Arts, Culture & Media

Purists don't like this mix of Acadian French and English, but it may be helping the French language in Canada

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Acadieman is a French Acadian superhero (or perhaps anti-superhero) who speaks Chiac. 

Credit:

Courtesy Dano LeBlanc

Here's a linguistic recipe.

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Take French grammar and syntax and add English verbs. Take English verbs and conjugate them like French verbs. Sprinkle in the vocabulary of 17th century French settlers to French Acadia. Translate an English idiom literally to French. That's Chiac.

That’s how you’ll get sentences like, "J'ai backé mon car dans la driveway."

Chiac emerged naturally from close contact between French and English speakers that goes all the way back to the colonial period. Chiac speakers with the common last names, Leblanc and Daigle, descend from the early French settlers who have preserved their culture against formidable odds. In the deportation of 1755, the British evicted 10,000 Acadians, many of whom later returned to a world now dominated by English.

Their descendants speak Chiac, but ideally not too much of it — the boundaries are subtle, informed by fears about the erosion of French culture.

While activists and politicians have fought to carve out space for French in New Brunswick, artists and musicians have led an evolving conversation about where Chiac fits in a regional identity.

For Dano Leblanc, the Acadian band “1755” made him aware in high school that he used a vocabulary he wouldn’t hear on French television.

“They had lyrics that were in Chiac and, you know, suddenly it was written down, you know, in the lyric sheet and the album and you could see it and suddenly became really self-conscious of the way we spoke.”

As an adult, he put Chiac on television, spoken by the animated superhero Acadieman.

The show aired not just in New Brunswick, but elsewhere in Canada.

In France, stop signs read "Stop."  In Quebec, they read "Arrêt.” In New Brunswick, both words appear on stop signs. 

Credit:

Emma Jacobs

Chiac has in fact never been higher-profile than today, with Chiac musicians Lisa LeBlanc and Radio Radio touring France and Quebec.

“We get from other provinces [that] you're destroying your French,” says Marie Annick-Bisson, who knows LeBlanc and has followed her growing success. “It's like, well, if we can manage to speak a good French to other people who actually speak French and we speak Chiac amongst ourselves, then what's the problem?”

In this episode, we pose that question to the region’s best-known writer, France Daigle, to members of the hip-hop act Radio Radio, to politicians and to parents.

PODCAST CONTENTS

00:30 A spin of the radio dial in Moncton, New Brunswick.

1:00 Canada is chock-full of language policies, at provincial, territory and city level. 

2:35 Chiac is not Franglais. 

Credit:

Courtesy Dano LeBlanc

3:25 "Je prends un large double Americano our sortir."

5:20 Should a public-service movie about teenage bullying in Moncton include dialogue in Chiac?

6:50 Is Chiac "bad French"?

7:50 The "Stop" sign in New Brunswick. 

9:00 Some Acadian history: why Moncton sits on a linguistic border. 

10:30 Language rights protests of the 1960s

13:30 Musician Gabriel Malenfant struggled at school to learn academic French. 

15:31 Dano LeBlanc and a friend dream up "Acadieman."

Caroline Savoie performing in Cap-Pelé, New Brunswick. 

Credit:

Caroline Savoie

17:00 Singer Caroline Savoie wonders why she was subtitled by French TV. 

19:25 How much Chiac is too much Chiac?

19:35 Novelist France Daigle uses formal French in her narration but her character often speak in Chiac.

23:13 Politician Bernard Richard: "We have a saying: 'We learn French but we catch English.'"  

27:25 "Ah papa, j'ai entendu il y a un nouveau jeu qui sort. Puis, il est pretty awesome."

Here's a different version of the story that aired on The World radio show...

MUSIC HEARD IN THE PODCAST

00:00 Podington Bear: Dramamine

13:48 adio Radio: Guess What?

15:03 1755: C.B. Buddie

17:52 Lisa LeBlanc: J'pas un Cowboy 

18:48 Lisa Leblanc: Aujourd'hui, ma vie c'est d'la marde 

25:16 Radio Radio: Cliché Hot 

29:36 Lisa LeBlanc: Kraft Dinner 

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National Endowment for the Humanities

With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities