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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Friday, June 21, 2013

"Welcome to the Sticks"

Last week I was looking through the TV movie offering for the night when I saw "Welcome to the Sticks" Since where I live has often been referred to as the sticks, I thought it might interest me. I read the two line blurb about it and realized I know this movie. I learned  about it when I was researching about the Picard language.   It is a very popular French film, " Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis". It is a comedy  about a Paris postal worker being transferred north to the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region to a small town near Dunkirk, Bergues.  He does not want to go to this area for many inaccurate reasons. He reluctantly goes and ends up really liking it.

In this region of France, historically the people did not speak French. They spoke Picard another Romance language related to French.  Across Northern France Picard is still a spoken language. It has other regional dialects such as Walloon. The Belgian "French" are known as Walloons. In France much of this Northern Region has been know as Picardy and most of of Belgium "French" area, Wallonia.  In the area of Picardy where the postal worker is sent the Picard speaking people speak a dialect know as Ch'ti. They are called this name and southerners also refer to them as Cheutimi.  It is all very confusing. There are even other more local dialects or patois.spoken.

This is a very funny little film which is one of the most successful films in France. It has been adapted to Spain and Italy  using the regional and language differences in those countries.  The story could well be adapted to Ontario. People is Toronto, the South, often refer to the North as the area of cottage country up to 75 miles north of the city. Beyond that and into Northern Ontario, the real North, is a wasteland for them. It is the  sticks and many wonder why anyone would want to leave in that marginal world beyond easy reach of the city. Like in the film they see Northern Ontario as cold and wet and the people are ill educated and many do not speak English but French or even Ojibwa/Cree. Perhaps, someone will write a Canadian version of this funny story.

Language fascinates me in spite of the fact that I have never mastered a second language. I believe it is true that  "Culture is Language". With many languages around the world going extinct, I think it is important to try to preserve minority languages and even minority regional dialects.  

In France, not everyone speaks French in spite of there being  only one Constitutionally mandated language in that country. In recent times, with pressure from the European Union, France has made some modest efforts to support or at least allow regional minority languages short of giving them official status. In French, there are about 75  regional dialects  including minority languages within France and it's overseas territories. Within France alone there are 24 such regional languages.  Picardy, I have mentioned. There is Norman, which was brought to England and for a few centuries was know as Anglo-Norman, the language the wealth and well educated spoke. There is also Breton which is not a Romance language. It is Celtic. There is also in the south Occitan which had a well developed literature even before there was France. At the time of the French Revolution only about 1/2 of the French citizens spoke French and as late as the 1870's only about 1/4 spoke French as their mother tongue.  It has long been the policy of France to suppress minority languages and make only French from the Paris region the one an only official language.  It is an interesting list of languages of France, each with a story and a cultural significance.  I encourage you to explore the language map of France and google about the minority languages. many are at risk of disappearing.

 Click on map to enlarge.

The United States, like France, strongly supports the notion of their being only one official language. In recent years with the increase in Spanish speakers some states have even chosen to make it law that only one language is used in business, the law, and politics.  It is my contention that this is wrong headed. The United States is de facto a bilingual country. They should embrace this and accept the added richness that a second culture would bring. There are so many Spanish speaker in the US that it is possible to live in Spanish in many communities. The Spanish speakers are more reluctant that other immigrants to totally identify with American English culture because of their numbers and that they have so many Spanish speaking countries along the Southern Borders that they can relate to.  I have always found it sad that French speakers in the New England were made to feel ashamed of their language and culture. Many had come from Canada to work in the mills of New England. Some historically were rooted in the lumber industry in the North and passed easily back and forth with the industry in Quebec and New Brunswick.  There are also people of French origin in New England of French Huguenot  protestants who were prevented from going the French  Catholic North America. The Acadian French in Louisiana hang on locally and contribute their rich culture to that part of the US. There are even other language and cultural groups in the US such as German speaker, but in spite of hanging on culturally they are at risk of disappearing culturally.

As a Canadian I am glad Canada has taken another approach to minority language and culture.  For years, the policy was much like that of the United States. French in Quebec was a special case but even their French Canadians were made to feel second class. When Canada, under the threat of Quebec Separation, established the policy of official bilingualism and biculturalism, only a few decades ago, we moved in this different direction which  not only supports more tolerance but also makes available to us all more culturally rich experiences. 

In some regions of Canada governments have taken up the challenge and tried to follow the Federal governments lead and even move beyond it. Political areas of the North such as the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut have 5 to 7 Official languages and conduct official business in them all:: English, French, 2 Inuit languages, and several other aboriginal languages.  In some Provinces, education in minority languages is increasingly more available, and government services are available in the 2 official languages. In the courts, federally, one can demand they be conducted in French or English. Translators are available for other languages.

The French out side of Quebec were written off by the Quebecois Separatists. They did nothing to reach out to French Canadians outside of Quebec. It was the majority of Canadians through the Federal Government and the Provincial and local governments who came to support these minority French Communities strengthening the use of the French language, cultural institutions and French schools and universities. Even bilingual signage, which my friend Lynne continues to point out as a waste of money, particularly when virtually every French Canadian in my area is bilingual. Not to  mentions two small high schools, one French and one bilingual.. Such support of French culture and language is not for convenience it is for respect for the community and its culture.  In my village, in spite of the fact that all French speakers are bilingual we conduct all meetings in both languages. If convenience was the test they could be conducted in English, which everyone understands.  In the long run, to do so, would just help doom the minority language even in areas like mine where it is in fact the majority language.

When minority languages disappear a regional population loses its culture by denying it the sharing of a past but also stopping it from creating a future in it own voice. Of course, with fewer languages and cultures we are all deprived of the richness of human civilization. "Welcome to the Sticks" is a film about tolerance, acceptance and the joy of sharing in another culture.  It was fun to watch, Oh how I wish I could watch and understand in in French.


At 9:16 p.m., Blogger Anvilcloud said...

Maybe you could learn French? I started to try but realized that my hearing is so bad that it is too late.

Excellent post. Provocative.

At 3:34 a.m., Blogger Gattina said...

Long time I haven't been here !
The movie was just wonderful I think I saw it several times and still we laughed because it is so true ! The "Belgian" French of the Waloons dies slowly, only old people can still speak it but it's not at all in use anymore. Despite the fact that they try to keep it alive !

At 9:53 a.m., Blogger judie said...

Interesting post about language Phillip. I have not seen that movie, of course. But...if where you live is "the sticks", you are one lucky stick man!

Chuckled at your comment about the seasonal pairing pattern keeping osprey romance alive. Humans should try that!

At 6:46 p.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

You've peaked my interest Philip. I will see if Netflox has the film.


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