Acadian language politics

From the introduction to Virginia Motapanyane’s Acadian French, in the LINCOM EUROPA Languages of the World series, published in 1997:

The report of the federal Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism led in 1969 to federal legislation intended to ensure that any Canadian citizen could interact with any part of her/his national government in the official language (French or English) of his/her choice. This required large-scale funding for language training, especialy for anglophones needing to learn French. New Brunswick enacted similar legislation in 1969 to cover provincial government operations (though ritical sections of it did not come into force until 1977) and also began to fund language training. The first ‘French immersion’ program in the New Brunswick school system began to operate in Saint John in 1968, but the concept did not prosper in New Brunswick as it did when begun in Montreal the same year.

A change of government did not bring any change in commitment to bilingualism or to ‘equal opportunity’, though the ‘language quesiton’ continued to influence provincial politics. Francophone dissatisfaction (and the success of the separatis Parti québécois in Quebec) manifested itself in the formation of the Parti acadien, which sought independence for Acadians. However it was not able to make a political breakthrough and soon collapsed. The dissatisfaction it represented did lead the government of the day to pass legislation (in 1981) stating that the ‘two linguistic communities’ (francophone and anglophone) are ‘equal’. It is not clear exactly what this means but the next government ensured that it was enshrined in the Canadian Constitution of 1988.

Periodic bouts of anglophone resentment led to two government reviews of language policy involving public hearings (1982, 1986) and in 1991 to the election to official opposition status in the legislature of a party whose only clear policy was opposition to legislated bilingualism. This party too collapsed in disarray and it was eliminated from the legislature in 1995.

During this thirty-five years of steady progress in the political, social and economic status of French in New Brunswick, there has been little, if any, public debate over what French was being promoted and protected. All the universities decided in the mid-1960s to teach ‘standard French’, which meant something like the form of French which does not reveal the geographic origin or the social status of the speaker or writer. The same decision was made later by the two state school systems in New Brunswick – one anglophone and one francophone (these are administered separately, except that they have the same Minister). Though attempts to get more precise or elaborate definitions have not met with success, it is clear that the intent is to eliminate all regionalisms – since these would reveal the geographic origin of the speaker or writer.

Partly to accomplish this, the francophone university has required (essentially remedial) courses in ‘standard French’, concentrating o the written forms, for all students. Subsequent use of acadianisms in writing leads to lower marks and perhaps failure. The use of acadianisms in writing in French courses in the anglophone universities will also lead quickly to failure. Some of those teaching French in the anglophone universities would not understand Acadian if they heard or read it. As each generation of teachers enters the classroom from the universities with improved ‘standard French’, Acadian language use is ‘corrected’ with increased diligence.

When French is used in government it is normally supposed to be ‘standard’ (although ce qu’il a besoin is almost invariably used for ce dont il a besoin). Use of acadianisms will lead to failure on the government tests of language ability which control access to bilingual positions in the public service. The electronic media tries to use ‘standard’ forms of French, and though some of the New Brunswick francophone print media frequently use ‘regionalisms’, this seems to be unintentional.

In brief, Acadian is not taught in New Brunswick and its use is actively discouraged throughout the education system, the media and the public service.

Things I like about this: that the author treats Acadian as a language. Things I don’t like about this: everything else.

The French language is arguably even worse than English is about squashing variation (although on the other hand there’s a fair amount of literature, mostly theater, in vernacular forms, specifically colloquial FNA French, Joual, and other informal varieties of Canadian French; I assume there is Chiac theater to be found, as well, and Acadieman establishes pretty clearly that there is Chiac television) in education. At the very least, it’s just as bad.

The Multi-dictionnaire is awesome in its comprehensiveness, but I’m pretty sure its intention is that when things are noted as “impropriétés” or “anglicismes” you’re supposed to not use them, whereas I take those as suggestions that I should adopt these usages into my informal speech.

Note from the LinguisticShoebox blogger: Everything above is written and cited by a fellow colleague, so here is the link to that blog post of his.


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