Glendon linguistics and language studies Professor Raymond Mougeon, director of Glendon’s Centre for Research on Language Contact (CRLC), and York Professor Ruth King of the Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics are co-investigators on a seven-year, $2.5-million project to examine 400 years of family histories to see how language has shaped communities and cultures.
Funded through the Major Collaborative Research Initiatives program of the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the principal investigator of the project – Le français à la mesure d’un continent : un patrimoine en partage (French Language Across a Continent: A Shared Heritage) – is Professor France Martineau of the University of Ottawa who holds a University Research Chair in Language and Migration in French America and is the director of Le laboratoire Les Polyphonies du français and co-founder of the Laboratoire de français ancien.
Left: Raymond Mougeon
The study will include 13 fellow researchers and 59 partners from Canada, the United States, France and Japan working in a variety of disciplines, including linguistics, anthropology, history, geography and computer science.
Other members of the CRLC involved in the project include Hélène Blondeau of the University of Florida, Annette Boudreau and Rodrigue Landry of the Université de Moncton, Yves Frenette of the University of Ottawa and Françoise Gadet of the Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense (Paris X).
The way French is spoken in places as diverse as Gatineau, Shediac and New Orleans can tell a lot about how Francophone communities evolved in North America. “We are looking at three fields of expansion from France: New France – now known as Quebec – Louisiana and Acadia,” says Mougeon.
“If we just focused on Canada, we would miss some important components of the North American francophonie, mainly Louisiana, probably one of the most interesting colonial settings, because it involved not only colonization from France, but also secondary migration from Acadia – basically the French language continued to live, but in a completely different setting from the original.”
According to Mougeon, the project team plans to reach beyond linguistics to include history and sociology. “We believe that you can only understand the evolution of language if you can actually place it in its broader socio-historical setting.”
The study will use innovative approaches, by presenting individuals and their language as a central factor in the changes that society undergoes and by examining the relationship between the cognitive and cultural aspects of language. Relying on extensive documentation, the study will seek to identify the concerns of present-day francophone communities, in majority, minority or multicultural settings.
The research will also help produce a major corpus of French in North America, which will include informal exchanges between individuals in the form of private correspondence or spontaneous conversation. This publicly accessible tool will be useful as a starting point to systematically compare francophone communities.
Mougeon has conducted research on the diversity of spoken French in Ontario, the demo-linguistic vitality of the Franco-Ontarian community, the sociolinguistic history of French in Quebec and France from the colonial period to the present day and the sociolinguistic competence of French-immersion students. He is the author or co-author of several publications and has participated in 36 research projects with funds representing over $5 million in research grants, including those from SSHRC, the Ontario Ministry of Education and the Association of Canadian Studies.
Submitted by Marika Kemeny, Glendon communications officer