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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 2 page 09


It’s a safe bet that in Canada, supposedly an advanced country, a project to construct a national language would be resisted by many anglophones and francophones fiercely loyal to the tongues of their European ancestors. Moreover, Canadians persist in the idée fixe that the two languages, even if tolerated side by side, must almost as a matter of moral principle remain separate and inviolable, like blood types that cannot be mixed; and so a hybrid such as franglais is scorned as a corruption, as un bâtard.

When Victor Barbeau in Le Français du Canada regrets the emergence of such expressions as il sort steady avec sa nouvelle blonde (= he's going steady with his new girlfriend), and il se tape dans le fun (= he likes to have fun), his point of view is that of a highly literate mind with certain presumptions as to what constitutes the integrity of a language.

Still, spoken franglais, arising from practical circumstances in the everyday world, demonstrates in a preliminary way the workability of a mixture of our two major tongues.

After all, English and French are related: they share common sources; they have a long history of influencing each other; the vocabularies and grammars show many similarities.

After the Norman-French Conquest of England in 1066, for example, the ruling class in England consisted of French speakers, and many of their words passed into the English vocabulary. Between the years 1100 and 1500, over 10,000 French words were absorbed into English. The new social hierarchy after the takeover explains why some of the newly introduced words diverged somewhat from the French originals. The Frenchman's request (demande) was to the suborned English a "demand", and the Frenchman's house (maison) was to the English eye a "mansion".

That is not to say that it is an easy task to blend these two languages, baking them in a kiln for a few minutes and pouring out a gleaming alloy. To begin with, none of the necessary research has been undertaken. What we especially lack are inventories of the English and French lexicons organized with a view to finding which items have equivalent application & are therefore interchangeable.

For instance, la neige and the snow correspond in that they refer to the same substance or event — therefore they are interchangeable terms. Likewise, mourir and to die. So, le guerrier meurt dans la neige and the warrior dies in the snow have the same meaning; so likewise do the warrior dies dans la neige, le guerrier meurt in the snow, le warrior meurt in the neige, and so on — three dozen combinations can be achieved without changing the word order. All of the components are interchangeable, all versions describe the same event and have the same applicability.