I ended my previous post wondering HOW the participants of the original Éloge du chiac “still identify themselves as French first and foremost.” It turns out that Part 2, which is more than three times the length of the original Éloge, doesn’t totally answer that question. Granted, there is a shocker in finding out that the proudest self-proclaimed Acadian Chiac 40 years ago, who went on to become very militant in his early adulthood, has basically given up the cause today. But as I think about it, I realize that my question was largely irrelevant and revealed more about my preconceived notions of what this documentary would be about. In fact, Part 2 goes much further in that it examines what the state of chiac is today, namely how it has morphed, how it’s perceived, and how it ties into the notion of identity.
I think it’s fair to say that, although it still has a distinct sound and still contains many so-called archaic words — like harde instead of “linge” (clothes) or éloize instead of “éclair” (lightening) — it has sadly (at least to me) become more “franglais.” But as one of today’s teenagers in Part 2 muses, perhaps the fact that a form of “chiac” still exists is enough to resist a complete abdication to English. It’s still a resistence of sorts.
A shortened version of Part 2 airs on Radio Canada in the Atlantic region on Sunday, October 18 at 7:30 pm.
My sister was not quite 14 in May 1968. She, along with other teenagers from Moncton, participated in a short NFB documentary called L’éloge du chiac about the virtues and demerits of chiac, the particular way French is spoken among Acadians in southeastern New Brunswick. Forty years later, those same participants, including the young (at the time) teacher, were brought back together for L’éloge du chiac Part 2 whose premiere is happening tonight at the NFB in Montréal and to which I’m heading in a few moments.
Just so you understand, chiac is fundamentally French, peppered with archaic French words and contemporary English words, as well as hybrids verbs from English made to sound French (as in j’ai crossé la rue for I crossed the street). No one in my immediate family ever spoke hardcore chiac, although my cousins just a few yards down the street certainly did. But, I must admit, in the original Éloge, my sister definitely had a chiac lilt that I don’t hear anymore.
I found it interesting viewing L’éloge again after so many years, in particular the way my sister at that age already affirmed herself as being Acadian, whereas it took me moving to Montréal in my 40s to finally fully assume my Acadian identity rather than thinking of myself as a French Canadian cultural mutt. But also fascinating to me was to learn that my sister, who now principally lives in French, recognized that, at 13, she spoke French only at home and in school. She declared:
My family is French; we’re from Québec. Me, though, I’m Acadian, so I’m not going to start speaking English with my parents! My mother hardly knows any English; I pretty well have to speak my French. But with others, I can admit that I always speak English.
That’s the thin edge of the wedge: trying to live in French in a town that’s predominently English-speaking, where two of the three TV stations were English and the only French radio station was Radio-Canada. It’s easy to see how assimilation could take hold back then. Moreover, back in 1968, Moncton was far from hospitable towards French. This was the era of the anti-French/anti-bilingual Mayor Jones. It was the era when French-speaking cashiers at the Eaton’s department store were strictly forbidden to speak French at work, even with customers whom they knew spoke only French (like my mother). It’s very clear in the original film that there was a sense of inferiority among these teens about the French they spoke. But without hesitation, I can say that today, whatever shred of vibrancy Moncton has is in large part because Acadians stood up and took pride in their culture and their language, thus throwing a splash of colour in an otherwise drab cultural landscape.
Is chiac “good French”? I’d have to say No in the strict sense of what that phrase implies. But it is a sign of a people’s determination to survive and to preserve much more than a symbolic link with who and where they come from. And what I look forward to seeing in Part 2 of Éloge is how, 40 years later, these Moncton teenagers of the late ’60s still identify themselves as French first and foremost despite having had to struggle to keep hold of that language and culture.