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Vous parlez chiac? Crazy!

David Dufour, Communications Coordinator
Language Technologies Research Centre


"J'suis right tanné," "c'est boring à soir," "j'aimerais still, qu'on pourrait tous seriously (…)" are all examples of phrases that you might hear in southeastern New Brunswick. If you pay close attention to French‑language radio stations, you will notice that a number of artists, from Lisa LeBlanc and Marie‑Jo Thério to the Hay Babies and others, express themselves in this way. Chiac is resurfacing in many public places and gradually shedding the once‑taboo reputation it had thirty years ago. Since I have a grandmother from New Brunswick, I decided to research Chiac to fully understand this linguistic phenomenon native to the Maritimes. This subject, however, can sometimes lead us down a slippery slope; so, in order to be as objective as possible, I consulted a few scientific papers and interviewed Matthieu LeBlanc, professor at the University of Moncton.

What is Chiac?

Clearly, the definition varies depending on one's point of view, but according to Marie‑Ève Perrot, who wrote her doctoral thesis on Chiac, it can be defined as "the integration and transformation of English lexical, syntactic, morphological, and phonetic forms into French structures" [Free translation from French]. In other words, English (words, forms, etc.) is inserted into French structure. We could counter that the French spoken by Franco‑Ontarians or Franco‑Manitobans is similarly constructed, but Chiac has its own rules that make it unique and quite difficult to imitate. Besides having its own accent and particular sound, Chiac has strict and unique lexical rules. For example, the English must be inserted in the right place, or you may come across as an imposter or a wannabe Chiac. The term "Chiac" may be a derivation of Shediac, a town in southeastern New Brunswick; however, this is merely speculation and cannot be proven today. One thing is certain: Chiac definitely originated in minority Acadian communities in New Brunswick.

Sense of identity or assimilation?

Chiac's presence gives rise to a very polarized linguistic debate. On the one hand, some critics claim that Chiac is leading to the assimilation, weakening, and even creolization of the French language. On the other hand, some see Chiac simply as another variety of French, something that affirms the Acadian identity and should not be hidden, because it has existed for a long time now. Chiac possesses a unique character that allows its speakers, first of all, to fight English domination because it is a form of French, and secondly, to resist "standard" French, which often imposes its linguistic conventions on a group of people instead of letting them maintain their authenticity.

New Brunswick has officially been a bilingual province since 1969, and it is currently the only one in Canada. Although this is an important accomplishment, many Acadians are still very worried about the status of French in their province. Professor LeBlanc adds: "We must not rest on our laurels: linguistic battles often resurface because the fight will never be won for good" [Free translation from French]. A number of young Acadians are sometimes pessimistic about the future of French in New Brunswick. Marie‑Ève Perrot's study published in Francophonies d'Amérique elaborates on some of these concerns: "(…) we are going to be assimilated if this continues / like / you go to the mall and you start talking in English but that's not what you should do / you should talk in French" [Free translation from French].1

The fragile state of Acadian French, caused by its distance from Quebec and closeness to the United States, requires ingenuity on the part of leaders, who must come up with new ideas to keep the language going strong. In schools, French is imposed on students in the hope that they will use it more regularly in their everyday lives. Unfortunately, this rule sometimes produces the opposite effect: "(…) here you go / on va still parler en français / l'école nous laisse pas écouter de musique anglaise / ça met freedom of rights / freedom of speech dans la bill of rights / (…) ça devrait être la freedom de la langue tu veux parler dedans / on est pas à la jail icitte." Nevertheless,2 Professor LeBlanc stresses the fact that the rate of assimilation of francophones is much lower in New Brunswick than in Ontario or western Canada.

Both the emergence of Acadian artists and the enthusiasm each year surrounding National Acadian Day show that pride in the French language and culture is very real and that, every day, people are fighting for language equality in this picturesque Maritime province. Each and every day, Acadians use their ingenuity to find ways to keep their culture alive, for example by building strong institutions that will survive changing economic and political conditions. For an example of this force of character, I recommend you watch the documentary On a tué l'enfant Jésus (www) English Hyperlink Notice (in French only), which talks about how Acadians fought to keep the Caraquet hospital—an important institution for the population—open. This fight was significant because the greatest danger for a minority is the loss of its institutions, which are both symbols for the community and essential landmarks in an ever‑changing world.

Back to remark 11 Marie‑Ève Perrot, "Statut et fonction symbolique du chiac : analyse de discours épilinguistiques," Francophonies d'Amérique 22 (2006): 143.
Back to remark 22 Ibid., 147