4.1061 French (was Languages of Humanist) (3/86)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 20 Feb 91 22:02:59 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 1061. Wednesday, 20 Feb 1991.

(1) Date: Mon, 18 Feb 91 19:40:28 EST (55 lines)
From: Germaine Warkentin <WARKENT@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: The Languages of Humanist

(2) Date: Tue, 19 Feb 91 07:25 EST (14 lines)
From: MELANCON@umtlvr.bitnet
Subject: Languages on Humanist. Dussinger's comment

(3) Date: Tue, 19 Feb 91 15:50 EST (17 lines)
Subject: bilingualism in canada

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Mon, 18 Feb 91 19:40:28 EST
From: Germaine Warkentin <WARKENT@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: The Languages of Humanist

I am sorry Ian Richmond thinks my argument is "specious" (which my
dictionary defines as "attractive on the surface" and thus presumably
not attractive underneath). Ruefully, I would have to concede his point
about the difficulty of finding French newspapers in London, Ontario.
But I refuse to budge on the issue of "minority." Certainly 1/3 is less
than 2/3. But what goes to make up that 2/3? The Toronto where Prof.
Richmond says he can't be sure of finding French newspapers is a city
where 84 languages are in daily use, and where one can live in another
language without even making contact with the "dominant" English tongue.
This is not the only part of the story. To some of my western
relatives-in-law the multi-culturalism of Toronto is deeply disturbing;
they want a country where all speak English and nothing else (except of
course at home where you can speak Low German or Ukrainian). As a
result, from where I sit French in Canada looks like a very powerful
language indeed. Powerful enough that one of my Quebecois colleagues on
this net spoke in a recent Humanist posting about "the coming separation
of Quebec from Canada" with perfect confidence. (Funny, nobody seems to
have noticed that one.) From what I have just said we can draw one
conclusion (indeed, the one most of those who have posted on this issue
seem to want to draw): that language can become a very petty, local
matter and that if we want to be practical, we will try to rise above
all that. Gunhild Viden is correct in not wanting the issue of
languages on Humanist to be reduced to a question of the hegemony of
English over French. That was not my point, however, merely my example.
The point is this: language is not just a practical matter, it is a
profoundly symbolic concern. As long as we reduce it to practicality,
or pretend that the symbol- ic can be kept at arms length, we are
effectively treating it as if it belonged to the topics of common-room
conversation assembled by Robert Kirsner: the glass of sherry, the
ecclesiastical use of Latin terms, the once-famed but now disused (by
all practical people) powers of individual languages. There was such a
change once, you know, except it went the other way. In the middle ages
Latin was known as "Grammar" because the untidy, popular vernacular
languages had no written rules. Well, "tempora mutantur" and we change
with them; I haven't heard a word of Latin on the streets of Toronto in
I don't know how long. Two final points: I began this discussion
because I felt that one of the languages of my country was being
trivialized by the insensitivity of those who, living in a country where
English is by far the dominant language, had lost their sense of what it
is like to live in a place where the issue is a living, breathing, and
deeply painful one. My French-speaking colleagues in Quebec have not
forgotten what it is like to be told to "speak white." Or that they
"don't really speak French in Quebec." Second, are the advocates of a
unilingual United States under the illusion that such a develop- ment
would not be symbolic? I hardly think so. We could carry that line of
argument even further: surely the "practical" use of language -- that
is, for its purely instrumental function -- is itself a symbolic use of
language, one which resonates (paradoxically) with the fears and
constraints of the Age of Reason. I shall continue to write to Humanist
in English. I hope our French- speaking colleagues will continue to
write in French, whether we end up in the same country or not. Germaine.

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------17----
Date: Tue, 19 Feb 91 07:25 EST
From: MELANCON@umtlvr.bitnet
Subject: Languages on Humanist. Dussinger's comment

John A. Dussinger writes that "more than once I've heard Parisians
declare that the language spoken in Quebec Province is not REALLY
French". There is absolutely no evidence of this linguistically. On
the contrary, French spoken in Quebec is just plain French, with a
different accent and a few different words (less than 5% of the
vocabulary). To use such an argument to ban French on this net shows
both a lack of knowledge ("I've heard Parisians"...) and a poor sense of

Benoit Melancon, Universite de Montreal

(3) --------------------------------------------------------------20----
Date: Tue, 19 Feb 91 15:50 EST
Subject: bilingualism in canada

I don't know what the story is in Ontario or in Quebec, but the
bilingualism of Moncton, New Brunswick, where my wife's family is
from, is very interesting. Usually when one speaks of bilingualism
one imagines a situation in which everybody knows both languages, but
only speaks one in ordinary conversation. My impression of Moncton is
that everyone speaks both languages all the time--in ordinary
conversations, say, in the fast-food places, people seem to
switch back and forth, often within the same sentence. Moncton is
an interesting linguistic laboratory, and I wish someone who knows
more about such things than I do would look at it. (Is this loose
back-and-forth between languages what prevailed in England in the
generations when Middle English was taking shape?)

John Burt