Thursday, July 21, 2005

Language attitude

I've been learning to speak franglais. For the most part, it's been a fairly unconscious process, but some aspects are deliberate.

We live in a predominantly French-speaking neighbourhood. Many well-rehearsed phrases from high school classes have come in handy, for example, when buying stamps. I learned early on, however, in retail and service counter situations, to play up my accent to ensure that I wasn't mistaken for bilingual. My "effort" to speak French would be acknowledged, and the other half of the conversation would slow down a little, use a simpler vocabulary, sometimes even slip into English.

Then I had a French baby. Bilingual, really. But French is Helena's language of choice, the easy one, the one that sees her through the business of daily life — French is the language she speaks. I speak to her in English, and I choose to believe she fully comprehends what I say.

Inevitably, I've taken on plenty of her utterances (and rudimentary grammar), incorporating her words into my speech. Voila: franglais.

One of the difficulties in language switching is accent switching. The words tumble out, but the mouth has trouble shaping itself accurately around the now doubled number of subtle sounds required.

While J-F revels in mocking the accents of English speakers, he knows better in my presence and won't risk my never uttering a French word again.

I show Helena the new pyjamas I bought for her, remarking how soft the fabric is, what lovely pantalons with all the pink fleurs. I heard myself saying it, tired, lips and tongue unable to move in French.

"C'est des fleurs, Mama. Pas flewhaah." There's a glint in her eye. She's mocking me.

How did I come to give birth to a French perfectionist?
(Oh, yeah: J-F[French] + me[perfectionist])
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