Chiac is not Franglais. But is it “bad French”?

Emma Jacobs, Paris-based multimedia journalist for Public Radio International, has produced a great radio doc on Chiac, the peculiar mixture of Acadian French and English spoken by many New Brunswickers, especially young people.

Chiac is not to be confused with Franglais, the jocular use of a few French nouns and verbs while speaking English and observing English grammar. Rather, it uses French grammar, conjugation, and gender, but includes a lot of English nouns and verbs, along with a few archaic French and Mi’kmaq terms.

It is viewed with affection by some New Brunswickers, disapprobation by others, contempt by French speakers from other provinces and countries.

“We have a saying,” said retired New Brunswick cabinet minister Bernard Richard, a native of Cap-Pelé. “‘We learn French but we catch English….’ So it’s almost like a cold or the ‘flu.”

When Acadian filmmaker Chris LeBlanc produced a documentary about bullying in schools, some school boards initially refused to show it because it included teenagers speaking Chiac—i.e. bad French.

As Jacobs points out:

A couple of things contribute to the idea that Chiac is “bad French.” First of all, French speakers are expected to position themselves toward what’s spoken in France much more than English speakers do to, say, England. North American english also broke away from Europe a long time ago—same thing—but we’re not taught British accents.

Then Chiac is in the middle of an incredibly complicated, sometimes tense, relationship between French and Engilish in Canada. Canada has French language purists trying to protect the their language against the ubiquity of english in North America

I wonder if there isn’t a parallel documentary to be written about the mixture of English and Mi’kmaq spoken by many young Mi’kmaw.

Jacobs’ piece is well worth a listen:

[Click here if the audio link does not appear.]

Thanks to Gus Reed for pointing this out.