Here’s another one of those guest posts I did for my blog tour. The experience was disappointing in terms of reach and sales. But I had put my heart into these posts, so I’m taking them back (*FTW*).
Globalized Culture: How Our Languages Are Changing.
One issue that came up when we were editing A Teenage Suicide was the language I used. It was something that had come up also when I was still in college, workshopping stories and chapters. I come from Montreal. I was born there. I was raised there and it is as “problematic” as it is interesting. (I would also argue it’s part of the city’s appeal)
I was born a francophone but grew up pretty much bilingually. Like most (young) people in this city, I speak two to three languages and try to pick up a little bit of everything as I meet people from around the world. That includes a bit of Spanish, Japanese and I even became friends with a Persian women who speaks Farsi. That means that my English (and French, it is true) is deeply “tainted” by the other languages I encountered all my life.
It’s a well-known fact that languages in Montreal have a specific flavour. Think of it as the difference when you hear someone from New-Orleans or Dublin speak. If they are doing it right, you should know exactly where they are (or aren’t) from. Montreal is just the same in both French and English: you can hear it.
If you look at the history of immigration to Montreal, the story is similar to that of the Eastern US. The first nations were there, settlers from Europe came in and took the best lands. Of course, we had French settlers first and the US had British and Dutch settlers, but once that seven-year war was done, Britain shipped as many Irish and Scotts to Canada as they did the Us. Then came the Italians, the Portuguese, the Jews, Germans and Poles. A lot of escaped slaves settled in Canada, including Montreal, the same way a lot of them settled in the Northern states. Of course, you add to that the wave of Haitian immigrants and the more recent ”global” waves of Asian, African and Latino immigrants, I think we have diversity pretty much nailed.
What that means is that Montreal is a breeding ground for mixing language and I believe it is a laboratory for the globalisation of languages. I have heard the term “Hybridity” in college quite a few times. When you mix so many heritages together, what comes out has the potential to become a new language entirely, a lot like what Creole is to French. If I hear two Haitians speaking in Creole, I will understand a lot of what they say, but not everything. It has become another language over time. This will also happen to English as the cultures of the world collide. Languages will continue to influence one another, expand their vocabulary, change their syntax and integrate regional slangs.
It is probably true that my English could “feel” strange but I don’t see it that way and I know most people in Montreal don’t see it that way either. As far as using “Montreal English” to write a novel, some people hate it, some people love it. The bottom line is that the way I write represent where I live and I certainly am not the first author to do so (I could cite David Fennario and Mordecai Richler as influences)
On my island, the important thing is not necessarily to speak or write “properly” in general grammar terms, but to be understood within a large diversity of accents and languages. For example, when I play in the park with my daughter, there are parents there who are Scottish, Irish, Québécois and British (the “original” four) but also more and more Latinos, French (from France, which is no longer the same as Québécois in terms of language), People from all regions of Europe, Algerians, Tunisians and of course, Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese and Torontonians…
We all pretty much speak French and English and somehow we all understand each other at the end of the day. I think that says something about the future of cultural relations in the world. Of course it is complex, but it is also interesting and if you have any respect for mankind, you know that the human brain is capable of figuring it all out if you train it a little, there’s plenty of hope for the future.
While it’s still true that most Irish are in the south-west, most Italians are in the East, most Haitians are in the North, the Jews are in Outremont (center) etc… the linguistic divide that used to exist in the city is no longer real and it’s incredibly interesting. In Montreal you can meet a girl named Laurie Murphy who dosen’t speak English and a girl named Sarah Deshaies who’s an Anglo journalist. The fringe festival even seriously considers putting a “Montreal Franglais” category next year. Language hybridity is a significant movement, and again, it is incredibly interesting.
I live this on a daily basis and it influences the way I write. Some of my sentences may seem odd to some readers but I didn’t want to take out this “flavor.” I didn’t want to make the novel generic so that more people could feel “comfortable” reading it. It wouldn’t have helped the story and it wouldn’t have felt truthful to me.
The bottom line is this, that whole “globalisation of cultures” thing ain’t going anywhere so you might as well get used to it right away.
Love it or don’t, it’s up to you but to be honest, I’m not gonna change the way I write in the end.
Thanks for reading,