, this essentially means "I don't give a f---".
After living in Québec for three years, I have heard sacres used in all of these forms by my friends as well as on the radio and in the movies. I have to admit that I have even started putting some of them to use myself... and I have to agree with the Québécois cop: these little sacres really are practical words to know!
If you look around you in town, you will notice that business names (restaurants, stores, etc.) can often be traced back to the owner's name, common phrases, slang, play-on-words, or words related to the service being offered. If you walk down la rue St-Jean, the principal street of Québec City that leads into the old sector, you will notice that the Québécois are no different than Jay or Livermore Falls folks when it comes to naming their businesses.
You will find, for example, a great bakery called Pain gruel, which plays off the title of a book, Pantagruel, written many centuries ago by Rabelais, and a café called Bonnet d'Ane, which means "dunce's cap". Then there's Langlois and J.A. Moisan, a fruit and vegetable store and a general store (the oldest in the city) named after the owners, though only the first one is still alive and working in the store today! Of more particular interest to Québec linguistic particularities, though, are Séraphin and Pantoute.
Many of you have probably heard of the Québécois television series called Séraphin, which is a spin-off a movie (also called Séraphin, 1949) which is itself based on a book called Un homme et son péché by Claude-Henri Grignon (1933). Séraphin's vice is that he is greedy. He is thrifty to the point of being disgusting and is incapable of sharing anything - from money to love - with anybody. One of the results of the popularity of this book, the movie and the television series, is that the Québécois people started using the name Séraphin as a common noun in everyday speech to mean "someone who is greedy or thrifty". Cet homme-là est un séraphin then, means "he is a greedy or thrifty man".
Moving on now to pantoute. If you listen to the French speakers in town, you would surely hear them use the word pantoute all the time in sentences like je n'en veux pas pantoute which means "I don't want any at all." According to the Dictionnaire canadien-français (1894) pantoute is a contraction for pas du tout, or literally, pas en tout. The dictionary also informs us that in Normandy, there existed the form point en tout. Today, outside of French Canada and New England where French is still spoken, the term pantoute is unheard of.
On la rue St-Jean, Séraphin is a clothing
store and Pantoute is a bookstore. The items for sale in Séraphin
are fairly pricey, in part because they are "fair trade" type of clothes
and also because some of the designers are local seamstresses, like Miko
Ana. The average person who shops at this store, then, is not your average
greedy person... anyone who is willing to spend 75$ on a tank top is not
someone I would call greedy or thrifty! Perhaps the owner of the store
is calling himself greedy by asking such exorbitant prices!
One afternoon last week I was sitting on my parents' porch in the afternoon when my Uncle Bert and Aunt Rita showed up for a visit. Sometime during the conversation, my Uncle Bert asked me if I knew what the French word for liver was. The answer depends on whom you are speaking to!
In France, the word for liver is foie, pronounced like "fwah" (in France) or "fweh" (for many French-Canadians and Franco-Americans). This may be surprising to many of you Francos. For starters, according to the sound of the word, foie sounds just like foi, which means "faith". Secondly, mostly likely the majority of you have always used the word forsure, to mean "liver". The reason I can say this with a fair amount of confidence is because it is the word I grew up with and the one I still use when talking to my parents or relatives.
If you look in the Petit Robert dictionary, you won't find the word forsure. You will, however, find it in the Glossaire du parler français au Canada (1933). According to this glossary, forsure is a variant pronunciation of the word fressure. (In popular French, it is quite common for the letter "R" and any vowel following it to be interchanged, and this is a natural linguistic process called metathesis... but don't ask me how the "e" sound turns into an "o" sound!).
Going back to the Petit Robert now, we find the word fressure with this definition: "Ensemble des gros viscères d'un animal (coeur, foie, rate, poumons)." In other words: "all the major organs of an animal", including the heart, liver, spleen and lungs. Somewhere in this word's history and evolution, people started using it to mean "liver". Did this happen in Québec, before the great immigration to New England between 1860 and 1930?
If we look in the Glossaire, which lists forsure with the equivalent meaning of "fressure", we'd be led to believe that it didn't happen in Québec. If you ask the people who live around here, though, you get the opposite answer. My thesis director, for example, says that his mother used to use the word forsure to mean "liver". Most likely, then, it would be safe to say that the Francos around town (and me!) use the word forsure with the meaning "liver" because this is the way the word was passed on to them.
Perhaps now you can see why I wrote that the answer to my Uncle's question depended on whom you were talking to. The French speakers of the world do not all speak like the people who live in France. History and culture and life all play roles in the differences in the words they use. It is therefore important to consider the language context when speaking. In France, the word forsure would mean absolutely nothing to the average French person and therefore it would be appropriate to use the word foie. Around town, as well as in other Franco communities of New England and parts of Quebec, it would be more appropriate to use the word forsure because this is what people understand.
Armoires & placard
In last week’s article, I wrote how my Uncle Bert asked me if I knew what liver was in French and I explained that there is more than one way to answer the question. In standard French spoken in France and other francophone countries, it is foie and in the French spoken in New England by Franco-Americans and in some parts of Quebec, it is foie. In the article, I said that it was important to consider context when choosing which word to use. For example, if you asked a Parisian if he wanted forsure for dinner, he’ll expect to be served the heart, liver and spleen of a cow. If you asked a Franco-American if he wanted foie for dinner, he might wonder how you can possibly cook up faith, because if you remember, foie sounds like foi, which means “faith”!
During my brief jaunt to Maine for a few days a couple week’s ago, my Aunt Maryette also threw a question of the sort in my direction. What is the French word for cupboard, she wanted to know. Again, the answer is dictated by context.
Growing up, I always used the word armoire to mean “cupboard”. You anglophones out there might use the word armoire when talking about those tall closet-like pieces of furniture with two doors in the front, used to store linens or as a television-stereo system cabinet. If you look up the word armoire in the Petit Robert, you will see that both the word armoire and the description that I just gave for it coincide with how the French people in France use this word.
This meaning, though the current and the most widely used one, is not the only definition that the Petit Robert gives. This dictionary also tells us that armoire used to mean “placard pratiqué dans un mur” or, simply “cupboard”.
If today in France, the word armoire with the meaning “cupboard” is considered “vieux” (or “old”) and fallen out of use, it wasn’t the case when the French colonists came to the New World. It was in their mouths and in their writing that the word armoire came here. It is thus no surprise to find it in the Glossaire du francais parlé au Canada (1933), where we see that the word armoire, which is a feminine noun in standard French, is often used as a masculine noun in Quebec.
All of this said, what do the French in France (and the majority of other French speakers in the francophone world) use when they want to say “cupboard”? They say placard, as you might have guessed from reading the Petit Robert definition I gave for armoire above.
The moral of the story is this: Neither placard nor armoire is more correct or wrong than the other. Both of them are as French as French can be and both have their roots in the history of this language. Like the words for “liver”, it is simply a question of using the proper word in the proper context!
Last Saturday (the 23rd of September) marked the official start of autumn. This means shorter, cooler days, and cold nights. It also means putting your summer clothes away for the winter and replacing the space in your closets and drawers with thick sweaters and fall jackets. Up here in Quebec, where the temperatures have plummeted quite a bit in the past few weeks, I have even pulled out my basket full of more serious winter apparel... which brings me to the words I want to discuss this week: mittens, hats and scarves.
When I was growing up, I always put on my mitaines, my tuque and my scarf to go outside to play in the winter. Both of these nouns are feminine, and they mean mittens and hat.
According to the Dictionnaire historique du français québécois (1998), the word mitaines is a French word that dates back to the 12th century. If you look it up in the dictionaries, though, you will see that this word with the definition of ‘mittens’ has been classified as vieux, meaning that it is no longer used in this sense today in France. If you say the word mitaine in France, the image the French people will see in their heads is that of those gloves people where with the fingers cut off, not that of a mitten.
If you say the word tuque in France, however, no image will come to the French person’s mind. This is simply because the word tuque is not a part of their vocabulary. If they are curious enough, they’ll go look it up in the dictionary. Most likely, they will search under the spelling tuc, which is a word that they are familiar with (it means ‘seasonal employment reserved for 16 to 25 year-olds). If they keep reading, they’ll see at the end of the entry for tuc that there exists a homonym (=another word with a different spelling but the same pronunciation) spelled tuque. Finally, if they look up this word, they’ll see the definition for ‘hat’. This definition, though, is prefaced like this: Région. (Canada). This simply means that the word tuque with the meaning ‘hat’ is particular to the French speaking regions of Canada. Unfortunately, none of the dictionaries I have consulted give me the origin of this word.
The last word, scarf, as you may well guess, is an anglicism. In the interviews that I did for my research with 30 Franco-Americans from the Jay-Livermore Falls area, the word scarf came up quite a few times. It is pronounced like ‘skahf’, and, depending on the person, can be either masculine (un scarf) or feminine (une scarf). The people who used this word to name the scarf I showed them told me, of course, that they knew it was an English word, but that they couldn’t remember the French word. Other people did remember a French word for scarf, and they said foulard.
In the Petit Robert, the word Foulard is defined as a ‘light scarf’. In other words, it’s a scarf used more for decoration than to keep the neck warm. In Québec, however, my friends use the word foulard when talking about their heavy winter scarves. This is also the definition you will find in the Dictionnaire du français plus (à l’usage des francophones d’Amérique).
When I lived in France, I had to learn a different vocabulary for these three things: moufles (mittens), bonnet d’hiver (hat), and echarpe (scarf). Now, in Quebec, I can use the words I learned growing up (mitaines and tuque) and foulard, which I learned to use upon moving here. And thank goodness... of all the French words I know, mitaines and tuque are two of my favorite ones and it would be a shame to have lost them from my vocabulary!
What I like most about the research I am doing on the vocabulary of the French speakers of the Jay Livermore Falls area is that it is a little like solving mysteries. Take, for example, the use of the word seau in the following conversation:
Me: et la/ la maison était dans quel
état quand t’es venu?
Me: When you moved into the house, what did it
If you are like me, you were expecting to read the word nid (or porcherie) or pen instead of seau or bucket in Person 2’s answer. This expectation, of course, would be a completely normal one. After all, in both French and English, it is very common to use the term porcherie or pig pen when talking about an area (my mother would say my bedroom, but you shouldn’t listen to a word she says) that is disorderly or, to quote Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, ‘a dirty slovenly place’.
So what is a seau à cochon? In the entire research library where I study, I found one single entry for this word with the following definition: ‘a bucket in which leftover table and kitchen scraps are discarded to be fed to the pigs’. This is also the definition my mother gave me when I called her later that evening... but only after a little prodding. The rest goes like this:
Me: Mum, if someone says a house looks like a
seau à cochon, what does that mean?
After hanging up the phone, I thought about my mother’s comment on pronunciation: perhaps the answer was that seau is an alternate pronunciation for another word that actually means pen. I checked out my theory by looking up sou in the Glossaire du parler français au Canada (1933) and sure enough, I found it! Well... not exactly, but something close. The word in question is soue and the meaning is ‘maison très sale’, or ‘very dirty house’.
Back in the research library the next day, I checked out this word and found soue à cochon in over 20 different glossaries and texts! But not only that, I also found one other text in which seau was noted with the same pronunciation used by the person I interviewed. Ah ha! Mystery solved...
In a recent article in which I wrote about winter apparel (hats, mittens and scarves), I focused on the word tuque for ‘hat’. Today I’d like to focus on another word for ‘hat’ which cropped up a few times in the interviews I conducted with Franco-Americans from the Jay-Livermore Falls area when I showed them a picture of a winter hat. The word in question is casque, pronounced ‘kass’.
When I showed the picture of a simple winter hat with a pompom to several of the people I interviewed, it never occurred to me to be surprised that they would use the word casque instead of tuque because I had heard this word used in this way many times while growing up. However, upon looking up this word in my sources here, I became confused. Consider the following.
According to the Dictionnaire historique du français québécois (1998), un casque which is pronounced like ‘kask’ or ‘kass’ in Quebec, is a heavy fur hat which may be equipped with a visor and drop-down ear muffs. (John Candy wore this kind of hat in the film Uncle Buck, if you need help imagining what a casque looks like…).
Did the people I interviewed make a mistake in using the word casque instead of tuque upon seeing the picture I showed them? Did I grow up using the ‘wrong’ word for something without knowing it? Of course not… and the proof can be found in the second meaning for casque in the same dictionary mentioned above.
The second meaning, which is what lexicographers call a ‘semantic extension’, is more general in scope: ‘any hat without earmuffs or visor, made of soft material, especially worn by men and children to protect themselves from the cold’. In this case, as the dictionary entry explains, the word casque can also be used as a synonym for tuque.
The use of casque in Québec (no matter the two meaning discussed above), has apparently fallen into a category of language use known as familiar. This simply means that people will use this term in friendly settings, with family and friends, but not in formal ones, like interviews or conferences. As for the first meaning of ‘fur hat with visor and earmuffs’, the word casque is slowly being replaced by the word chapeau de fourrure.
In closing, if you look up casque in the Petit Robert, you will see that in France and other parts of the francophone world (like Quebec), un casque (pronounced ‘kask’) can be one of several things: a military headdress, a protective helmet, or headsets for a portable walkman. Regardless of the absence of the definition of ‘hat’ from the Petit Robert, you shouldn’t think that this definition was invented in Québec because the use of casque with the meaning ‘hat used to protect the head’ is attested in the literature of France since the 1500’s.
So this winter, if you feel like using the word casque when talking about your winter hat, go right ahead without any worries… or as we say here in Québec: ayez du casque!
La guerre des boutons
I recently read a book titled La guerre des boutons written by Louis Pergaud in the early 1900's. Pergaud, who died early in the First World War, was a native of a region in eastern France called "La Franche-Comté", and his book is peppered with expressions and words that would be considered regional French. Some of these words are accompanied by an explanatory foot note, others (especially those which present an alternate pronunciation) are simply surrounded by quotation marks. In most cases, I recognize the word or expression in question because I grew up using it and hearing it spoken in my home.
Ousque (pronounced "ooskah"), for example, means "where". This word is very common in Franco-American French and is obviously a part of the history of the French spoken in Québec. However, you won't find it in the dictionaries here... at least, not spelled like this. In the Glossaire du Parler Français au Canada, you will find it spelled où ce que or où c'est que. On this same page in the glossary, you will find yet another alternative spelling: où que. This way of saying "where" is also typical of the French spoken in Jay-Livermore Falls.
Those of you who have followed my articles know that the vast majority of the original French colonists to the New World came from the North West regions of France, not from the Eastern regions like Franche-Comté. How did these particular ways of saying "where" get to French Canada then? Well, according to the Glossaire, où ce que and company were also typical of Normandy and Brittany in North Western France.
In Standard French, the translation for "where" is où (pronounced "oo"). This word, which you recognize from the alternative pronunciations given earlier, is also in common usage among the Francos of Jay-Livermore Falls.
Perhaps you are wondering why the Francos of Jay-Livermore Falls have so many different ways to say the same thing while in France there exists only one way. The answer most likely resides in the conscious efforts made by the French government since the French Revolution to standardize the language spoken in France. At that time in history (late 1700's), the goal of the government was to eliminate regional expressions and pronunciations in favor of the French spoken in Paris. Since the French colonists in the New World were cut off from France by the time of the Revolution, the different ways of saying où persisted here for many generations, and eventually filtered down into New England with the Québécois immigrants between 1860 and 1930.
Since the 1960's, along with many other expressions and alternate pronunciations, the use of où ce que and company have also fallen out of use in Québec. But, as the people here were not affected by the language reforms that came out of the French Revolution, the Franco-Americans of Jay-Livermore Falls were not affected by the language reforms that took place in Québec since the 1960's.
If the use of these expressions will eventually disappear from Jay-Livermore Falls French, it won't be by means of a reform, but rather by the passing on of the last speakers. In that case, only books like La guerre des boutons will attest to their existence.
French and Spanish
Lately, rather than talk about my goal to speak a third language, I have taken action. The language I have chosen (for many reasons, which I won't go into just now) is Spanish, and the method I am using is called Pimsleur's Spanish. Pimsleur's is simply a series of CD Rom's, each one containing two half-hour lessons. So far, the lessons have been anchored purely in repeating what the "teacher" wants without any text. So far, I love it and in less than a week, I have learned over 30 words and am able to formulate simple sentences.
In following the lessons, I am running into words that are very similar to French words, like hôtel (these are the French spellings as I haven't learned what these are in Spanish!). This is no surprise, considering that both French and Spanish are both Latin-based languages. Hôtel, for example, comes from the Latin word oste, meaning "lodging".
What strikes me as even more interesting than the similarity of words like hôtel in these two languages, however, is that the use of the word for "the" in Spanish is exactly what you might sometimes hear while speaking with a Franco-American from Jay or Livermore Falls: el (instead of le).
When I first became interested in studying the French spoken in Jay-Livermore Falls and I heard the pronunciation el for "the", I assumed two things: First, that this pronunciation - which was intermittent and less frequent than le - resulted from a phonetic process called metathesis which would have occurred after the great migration of the Québécois to New England; and second, that the difference was unique to our towns. On both counts of my assumption, however, I was wrong.
Metathesis is a natural process that inverses the order of sounds. It is frequently heard in words that start with "R", like regard, which many people will pronounce argard. This particular pronunciation, which is very common to the French spoken in Jay-Livermore Falls, can be traced back to Quebec and even France. This phenomenon, however logical it may seem considering the circumstances of le and el, is not what makes Francos from Jay-Livermore Falls say the second word instead of the first. Consider the following.
The word le comes from the Latin word ille. As you can see, the "l's" in the word ille are proceeded by a vowel. Though I can't be sure how this vowel was pronounced during the Roman era when Latin was spoken, we can assume that it sounded (originally or with time) like "E". The proof is not only that the Spanish pronounce el, but that the French did also!
According to the Glossaire du Français Parler au Canada (1933), el, which is a well-attested pronunciation of the word le in Quebec, can be traced back to Old French. It was also a very common pronunciation of the people from Picardy and Normandy, two regions in France from whence came many of the original colonists to the New World.
Perhaps as I continue to study Spanish I will make more interesting discoveries of this sort which will help me clear up some of the mysteries I have encountered in the French spoken in Jay-Livermore Falls. I'll keep you posted, el lecteurs de mes articles!
Imagine, if you will, the following scenario: A Franco-American walks up to the ticket booth of a train station in Lyon, France, needing a ticket to Paris to catch his flight back to the States. He is in a slight state of panic because the train will arrive very shortly and the woman behind the counter has just told him that his credit card isn’t functioning. He tells the woman that he has American cash if she will accept that instead of euros. She tells him to wait a minute while she finds her boss to see if they can make the transaction this way. When the boss arrives at the booth and asks the Franco-American what the problem is, he tells her:
“C’est comme je disais à l’autre femme bétôt : le train arrive bétôt là pis j’ai besoin de le prendre, mais j’ai rien que des piastres américains pour me payer mon billet .”
The boss, who is intelligent enough, is able to understand the following from the context of the situation: “It’s like I told the other woman earlier: the train is arriving soon but all I have are American dollars to pay for my ticket.” Upon hearing the word piastre, she might remember Molière’s plays she’d read as a student in which Molière, writing in Old French, used this word to mean “dollar”. Upon hearing the word bétôt, she might remember that her old grandfather from Normandy used to also pronounce bientôt in this same way. However, despite all this, she may still give the Franco a funny look for using the same word (bétôt) to mean opposite things: “earlier” and “soon”.
In Standard French, bientôt means “soon; shortly”. The woman, after giving her funny look, might consider the situation and tell herself that the Franco, in his panicked state, has confused the meaning of the word. This however, is not the case, silly French woman.
According to my handy Glossaire du Parler Français au Canada, the word bétôt, which is attested in the French dialects of Normandy, Picardy, Anjou and Ardenne, where it meant both “earlier” and “soon”. Aha! This said, dear reader (and silly Parisian woman), rest assured that our Franco hasn’t butchered the French language by messing up the meanings of words, nor is he speaking anything less than “Real French”. Simply, he has (naturally, of course) used both a pronunciation and a double-meaning that was handed down to him from his ancestors.
Alas, though it was very generous on the Parisian woman’s part to be generous in her understanding of the Franco’s “confusion” concerning the use of the word bientôt, in the end, she might better spread her generosity to more pressing issues, like giving the poor man the ticket he needs!
Noel and Chrismas
Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, perhaps some of you have started your holiday shopping, gift-wrapping, card-writing and sending, and maybe even cookie and chocolate-making. I’m sure in all the hubbub that this brings you probably haven’t stopped to think about the words used in association with the 25th day of December. Or how Latin plays a role in the history of some of these words…like Noel and Chrismas, for example.
According to the Webster’s International Dictionary, the word Christmas is a combination of Christ and mass. If you think these words are as English as they get, think again! Both of them originate in Latin (Christus and massa) and, in the case of mass, appearing by way of French (messe).
Unlike the case of it’s English equivalent, it isn’t immediately apparent what the word Noel has to do with the 25th of December. And that’s where the Petit Robert dictionary comes in handy! Here, we find that Noel comes from nael, which derives from the Latin natalis (dies) which simply means “(jour) de naissance” or “birthday”. Obviously, the person whose birthday is in question here is Jesus Christ.
The definition for Noel, which is simply “Christian holiday celebrated on the 25th of December to commemorate the birth of Christ”, is followed by a cross-reference to the word nativite. Onward to nativite then!
The word nativite also stems from Latin (nativities) and in the Christian religion, it simply means the birth of religious figures, such as Jesus, Mary, St-Jean the Baptist, etc. In the art world, however, it has taken on a more specific meaning: “tableau, sculpture, etc. de Jesus dans la creche, avec Joseph et Marie” (“A painting or sculpture of Jesus in the manger with Joseph and Mary”).
I am sure you recognize in the word nativite the English word nativity as in nativity scene like the one many people set up in their houses during the holiday season. I know it’s blaringly obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: the reason you recognize the word nativity in nativité is simply because the first word has it’s origins in the second, which itself derives from Latin.
If you curious minds out there dug a little more in your own dictionaries, I am certain you would discover other instances in which English words related to the Christmas holiday have their origins in Latin by way of French. I don’t know if needham would fit in this category, but this shouldn’t stop you from making some (I’m talking you you, muth) and sending a few to Rue de la Tourelle, Quebec.
In last week's article, I made a very brief mention about a the needham. For those of you who have never eaten one, a needham is a small, square bon bon made with powdered sugar, shredded coconut and cream covered in a thin layer of chocolate. Traditionally, my mother always makes a huge batch (about 100 or so) of needham's at Christmas time which she freezes and pulls out for guests as they arrive throughout the holiday.
The first time I ever saw a needham in a store, I was a first-year Master's student at UMaine Orono. On the label, which touted the fact that this little chocolate is a traditional Maine thing, I discovered that the ingredients included potatoes. Out of curiosity, I bought one to have a taste. Not surprisingly, I remember not liking it as much as my mother's needhams.
Since this time, because of what I'd read on the label, I assumed that the needham is a traditional Maine chocolate hailing from the English-speaking faction of the State. And since the word needham itself is pretty English-sounding, I never felt a need to question my reasoning. I am questioning it now, however...
Since I mentioned the word needham in last week's article, I decided to look into it a bit. I didn't get to far with the authorities on the English language, that is to say the Webster's International English Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary because neither of them recognizes the word. Even the dictionaries on American regional English give me nothing... except the Meriam-Webster, but that’s only to tell me that Needham is a town in Massachusetts! And even as I write this article, I notice that the word needham is underlined in red, which means that my computer's dictionary doesn't recognize it as being English either. (If I right-click on the word, the computer offers the words need ham as a solution!)
Though the word needham doesn't appear in any of my French dictionaries either, I thought it would be worth a shot to see if it would be included in one of my cookbooks called Cuisine traditionnelle d'un Quebec oublié (Traditional cuisine from by-gone Québec). In the section called surcrerie, I didn't see the word needham, but I did find bonbon-patate chocolaté and the bonbon patate, patate meaning "potato".
The first recipe, which resembles exactly in ingredients the needham I bought in Orono so many years ago, differs only in shape: this recipe says that you should roll the potato-coconut mixture into balls before dipping them in chocolate. As for the second recipe, which says to make small squares instead of balls, there is no chocolate involved, but rather a thin layer of peanut butter on the top.
Where does all of this lead us? Well... nowhere just yet! Until I find written proof of this word in some dictionary or glossary, I can't say with any kind of certainty if the word needham comes from English or French. Nor can I say if the French Canadians borrowed it from their English-speaking neighbors or vice-versa at one point in the history of the great back and forth movement of the French Canadians between Maine and their home country. I'll keep my eyes open and get back to you if I discover anything new. In the meantime, if you get a chance, eat one or two (or more!) this holiday season. You won't regret it!
wreath de cocottes
Since Christmas is right around the corner and since I've been on a Christmas theme kick for the last two weeks, I'd like to talk today about a Christmas decoration called the wreath de cocottes, or a "pinecone wreath" (FYI: wreath de cocottes was said during one of the taped interviews I did with some of the Francos in town for my studies).
The first of the two components of wreath de cocottes, cannot be found in the French dictionaries for the very obvious reason that wreath is an English word. (A suitable translation for wreath in French would be couronne, which means "crown").
As for the second component, cocotte, the word itself can be found in the French dictionaries, but not with the meaning of "pinecone". (The French would say cone de pin for “pine cone”). According to the Petit Robert, for exemple, cocotte has several meanings, among them "chicken" (when talking to a young child), "affectionate term" (when talking to a girlfriend, etc.) or a "big cooking pot". But alas, nowhere the meaning of "pinecone".
If you look up cocotte in the Glossaire du Parler Français au Canada (1933), you will find it spelled with only one "t" and with only one meaning: "pinecone". And since the editors of the dictionary give no additional information on this word, like where it might have originated from in France, one might be lead to believe that the Quebecois invented the meaning of this word. This, however, is not the case.
In the late 1990's, the director of my thesis, Claude Poirier, launched a dictionary project in which he sought to define and discover the origins of word used in Quebec which differ from those used in France. One of these words just happens to be cocotte. Here's what his research reveals.
To start, cocotte was first attested in Quebec in 1909 in a French Canadian Dictionary written by a man named Dionne. (This doesn't mean that nobody used cocotte to mean "pinecone" until 1909, it just means that it wasn't until 1909 that somebody wrote it down in a book for others to consult over the years). Second, in the FEW (Franzosisches etymologishes Worterbuch) cocotte is found attested in a region in France called Lorraine.
In my work then, the word wreath de cocottes will be classified as being composed of a leximatical borrowing from English (leximatical = word and meaning borrowed) and a regionalism. Secondly, it will be classified as an innovation of the French speakers I interviewed for my studies because it is unattested in Quebec.
For those of you out there whose decorations for Christmas include a pinecone wreath, you now know how they are called in two different varieties of French: couronne en cone de pin and wreath de cocottes. Neither is more correct or incorrect than the other. What each one represents, simply, is the speaker’s reality. For the first one, the reality is that of a French speaker who has been educated and lives every day entirely in French; the second one is that of a French speaker whose French has preserved dialectal (or regional) words and who is also in contact with English.
Going from the temperate climate of Louisiana to the frigid weather up here in Quebec has been no easy transition for me this week. It doesn’t help that I picked up a sore throat and a stuffed nose somewhere in the various airports I waited in between there and here. But I suppose I’ll survive. And in waiting for the warmer weather to arrive, I have re-catapulted myself into my ridiculous, self-imposed 10 to 12-hour days of working on my doctorate. At one point during the 456.7 hours I put in since I’ve been home from Louisiana, I found out some interesting facts about the word nanane that I’d like to talk about today.
Nanane, as you may remember from a brief mention I made of it in a previous article, has several meanings depending on who you are and where you live. In Quebec and among many Franco-Americans of New England, for example, it means ‘candy’. In Jay-Livermore Falls, at least amongst my family members and the people that I interviewed for my work, nanane can mean one of two things: 1) A person (usually a man) who is simple-minded, slow, not too bright, uneducated, etc.; and 2) An effeminate man or boy.
As I also mentioned in this earlier article, the two meanings which are currently used amongst the Francos of Jay-Livermore Falls are absent from the documentation on Quebecois French. The logical explanation for this might be that the Francos of Jay-Livermore Falls innovated this new meaning. But alas! However logical this may seem, it is not the case.
My thesis director, unlike my green little self, was immediately sceptical of this explanation. He told me to check out the Franzosisches etymologisches Worterbuch. Eine Darstellung des galloromanischen Sprachschatzes, or FEW for short. In this extensive work by the German, Walther Wartburg (1922), the curious person can peruse pages upon pages of words used in the French dialects of France.
Though I didn’t find the exact form of nanane with the meanings I gave above, I did find a number of variant spellings (nano, nannoye, nana, nanad, nanour, nanis, etc.), all from the family of words with nann- as their root. And, surprise, surprise! Many of these variations have definitions that come pretty close to the ones used in Jay-Livermore Falls.
The mystery of the origins of our meanings for nanane is thus solved. Considering that the French spoken in Jay-Livermore Falls is an extension of the Canadian French, how is it that these meanings are not attested in Quebec? Here’s how my thesis director explains it.
There’s no way that these meanings for nanane could have come directly from France, since the Francos of Jay-Livermore Falls aren’t from there. They must therefore have come from Quebec. Perhaps this usage was fairly isolated to certain villages from when came many of the first Quebecois immigrants to Jay-Livermore Falls. If no one did any study on the French spoken in these villages, then obviously these meanings would go un-noted. Eventually, with the normalization of French speech in Canada, a normalization which consists of eliminating words like nanane (no matter the meaning) from common usage, these meanings would simply fall to the wayside and be forgotten for all time.
The study of the French spoken in Jay-Livermore Falls, however, brings these meanings back to life. It also adds to the overall better understanding of the French spoken in North America. What other treasures will the continued study of this language reveal? I’ve got a long, cold winter ahead of me to find out… I’ll keep you posted!
Riding coats and beans
The French and English languages have been in contact with each other for centuries. As a result, the French have borrowed words from English and the English have borrowed words from the French. Some of these words are so intricately integrated into the borrowed language (both in terms of pronunciation and spelling) that their origins are no longer evident to the average speaker. Such is the case, for example, of the word redingote in France.
Redingote, believe it or not, comes from the English word riding coat. This word was borrowed into French at the beginning of the 1700’s and originally had essentially the same meaning that it did in English: “Long vest worn by men, especially for use while horseback riding”. Over the years, however, the meaning has changed. Today, a redingote is a “woman’s jacket which tapers at the waist”.
Those of you in town who speak French have most likely never heard this word in your life. I’d be willing to bet also that you’ve never used it. This is normal considering the circumstances. The word redingote was borrowed into French by people living in France from the British at a time in history when the French Canadians were dealing with their own North American reality that hardly included leisurely horseback riding that would have required this kind of clothing. Consequently, in due time, the French Canadians, living in a different world and who were (and still are) in contact with another breed of English speakers, would also borrow words from English that the French from France would not recognize. Such is the case, for example, of the word binne.
In North American French, binne is the universal word for any of the varieties of dried beans, such as the navy bean. According to the Dictionnaire historique du francais Quebecois (1998), this word has existed in North American French since approximately 1877. It is no surprise, then, that the French in France, for whom binne is haricot sec, would not recognize this word. At this point in history, communication and cultural exchange between the French and the French Canadians were pretty much cut off.
When used in the plural, les binnes means more specifically “baked beans”. Those of you who were raised in the traditional Franco-American home like I was don’t need to be told that les binnes was the staple Saturday evening meal. Why is this? One reason, according to some of my aunts, is a simple question of preparing an easy meal. Once the ingredients are in the bean pot, all the cook needs to do is throw the pot in the oven and leave it there all day and only to check on it from time to time to make sure that the water hasn’t diminished too much. Another theory, I’ve been told, is that the effects of eating the beans could come in handy when the French kids from Jay ran out of snowballs during the snowball fights with the Livermore Falls kids which took place at the town line on Sundays back in the day!
Though I can’t say with any certainty whether or not the beans actually helped anybody win any snowball fights, I do know this: the word binne, regardless of its English origins, is as French as French gets. It’s existed in the North American French language for over a hundred years, has taken on it’s own Frenchified spelling, is well attested in the dictionaries and glossaries and, of course, is used regularly by the French speakers who live in this part of the world.
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