Weekend Acadians

By: | Post date: September 2, 2009 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Countries

I’ve left this post so long (a month!), it’s funny; funnier still that I’ve already said much of what I was going to say in it, in the preamble that ended up as a separate posting. Still, I’m reaching the end of my current backlog of Canadiana—and I’m not finding Angry French Guy’s latest inspiring enough to provoke more this fortnight. Besides, as my Gentle Readers remind me, it’s more interesting when I write about something I know about, than about something I don’t.

So. When I was quizzing Acajack about the complexities of North vs. South New Brunswick Acadians, he brought up another phenomenon, somewhat related to it. My query was about more vs. less assimilated Acadians, and how the tension between the two makes the concept of Acadianness itself up for debate. Acajack brought up the extreme outcome of this debate: fully assimilated Acadians, and whether they can set the agenda of Acadianness on their unassimilated counterparts.

Acajack is delightfully level-headed and well-informed. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a bias; sure he does, it’s impossible not to have a bias about these things. This post is particularly maladroit, in that I accept his report of what has happened, but I don’t like his reading of it. That’s maladroit, because he’s there and I’m not, and he knows what he’s talking about and I don’t. In all likelihood, he’s right, and I just don’t want him to be right.

But I’ll reproduce the chain of facts he reported first.

  • Acadianness traditionally has been about speaking French. In fact, the French-Canadian identities have long centred around speaking French, especially once Quebec went urban and secular. (I don’t know whether the Acadians have gone as urban and secular; I suspect not.)
  • Chiac to my ears is still basically French. It’s self-consciously bad French (the phone number for the fictional Chiac pour les dummies is 1-800-PARLMAL [TALKBAD]), but it’s French. So Chiac vs. Acadian does not illustrate the division I’m about to get into, but it informs it.
  • The Acadian World Congress convenes every four years, to bring together the Acadian diaspora. (Of course diasporas can have diasporas of their own.)
  • The Cajuns are descended from Acadians, so they should be involved at the Acadian World Congress.
  • A lot of Cajuns no longer speak any French—Cajun, Acadian, Chiac, Joual, or Rive Gauche. They’re proud of their Cajun heritage, but they speak English.
  • This is awkward to Acadians, because they have defined themselves in Acadia as the French-speakers, and the Acadian World Congress was a place where it was safe to celebrate French-speaker–hood. But eventually they relented: the Cajuns could come, even if they didn’t speak French.
  • The debate about whether to allow English in the Acadian World Congress would have been informed by the split between North and South New Brunswick—Brayon land and Chiac land. In the south, where French is spoken by a third of the population and not 98%, Acadian identity is constructed differently, and does not necessarily assume speaking French as definitional to it.
  • That contention came up in the forums of Acadieman (Acadians debating a Quebecois on the appropriateness of promoting Acadia through a Chiac-speaking slacker, rather than a more “authentic” Acadian).
  • Canada has assimilated anglophones of French-Canadian origin. Not a whole lot in Quebec, but a lot of them in Rest Of Canada, including New Brunswick.
  • Anglophones of French-Canadian descent are vehement in asserting anglophone identity: Union Jacks, portraits of Queen Elizabeth, letters to the editor about Quebec. [I could have put that in the opinion column, but I don’t see a reason to contest it.]
  • So there are anglophones of Acadian descent. To be contentious, I will call them Anglo-Acadians. (It should be obvious why that’s contentious.)
  • After the Cajuns came to the World Acadian Congress, Anglo-Acadians turned up to Acadian cultural events, and wanted to be involved.
  • They did not speak French.
  • They did not learn French, and did not believe they should have to speak French, in order to be involved in Acadian cultural events.

The extra opinions Acajack contributed to that skeleton are:

  • In the South, being Acadian is becoming a heritage identity, and marginalised (“ethnic”), rather than a hegemony and default identity, expressed in French (“social”).
  • In the south Acadians know a lot of anglophones, and a lot of anglophones of Acadian descent—some of them are their family members. Which is why South New Brunswick is more sanguine about Anglo-Acadians.
  • The Anglo-Acadians started showing up to Acadian events because the Cajuns made it cool to.
  • The Anglo-Acadian participation is superficial, because they’re unwilling to make the extra effort of learning French: they’re engaging on their own terms.

That’s my summary, but you can check it against the original.

All this is plausible; the last bit bothers me. In fact, I went fishing for the last bit, because it bothered me, and got Acajack to restate it explicitly.

On the one hand, it makes sense that Acadian events should be a safe haven for the French language, particularly in the south. Acadians are entitled to be annoyed at violating that safe haven, when the focus of their identity is language. That kind of censure is commonplace; I’m reminded of me rolling my eyes at Greek-Americans, or the next generation of Greek-Australians, who cannot speak Greek. I’m reminded of the Esperanto censure against “crocodiling”.

“Crocodiling” (krokodilado) is when someone in an Esperanto club uses a language other than Esperanto. (I was going to say “uses a natural language”, but it’d be just as applicable if you started bellowing Klingon drinking songs. taHjaj wo’, ghuycha’!) Of course, you’ll likely be using the local vernacular when you do crocodile, so it’s not like the communicative function of language is not being met. But the image is apt of a crocodile, chomping up the safe haven. This is Esperanto territory. Speaking English there profanes that.

So from that viewpoint, I’m with the Acadians. (Or, if I’m being obnoxious, the Franco-Acadians.) Moreover, it’s not like the Anglo-Acadians have a clean slate: they assimilated, they overtly sided with the colonialist. And Acajack did use the term “sold out” (= vendus) at one point, though apologetically, so he does have his own reaction to that. There are reasons why the unassimilated kin of the Anglo-Acadians look on them with suspicion.

On the other hand, the Anglo-Acadians are not walking into a solid, “icitte on parle Joual” Quebec. (Not that even Quebec is that solid.) They’re walking into a debate between north and south, on whether language is the definition of Acadianness. And I’d imagine the south takes their side. And for better or worse, the Anglo-Acadians will now contribute to the debate; just as the Cajuns did. Long-term, maybe for the worse, maybe New Brunswick turns into Maine. Maybe Prince Edward Island already has.

(I’ve borrowed a book on Prince Edward Acadian phonology, coz it was in English, and had a sociolinguistic preface. I’ll report back on what I find. And yes, I can read French, but only if I absolutely have to, and the books the library had on Quebecois and Acadian were not fascinating enough to compel it.)

There is something superficial about rocking up as a weekend Acadian. Given the past, there’s something ungracious about it. Yet I still think Acajack’s take is unsympathetic—though I admit, I goaded him into it. You can construct a more sympathetic take: the Cajuns raised awareness among Anglo-Acadians of Acadian cultural functions. They already knew they existed, but the Cajuns gave them a hint they might be welcome after all, even if they didn’t speak French. And they went along, cluelessly, without enough humility or atonement, without knowing that really, they were walking into a safe haven for Acadian French. (And more damagingly, from what Acajack reports, without wanting to realise it when they did walk in.) But I’m not convinced that they didn’t go along sincerely, and I’m not convinced that they don’t belong there.

I think Acajack’s take unsympathetic, mainly because I wasn’t thinking only of Esperantists or Greeks, but also about the Irish. And Australian Aborigines, who have had their language taken away from them, and who all too frequently react with discourses of purity, and reject those insufficiently like them. As I have meandered elsewhere.

It’s not the same as Acadia, not at all; that’s just my wires getting crossed. The pain of the Irish or the First Australians is real enough to be debilitating; the Anglo-Acadians surrendered their language long ago, get hegemony out of it, and now just show up to Acadian do’s on the weekend. Maybe they just did it because the Cajuns Made It Cool; but after all the history of Anglo-French relations in Canada, how Cool can it really be to be an Anglo-Acadian? Maybe, I surmise, there’s a pang there as well, in some of the Anglo-Acadians, of what they have lost. I’m not there, I don’t know anything about it; but maybe there’s some of that.

I’ll close with something ungracious, and then try to make up for it. I was catching up on Angry French Guy past postings, because I’m not finding the latest batch as interesting to me. Acajack said something that stopped me in my tracks, that explains Australian multiculturalism, but that I think also illuminates what could happen in the Acadian identity debate, now the Anglo-Acadians have claimed a seat at the congress table.

And this is why people of diverse origins who have come to live among us are the real instigators of change. They are the ones who diversify the definition of what it means to be Québécois by defining the Québécois identity as their own. In a sense, they *force* the majority into it.

Faced with so many people with various degrees of melatonin (thanks Fon, I love that formulation) who claim to be Québécois (or whatever… Canadian, American, etc.), the majority is coerced, often subtly and unknowingly, into altering its definition of the “national” identity.

First… wow. That’s so spot on.

Second: It’s ungracious to use the rhetoric of an inclusive Quebec against the survival of Acadian distinctiveness. In fact, it’s inapplicable, because Acadia is not a nation the way Quebec is. The most gracious I can get, to make up for it, is to admit that the sentiment is right for Quebec and Australia, but will probably destroy Acadianness (at least in the south, where there are Anglo-Acadians precisely because Acadianness is more precarious there). And there, it should be—not combatted exactly, but guarded against.

Maybe get that guy to write Chiac pour les dummies after all…


  • Anonymous says:

    The words "Québec" and "Québécois" have absolutely no identity-based resonance for Canada's francophones living outside of Quebec. This is even true of the groups to the west of Quebec (Franco-Ontarians, Franco-Manitobans, etc.) that are for the most part predominantly made up of people of Quebec origin. Minority francophones in Canada have taken note that the Québécois have adopted a territorially-based identity, and adjusted themselves accordingly.

    Of course, this doesn't mean that they still don't have a lot in common with people in Quebec. Everything from slang to jokes to songs is very similar, and there is not that much authentically Franco-Ontarian or Franco-Manitoban stuff out there in the way of movies, music, TV, etc. Acadians, who are numerically smaller than Franco-Ontarians, are somewhat better organized and would have a bit more stuff developed. But even in Acadia a lot of the TV, movies, music, books, etc. is from Quebec.

    Because of the small size of these communities, it is difficult for them to produce their own stuff, and the degree of take-up of Quebec cultural products is usually determined by a community or person's degree of anglicization. Francophones outside Quebec will generally consume Quebec popular culture OR Anglo North American popular culture.

    Quebec popular culture (with local Acadian variants) could be said to be the local mainstream in northwestern (Edmundston, Madawaska) and northeastern (Caraquet, Shippigan, Neguac) New Brunswick. You can tell this just by watching Quebec TV and where constestants and guests on programs show up from. People from NW and NE New Brunswick show up all the time.

    In areas where the population in NB is more mixed between anglos and francos (north-central NB around Campbellton and Bathurst, and the southeast around Moncton), there is more cultural slippage towards Anglo North American TV, movies, music, magazines, books, etc. This is not to say that stuff in French is absent – its penetration can vary from family to family. But it's not the mainstream -even within the francophone Acadian community itself – like it would be in northeast and northwest.

    Francophone Quebec culture is also close to being mainstream (though perhaps not as strongly as in Caraquet and Edmundston) in some parts of Ontario in the southeast (Hawkesbury, Casselman) and in the north (Hearst). These places are pretty homogenously francophone.

    However, in nearby places with large populations of francophones but which are majority anglo (Ottawa, Cornwall, Timmins, Sudbury), most of the Franco-Ontarians prefer stuff in English, often almost exclusively.


  • opoudjis says:

    Acajack, I humbly (honest!) thank you for stopping by, (a) because all of us need another blog to comment on like a hole in the head (if it helps, I'm close to running out of steam on Franco-Canada for now), and (b) because I really am speaking out of pure ignorance, and am forcing you to apply the clue-stick yet again, instead of me shutting up and reading some more.

    I'd gathered that Brayon was separate from the rest of North New Brunswick, and wasn't quite Acadian, but hadn't figured out the relative balance. I brought up to Brayon country as a rhetorical counterpart to Moncton (and so to stand in for North NB), whereas of course the point of Brayon is it's its own enclave. In some way I can't hear, Brayon is at an angle to the North–South divide, then. They clearly don't identify as Quebecois on the NB side of the border then; I wonder if they see Quebec like Monctonians do…

    With the bit you quoted, I was taking the standpoint of modern assimilated Acadians, not their ancestors who assimilated or were assimilated. The contemporary "Anglo-Acadians" didn't choose the privilege of belonging to the Anglophone majority, just as I didn't choose the privilege of whiteness. But they have benefited from it all the same (from what I extrapolated you as saying), which is why them choosing to go to Acadian functions is still noteworthy. Still you're right, what I said implies it was a willing and conscious trade off, and it wasn't.

  • Anonymous says:

    I need another blog to comment on like I need a hole in my head, but just a few points here…

    – To add another complexity to French-speaking Canada and the New Brunswick incarnation of the creature, I have to tell you that your use of Brayon to describe all of northern New Brunswick is inaccurate. Brayons are only from the extreme northwest corner of New Brunswick, around Edmundston, St-Léonard, etc. The Brayon identity also spills over into a few neighbouring towns in Maine that, believe it or not, are still mainly French-speaking today. (To my knowledge though, the Brayon identity is virtually absent from nearby areas of Quebec along Route 185 (Témiscouata region), where people primarily identify as Québécois.

    But as for the pseudo-mythical République du Madawaska region (Edmundston and environs plus the U.S. side), people there are divided identity-wise between the Brayon identity and the larger Acadian identity. Some identify with both, others say they are only Brayon others are only Acadian.

    Note that this region of New Brunswick is one of only two in the province to have had significant settlement by people from Quebec. So the population in the northwest of NB is really a mix of people of Acadian and Québécois descent. Often times the identity is related to family roots. People with typical Acadian names like Landry will identify as Acadians, whereas people with Quebec names like Pelletier tend to identify more as Brayons. Curiously enough, accents tend to vary as well, with neighbours whose families have lived side by side in Edmundston for more than a century having either Acadian or Quebec-sounding accents.

    (I have noticed this accent disparity as well on the south coast of the Gaspésie in Quebec. Some people there sound just like Acadians, whereas their neighbours have the same accent you find elsewhere in Quebec.)

    The other region heavily settled by Québec is along Route 17 in the middle of the woods around the town of St-Quentin. People there primarily identify as Acadians however. And the Acadian identity is dominant as you move east and south from there, from Campbellton through Bathurst, Caraquet, Tracadie, Bouctouche all the way down to Moncton and environs.

    But perhaps 15% of the francophone population in NB is not Acadian, and if you are observant you will notice that savvy politicians will often refer to "les francophones du Nouveau-Brunswick" in speeches, as opposed to lumping everyone together as Acadians.

    Now, a quote:
    "the Anglo-Acadians surrendered their language long ago, get hegemony out of it, and now just show up to Acadian do's on the weekend."

    Just a quick point to say that most modern-day Acadians didn't necessarily make the choice to abandon French themselves. Either their ancestors made that choice willingly, or they were coerced or forced to do so.


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