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February 1, 2009 / andreasterzuk

Mais chus anglo, moi

I lived in Québec (a francophone Canadian province) for 8 years or so (6 years in Montréal and 2 in Québec City). I was bilingual before I moved to Montréal but a lot of my life there was actually lived in English (school and work, mainly) although I had French and bilingual pockets (daily activities and friends).  I guess I thought that, when I moved back to Saskatchewan, I would take up a more unilingual anglophone lifestyle. Certainly in terms of daily living like banking, shopping for groceries, and going to the hair salon, this shift in languages used is true. I do these activities in English now whereas before they all occurred in French.  My ideas about a unilingual English life in Saskatchewan haven’t really come true; I’ve actually been using French quite often and I’m about to use it even more. My faculty has just created a Maîtrise en éducation française (a masters in French education) and, as it turns out, I’ll be teaching a graduate class in French this coming academic year.

I think it’s great that the University of Regina is offering this masters; minority language programs are incredibly important.  On a personal level, though, it’s interesting to observe how the confidence I feel in my language abilities starts to slip away once I imagine myself giving lectures in French.  This is not a super feeling but it’s useful to me in terms of the insight it provides into other areas of my work.

Now my French is very strong but, academically speaking, I haven’t done much work in French in the last 12 years or so. Academics was something that happened in English and French was what I used when I went out to a restaurant or when I met up with friends.  As such, my French leans towards a more informal variety.  Indeed, the title of this post is meant to indicate the misgivings I have about the appropriateness of my French for academic purposes as well as the suitability of me, as an Anglophone, to teach in French. Translated to English, my words mean “but I’m Anglophone.” For those of you who do not speak French, let me explain that the way I’ve written the title also shows influence of joual, a québécois variety of French. I have a tendency to use aspects of joual in my spoken French and this isn’t necessarily considered acceptable for academic or professional purposes.  I feel worried about my ability to suppress certain features of my French and in my suitability to teach about French education since I am Anglophone.

So, to sum up my misgivings: French isn’t my first language and I’m accustomed to speaking it  in non-academic ways, and, yet, here I am teaching graduate classes in French.  These feelings are  interesting to me as I am someone who argues against linguistic prescriptivism (for a living) and, yet, somewhere along the way, I completely internalized these messages about my own [illegitimate] claims to using French as well as rules about appropriate language. What my feelings about my French tell me is that prescriptive language discourses are pervasive.  Even my awareness of their potential to shape reality doesn’t prevent these ideas about language  from discursively constructing my identity.

So, this involvement in the French education masters program is going to mean polishing up my vocabulary, being conscious about the variety of French I use in the classroom, learning more about francophone academic journals and educational literature, and, probably most importantly, re-working academic and linguistic facets of my identity.  This should be interesting.

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