4.1094 Languages of Humanist / French (7/259)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 26 Feb 91 23:23:26 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 1094. Tuesday, 26 Feb 1991.

(1) Date: Tue, 26 Feb 91 15:11:31 CST (27 lines)
From: Michael Sperberg-McQueen <U35395@UICVM>
Subject: the languages (plural) of Humanist

(2) Date: Sun, 24 Feb 91 22:39:42 EST (61 lines)
From: Germaine Warkentin <WARKENT@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: The Languages of Humanist

(3) Date: Tue, 26 Feb 91 01:59:43 EST (55 lines)
Subject: Re Languages (French)

(4) Date: Tue, 26 Feb 91 08:55:22 EST (28 lines)
From: Michel Pierssens <R36254@UQAM>
Subject: French Quebec

(5) Date: Tue, 26 Feb 91 12:57:54 EST (30 lines)
From: "Ian M. Richmond" <42100_1156@uwovax.uwo.ca>
Subject: Re: 4.1090 Hum: The Languages of Humanist Topic

(6) Date: Tue, 26 Feb 91 16:06:19 EST (29 lines)
From: "Ian M. Richmond" <42100_1156@uwovax.uwo.ca>
Subject: Alleged bigotry

(7) Date: Tue, 26 Feb 91 16:55:06 EST (29 lines)
From: Peter Ian Kuniholm <MCG@CORNELLC>
Subject: Re: 4.1090 Hum: The Languages of Humanist Topic

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 26 Feb 91 15:11:31 CST
From: Michael Sperberg-McQueen <U35395@UICVM>
Subject: the languages (plural) of Humanist

It appalls me to see the cautious formulation of the Humanist Guide to
the effect that since most subscribers speak English as their native
tongue, English is likely to be the best-understood language on
Humanist, taken as a club to browbeat those who do not post to Humanist
in English. No subscriber to Humanist can possibly be under any
illusions as to the relative numbers of subscribers who read English and
who read any other language; is it really necessary for anyone
explicitly to urge subscribers to post in English or (is this for real?
can this be Humanist?) accuse them of *impoliteness* if they post in
another language?

It should not be necessary in a forum like Humanist, but it appears to
be, for someone to declare publicly that (in the opinion of this one
subscriber at least) any language spoken by a subscriber is an
appropriate language for posting on Humanist. It is not offensive, it
is not rude, it is not impolite, it is not something to be apologized
for, to post a note in whatever language you feel most comfortable
composing in. It *is* on the other hand impolite and something to be
apologized for to suggest that anyone should remain silent rather than
posting in a language other than English. And to all the polyglots on
the list, I do apologize for the postings which have had that import.

-Michael Sperberg-McQueen, University of Illinois at Chicago

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------64----
Date: Sun, 24 Feb 91 22:39:42 EST
From: Germaine Warkentin <WARKENT@vm.epas.utoronto.ca>
Subject: The Languages of Humanist

There's a very uncomfortable story going the rounds here about the man
who said he didn't want to live in Canada because the Scots owned all
the banks and the Portuguese cleaned them. It is based, of course, on
the assumption of a fairly rigid hierarchical society which equates
economic power and the employment of a dominant language. I don't want
to do a disservice to Ian Richmond's complex argument, nor to his work
in teaching French in Canada, but it needs to be stated that what he
offers to defend his view is the experience of someone living within
that model. Obviously, I live within a different one, with an
experience more like that reported in the posting from Moncton or from
South West Texas. It's not in the least exotic (that I should have
lived long enough to hear Toronto called exotic - I love it!), its just
the normal texture of life in a community where slowly, slowly, and from
a number of sources other than the lingustic, another model is taking
its place. I don't know what that model is, but I hope that its not the
"tribalism" that Skip Knox finds so backward. (Interesting word,
"tribalism". Why do we white folks have the habit of using it in such a
deprecatory way? If we all spoke English, all over the world,
absolutely everywhere, would it make us less tribal? I suspect not;
we'd just be a bigger tribe. Whether he likes it or not, Skip belongs
to a tribe. Me too. But I digress.) I have one problem with Ian
Richmond's response. I can't tell if he once wanted a bilingual Canada
and is now disillusioned, or if he never believed in it at all. Perhaps
it would be a good idea to show my own colours. I did once have hopes
for a bilingual Canada; I grew up with French beside the English on the
Corn Flakes Box, high school trips to Quebec and Quebec kids visiting
us. I educated my daughter in French. I have attended and run
bilingual conferences. I have participated in the usual meetings with
Ottawa bureaucrats in which the French all spoke their language, and the
English all spoke theirs, and it worked just fine. I have even
snickered at the persistent (and very tribal) European jokes about
Americans who can't speak anything but English. And like a lot of
Canadians who shared this same very 1950s) experience, I still don't
speak French at all well. The point is, I kept on hoping for this truly
new phenomenon, in which the tribes might be themselves, and still live
together in mutual peace and respect. But history has taken us in
another direction. It is said that at the time of Confederation, the
French believed that they as "un peuple" were entering into a
relationship with the English, another "peuple." It was probably so in
1867 but it is no longer the case. The English in Canada are many many
peoples and the problem which we now face, as Canada changes so
radically, is whether we can preserve, from that earlier union, the hope
which some of us at least then had. Hope goes with realism: the reality
of that union was not always pretty. I know perfectly well about the
economic disparities Ian Richmond describes as arising from the
linguistic problem. The Scots did own the banks, and the French cleaned
them. But we became a country in which the fact of language cannot be
set aside. Is there an American reading this who thinks that in his or
her country, as it has evolved, the fact of colour can be set aside?
No, it's real, it's there, it's what history gave. It's what you do
with what history gives that makes the nation. Do you turn the language
problem into a battle for supremacy (my tribal language is better than
yours, or at least it will get you ahead faster), or do you look at the
conflict and say "what strengths are there here which we want keep for
the whole community"? For me, not setting the fact of language aside is
one of those strengths. Germaine.

(3) --------------------------------------------------------------62----
Date: Tue, 26 Feb 91 01:59:43 EST
Subject: Re Languages (French)

Coming in late in this discussion, I apologize for any repetitions...

Seems to me that the the French/English discussion has become caught
in the snare of of Canadian linguistic politics, an area in which angels
themselves fear to tread.

What has not been explained to our American friends, is that French in
Canada is not on an exact par with all other languages, such as
Italian or Ukranian or whatever. All those minority languages have a
*backup*... that is, if they die out in Canada, there is still a
a vital culture living with that language. French in Canada is
in vulgar terms, a home grown product. It reflects a migration which
landed here and grew here much in the way that the English landed
in North America and grew there. No French-Canadian/Quebecois
(two somewhat different populations) can go home again, any more
than any American can go "home" to England... they are a new ethnic
group, as much as Americans are.... and the language reflects that.

It is not, however, a language which takes the form of an obscure,
un-understandable dialect, as has been suggested in some postings. It
has linguistic levels, as any language does. For sure, if a Brit lands
in New York and attempts communications with the local Brooklyn/bronx
taxi driver, some rather interesting misunderstandings might occur. A
PArisian landing in Montreal and attempting communications with the
local service people might well have the same experience. If he/she
communicates with the academic people, no problem of understanding will
occur... but it would be *so* picturesque to talk about linguistic
mis-communication... fodder for table talk, as it were. One has to
wonder at the *intentions* of the people talking about such

As for the language of international forums (forgive my Latin),
it is obvious, and has been for many years that English has become
the lingua franca. One may approve or disapprove, but one cannot
quibble. The fact that a lingua franca exists does not necessarily
place a value judgement on other languages, unless one is highly
sensitive to the power that one's country wields... in which case
one can only hope that the person involved acquires some distancing
effect to allow him/her to continue communicating with others without
constantly falling into a nationalist trap.

I would be delighted to read postings in many languages; I own up to
a relative few, but if others are posted, I would hope that the
poster also lets us know of translators... translations are poor
things, but with the original text, may allow us to learn things.

If we are reduced to English only, then the whole world view will be
filtered through that language, which is a wonderful language, but
as any language is, limited in the ways that it conveys the world.
A variety of languages is a wonderful thing.....

(4) --------------------------------------------------------------30----
Date: Tue, 26 Feb 91 08:55:22 EST
From: Michel Pierssens <R36254@UQAM>
Subject: French Quebec

I Just can't believe what I am reading these days on HUmanist regarding
the status of the French language in Canada. Once the polite exchanges
about multiculturalism, respect of others, interest of difference,
etc... are exhausted what finally comes to the fore is pure intolerance
if not racism pure and simple. I wonder what kind of a historian one
must be to state that Quebec tribalism is breaking up Canada! How many
times shall we have to repeat that there are 6 million french speakers
in Quebec that form a perfectly functional society. If there is such a
thing as a tribe in Quebec it's that part of the english-speaking
community that does not understand that, like it or not, Quebec is a
different country. I also feel compelled to support Benoit
Melancon'scontention that the french language in Quebec is only
marginally different from what it is in France: the vocabulary and
syntax present only minimal variations. Accent becomes an obstacle to
intra- linguistic comprehension for "parisian-french" speakers (I am one
myself) only in very rare cases (basically: the language spoken in some
popular districts of Montreal). In most cases the phonetic variation is
similar to what can e encountered in the provinces (where th alsatian, or
Berry accents are a lot more pronounced). This means that french in
Quebec can in no way be described as a "dialect" except when one is
motivated by prejudice.But people in Quebec are used to be confronted by
that kind of prejudice and this is why they are moving more and more in
the direction of separation -- who could blame them, except the most
bigoted of so-called "historians" and "linguists".

(5) --------------------------------------------------------------35----
Date: Tue, 26 Feb 91 12:57:54 EST
From: "Ian M. Richmond" <42100_1156@uwovax.uwo.ca>
Subject: Re: 4.1090 Hum: The Languages of Humanist Topic (1/38)

After reading Benoit Laplante's most unscientific diatribe, I
reread the Humanist postings on language from 24 February, including
my own. I fail to see in them evidence of the bigotry Laplante
attributes to them. If concern for the status of minority language
groups, including the French-language minorities outside Quebec, is
bigotry, then I cheerfully plead guilty as charged.

I must also plead guilty to unscientific argument if "unscientific"
means presenting views derived from published census statistics and
various published reports by reputable scholars. But perhaps, after
all, it just means "not in agreement with Laplante".

Ensconced in his comfortable position as a member of the linguistic
and cultural majority in Quebec and with a sufficient mastery of
English to feel comfortable elsewhere in Canada, Laplante can
perhaps persuade himself that language minorities and their place in
the dominant culture are not a fit subject of discussion for
humanistic scholars. Given the increasing frequency of inter-cultural
and inter-linguistic contact in the contemporary world, this seems to
me an incredibly short-sighted view. Few questions, indeed, can be
more significant or more pertinent to the humanistic enterprise than
that of intercultural contact.

Ian M. Richmond, Department of French, University of Western Ontario,
London, Ontario, Canada N6A 3K7. 519-661-2163 Ext 5703

(6) --------------------------------------------------------------33----
Date: Tue, 26 Feb 91 16:06:19 EST
From: "Ian M. Richmond" <42100_1156@uwovax.uwo.ca>
Subject: Alleged bigotry

After sending my last posting, I continued to wonder what could
have caused Benoit Laplante to hurl such a virulent accusation of
bigotry at the 24 February postings on the subject of minority
language. The only thing I could see in any of the messages that
appeared likely to provoke such an attack was a phrase in my own
message: "... French-speaking parents who wanted to ensure that their
children were raised in the francophone culture should move to
Quebec...." Admittedly, taken out of context this *does* look like
the kind of sentiment sometimes expressed on hot-line shows. In
context, however, I thought it was clear that it expressed the
idea that francophone parents living in Ontario, where French is
"a lost cause" (i.e. has a bleak future) according to the official
I quoted, had no choice but to leave the province if they wanted
their children to remain unassimilated by the dominant English
culture. In other words, the dominant culture in this part of
Canada is so strong that it is virtually impossible for young
Franco-Ontarians to escape its clutches. It was to this situation
that I referred when I said that the report on Franco-Ontarian
education expressed a similar view. If this was not clear and my
linguistic obscurity caused Benoit Laplante, or any other Humanist,
unwarranted emotional distress, I hereby apologize.

Ian M. Richmond, Department of French, University of Western Ontario,
London, Ontario, Canada N6A 3K7. 519-661-2163 Ext 5703

(7) --------------------------------------------------------------34----
Date: Tue, 26 Feb 91 16:55:06 EST
From: Peter Ian Kuniholm <MCG@CORNELLC>
Subject: Re: 4.1090 Hum: The Languages of Humanist Topic (1/38)

Hurrah for Benoit Laplante's scathing remarks about the matter of
language! It has seemed to me that an important factor in our lives was
being overlooked am idst the vitriolic remarks from Quebec.

For humanists (not to mention all academics) the essential ingredient in
commun ication should be CIVILITY.

Most of my colleagues (I speak as a classical archaeologist) speak in
languages other than English. What has evolved in our communication is
that one writes in one's best language, and the reader does the
translating. The alternative i s often absurd, ungrammatical attempts
to render the other person's language. Best to speak one's own
tongue...in my case English (no cultural imperialism im plied)...and
then attempt to decode replies in French, German, Greek, Turkish,
Bulgarian, Italian, etc.

When my colleagues really do not know English, then I try to cobble
something together in their language(s), but the first method is really
the more satisfact ory to all parties concerned.

The shrill tones of the letter predicting the inevitable breakup of
Canada into English-speaking and Joual-speaking ill befits a forum in
which HUMANITAS and CARITAS ought to be the order of the day.

Peter Ian Kuniholm