on languages.

This is one of my favourite photos of our first year on the farm.

It’s a photograph of a sketched map made by some hunters who came knocking to ask if they could hunt wild turkey on our property. I found it on the kitchen counter one day. I imagine that P. had no idea what these (presumably unilingual) francophone hunters meant and thought they were talking about rockets (« fusée ») instead of rifles (« fusil »). I often imagine what that conversation might’ve sounded like and get a good chuckle. IMG_2775

To me, it’s the perfect visual representation of all of the misunderstandings and all of the long conversations where either P. or I re-asked or re-framed very confused questions to figure out how to register livestock with the traceability people, or to sign up for a farm number with the Ministère de l’Agriculture, or to figure out how to get the municipal go-ahead to lay pipe under a road. We have spent a lot of time having very broche à foin conversations.

French is P.’s third language and his accent gives him away : he is francophile, not a native speaker. People might expect that they will have a harder time understanding him or appreciate that he might not understand everything they say. French is my mother tongue. I haven’t spoken it, à temps plein, in many many years. Having kids, to whom I diligently speak only ma langue maternelle, has been a real eye opener. While my french vocabulary to talk about socialisation, or democracy, or identity is pretty solid, finding my every day nouns is often a pretty frustrating game of hide-and-go-seek. Borne fontaine, clé anglaise, cure-pipe, the list goes on. I may have an easier time as passing for someone who could be from la belle province (et même là, je sonne pas mal franco-ontarienne), but I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that my french is rusty, that my cultural references are vastly different (/quite anglo), and that it takes me some good energy to decipher fast french conversations about agriculture or culture.

I love languages. The idea that every language is a key to understanding a whole new gamut of concepts, of ways of being, of worldviews fascinates me. I had always hoped to partner with an allophone (someone whose native tongue is neither french or english) and while it can be sometimes isolating to not understand what is being said, I am grateful that our children will be trilingual. As frustrating as it is to feel your language skills are less than or worry that you never quite have le mot juste, the trilingual jokes and language play in our house make it all worthwhile.

Chez nous, les tasses ont des oreilles.

We « j’aime jam. »

F. est déjà un petit interprête.

And we talk about rockets in the pastures.

 

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