Valorizing 'Corrupted French': Chiac and the Acadieman Phenomenon

Philip Comeau

York University, Canada

WS128: Media Representations of Minority Language Varieties

Valorizing ‘Corrupted French’: Chiac and the Acadieman Phenomenon

Acadian French, spoken in Atlantic Canada, has often been negatively stereotyped as moitié français, moitié anglais (“half French, half English”). While King (2000) has argued that the extent of English influence on Acadian varieties tends to be overblown by both lay people and linguists alike, it is the case that Acadian varieties spoken in close, long-term contact with English typically exhibit extensive codeswitching and lexical borrowing. One particular Acadian variety viewed as having been greatly influenced by English, that spoken in the urban area of Moncton, New Brunswick, has been given its own label, chiac. Although chiac is typically identified as the language of young residents of the community, the variety has been the subject of media scrutiny since at least the 1960s (e.g. Brault 1969) and is actually spoken by a wide age range. Language attitude studies (e.g. Boudreau 1996, Keppie 2002) reveal tension between a view of chiac as a marker of local identity and chiac as an object of derision.

However, the fact that a number of writers and musicians (e.g. Leblanc 1995) have come in recent years to use this variety in their works, coupled with the fact that chiac is now heard on community radio (Boudreau & Dubois 2004), suggests that the scales may be tipping away from the view of chiac as ‘corrupted French,’ reminiscent of the situation in Quebec in the 1960s and 1970s (Boudreau 1996:152). It is this context which marked the appearance on cable TV in late 2005 of Acadieman, the first Acadian animated superhero. The creation of Moncton resident and native speaker Dano LeBlanc, Acadieman has no special powers but, as LeBlanc notes, is “heroic in the sense that he had the nerve to speak in chiac " (CBC Newsworld, Dec 6, 2006). The Acadieman phenomenon includes comic books, the animated TV series (broadcast in New Brunswick and to some areas of Ontario as well as available on DVD and in clips on the internet), and an official website, as well as an array of fan sites.

We first consider the stylized performances of chiac identity found in the first season of the TV series. The set of performed linguistic features correspond well to those documented in the literature (e.g. Gérin 1983, Perrot 1994, Pérronet 1996, Young 2002). We then turn to Acadieman’s online fans, who comment positively on the authenticity of the representations. These fans argue that chiac, a variety which they view as a linguistic hybrid, gives voice to an identity which is neither French (at least in terms of external varieties of French) nor English. The online Acadieman fans include many young Acadians who have left the region for better employment opportunities elsewhere; in these mediated contexts – the TV show, the online forums – Acadieman forms a powerful resource for re/creating the sense of the local, an imagined chiac community (Anderson 1983).

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Media Representations of Minority Language Varieties
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 17