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A difference in words

July 18, 2009

Sometime, it probably doesn’t show so well I’m a native French speaker. Let’s be honest: when it comes to the written form, I’ve used english far more regularly than French these past several years. I’ve even been known to “think” in english (eg, formulate my ideas in english before writing them down or saying), although that usually depends on what I’m thinking about. My notebooks have been known to swtich freely from one language to another when I’m tired.

At the end of the day, however (as I already briefly mentioned in the fourth part of the New Haven story), I’m just not an English speaker. It’s a tool, and a tool I’m relatively comfortable working with, a tool I like using, even – but that’s all it is and all it remains. There’s just no deep emotional attachment to english, no profound feelings related to that language. It’s useful. I like it. But that’s all.

French, on the other hand…

French is home. It doesn’t matter where I’ve been, it doesn’t matter how long I’ve been gone, it doesn’t matter how easy it was for me to understand people around me on my trip (or whether I was elsewhere in Canada or in the States). When I hear those first few words of French on my way back from a trip, when someobody finally says something in a Quebec accent – perhaps even let out a heart-felt “tabarnak” or “ostie” in a waiting line at the airport…it’s the moment I know I’ve left the adventure behind, and am finally coming home. It’s the moment where that slight but ever-present tension of being a stranger in a strange land wash away, the moment where I can lean back in a seat, relax and smile. The journey might not be over yet, but that doesn’t matter – I’m back with my people now.

It’s akin, on a far larger scale to the feeling I always feel when, after a long drive from wherever in Quebec, I spy that first glimpse of mount Saint-Hilaire on the horizon, or when we cross the Saint-François river at Drummondville and enters the plains of Montérégie, or when past a twist in the road and a break in the trees the sparkle of the Richelieu river appears. That plain, that mountain, that river, are a fundamental part of me.

French, in the end, is written deep in my bones. It’s not a language I use, it’s my language, my people’s language. Wherever someone (else) speaks Quebec French, I can feel a little at home.

I like English well enough. It’s a flexible language where French isn’t nearly so much; and more concise too. It’s a powerful tool in the modern world, and it open doors I would not close again for all the world. I have no intention to stop using it; or to switch this blog or any of my other writings to French.

But no matter how much I like it, no matter how useful it is, it remains a foreign language.

(N.B. I said Quebec French for a reason. France French is just another language I happen to understand, to me).

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