ENGLI$H IS WRONG

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So proclaims the cover of Michel Brûlé's "Essai sociologique" Anglaid: Une langue irrémédiablement vouée à l’impérialisme et à l’ethnocentrisme ("English: A language irremediably devoted to imperialism and ethnocentrism"), in a photographed scrawl that reminds me of the shots in the movie A Beautiful Mind of John Nash's study walls during his descent into schizophrenia.

The title is a blend of the French words Anglais "English" and laid "ugly" — perhaps it could be approximately translated as "Uglish".  And M. Brûlé's argument, according to the synopsis on his web site, is a rather odd one, at least from the perspective of historical plausibility:

Longtemps, la suprématie de la France a rayonné sur le monde entier. De tout temps, les Français ont néanmoins reconnu les nombreux apports des différentes langues et sociétés au patrimoine culturel mondial.

De nos jours, la culture anglo-saxonne domine le monde. Qu’elles soient britanniques ou américaines, les élites anglo-saxonnes ne s’intéressent qu’à elles-mêmes. Musique, littérature, dramaturgie, il n’y en a que pour les œuvres de langue anglaise créées par des locuteurs anglais.

For a long time, the supremacy of France illuminated the entire world. At all times, the French nevertheless recognized the numerous contributions of different languages and societies to the cultural patrimony of the world.

These days, the anglo-saxon culture dominates the world. Whether they are British or American, the anglo-saxon elites are interested only in themselves. Music, literature, drama — there is nothing but English-language works created by English speakers.

In a recent interview with Catherine Girouard ("Michel Brûlé : Celui qui a l’anglais comme ennemi", Métro Montréal, 4/21/2009), he tries a different tack:

Q: Qu'est-ce qui vous a poussé à écrire ce livre?
A: J’ai fait une observation révolutionnaire très simple, qui est que le «Je», «I» en anglais, est hypertrophié en étant toujours en majuscule. Cela change la façon de désigner l’autre. C’est un cas unique en linguistique. Et les gens sont tellement obnubilés par l’omniprésence de l’anglais qu’ils ne se sont même pas rendu compte de cette évidence.

Q: What drove you to write this book?
A: I made a very simple revolutionary observation, which is that the English "I" is hypertrophied by being always capitalized. This changes the way one looks at the Other. It's a case unique in linguistics. And people are so confused by the omnipresence of English that they don't even notice this evidence.

A multi-media version of his message is also available in the form of the remarkable music video for his song Poubelle ("Garbage"), inspired by his view that "la culture anglo-étatsunienne est devenue tellement dégénérée qu’il vaut mieux en rire" ("Anglo-UnitedStatesian culture has become so degenerate that it's better to laugh about it"). At about 1m36s into the video, you can see Brûlé and his dancing girls adding Canadian and American flags to a growing pile of hamburgers, pizza, breakfast cereals, Coca Cola, Hollywood videos, toilet overflow, and other symbols of la culture anglo-étatsunienne.

The motivation for his song Königsberg is less obvious; but for those who may be puzzled about why he's singing in German about the loss of East Prussia to the Russians, he explains that

Avant de devenir Kaliningrad, ville russe depuis 1946, Königsberg a été allemande pendant 692 ans. À noter que Königsberg veut dire Montis realis en latin d’où vient le nom de Montréal. Verra-t-on un jour Montréal devenir Montreal ?

Before becoming Kaliningrad, a Russian city since 1946, Königsberg was German for 692 years. Note that Königsberg means Montis realis in Latin, from which comes the name Montréal. Will we one day see Montréal become Montreal?

YouTube comment: "Pis cé toué qui parle de préservé notre langue gros tabarnack?"

(Though I think that would be mons regius in Latin, wouldn't it?)

The Defense Association of Anglophone Quebec wants to see him prosecuted under Canada's preposterous hate-speech laws. If this happens, it will be one more argument against those deeply misguided statutes, in my opinion. However, the distribution of competitive government subsidies is obviously a different matter, and according to this page on Brûlé's web site,

Les éditions Michel Brûlé bénéficient du soutien financier du Gouvernement du Québec — Programme de crédit d'impôt pour l'édition de livres – Gestion SODEC et sont inscrites au Programme de subvention globale du Conseil des Arts du Canada. Nous reconnaissons l'aide financière du gouvernement du Canada par l'entremise du Programme d'aide au développement de l'industrie de l'édition (PADIÉ) pour nos activités d'édition.

Michel Brûlé publications benefit from the financial support of the government of Quebec — Program of tax credit for the publication of books – SODEC administration and are registered in the program of comprehensive subsidies of the Canadian Council of the Arts.  We acknowledge the financial support of the Canadian government through the intervention of the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP) for our publication activities.

[Tip of the hat to Jean-Sébastien Girard.]

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66 Comments »

  1. marie-lucie said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 8:41 am

    A couple of minor corrections:

    la suprématie de la France a rayonné sur le monde entier

    Rayonner does not mean "illuminate" (a transitive verb) but "radiate" (intransitive). The sentence means that French culture was a light that reached all over the world, not that it lit up the whole world. This word (and the noun rayonnement) is frequently used in discussions of the importance of French culture.

    [(myl) I wrestled with this one for a while in translating the passage. It's awkward and unidiomatic in English to say "the supremacy of France radiated all over the world". "Illuminate" not quite right, but it seemed close enough to me. (And of course, us AngloUnitedStatesians are in any case too self-involved to care about mere French transitivity...) But seriously, how would you translate the sentence?]

    une poubelle is a "garbage can".

    [(myl) But this song should have a one-word title in English as in French, I thought; and "garbage" seemed like the best choice to me. The refrain "à la poubelle" means "into the garbage can", I guess, but "into the garbage" mean about the same thing, and would work better, don't you think?]

    Montréal: "réal" is another version of "royal", from Latin "regalis" (hence English "regal").

    [(myl) Right, but Latin realis means something different entirely, and montis is the gentive case of mons, and wouldn't be the form used in a name.]

  2. David Eddyshaw said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 8:49 am

    It seems to me that quite apart from his ludicrous argument about "I" his whole thesis is exactly wrong. The French have long been unapologetic cultural imperialists, dedicated to bringing the light of their (admittedly rather wonderful) langue et civilisation to the rest of the less favoured world.

    There's nothing like the wonderful decentralisation of the Anglosphere – the only "right" way to speak French is like a Parisian …

  3. Mark Liberman said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 8:55 am

    David Eddyshaw: . The French have long been unapologetic cultural imperialists …

    My friends who grew up in France's African colonies recall with amusement the schoolbooks that taught them about "nos ancêtres les gaulois".

  4. marie-lucie said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 9:25 am

    DE: I am an expatriate French person living in Canada, and I agree with you about the "unapologetic cultural imperialists".

    As to the close-mindedness, etc of English-speaking culture, one wonders what MB chooses to read. Perhaps he is contrasting Le Monde with the National Enquirer as similar representatives of their cultures.

    the only "right" way to speak French is like a Parisian …

    But it depends which Parisian. Within France l'accent parisien is not considered something to be emulated, as it refers specifically to a low-class pronunciation typical of an Eastern section of the capital, which could be compared to a "cockney" pronunciation in English, or to one typical of the less fashionable sections of New York. An upper-crust Parisian accent (from a section in the West of Paris) is also not admired in the rest of the city or the country. Middle-of-the-ground Parisian speech has also changed noticeably in the last few decades, and earlier descriptions of its phonetics (especially among the young) are no longer accurate. Anybody who attempts to "speak like a Parisian" without actually living in Paris (the vast majority of French people, in addition to speakers in other countries) is bound to be behind the times, so there is little point in trying to catch up instead of enjoying the distinctive form of speech of one's own territory.

    English I has been capitalized for centuries (long before the language expanded beyond the borders of England) obviously because the letter is too small (and for a long time did not use the dot) to be noticeable.

  5. marie-lucie said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 9:46 am

    the schoolbooks that taught them about "nos ancêtres les gaulois".

    Under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education the same programs and textbooks were used in France and in the colonies, probably without thinking about the implications as in this blatant case. I don't know whether more culturally appropriate textbooks were prepared later, as was done in British colonies (but the latter probably had more freedom to set up their own education programs).

  6. Leon said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 9:54 am

    Perhaps we English-speakers are only interested in ourselves (all billion or so of us). But Brûlé is quintessentially French in his combination of stuffy pomposity and snobbishness (particularly about the French language) with naive and bland idiot-radicalism. Whether he intended it or not, his song is a second-rate hodgepodge of cliches from American pop music, and only serves to remind us that 90% of European pop is the same (Britain not included, of course). It may be sad that we top French in the hegemony stakes without even trying (though the French government, via Alliance française, is still pushing on that front) but at least we'll never top their self-importance.

  7. Mark F. said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 10:29 am

    Leon:

    But Brûlé is quintessentially French in his combination of stuffy pomposity and snobbishness (particularly about the French language) with naive and bland idiot-radicalism.

    Is he really French, or is he Quebecois?

  8. John said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 10:30 am

    So… he's Canadian, right? I was a bit confused about that until you mentioned Canada wanting him prosecuted. If he is Canadian, his hero-worship of France is rather funny, given that from what I've seen French people's opinions of French Canadians are rather less favourable than the more elitist of British views of America.

    Anyway, ridiculous imperialism theories aside, the "I" thing is something that I've always thought was interesting. The only pronouns we capitalise apart from I are He/Him/His when referring to God (plus of course, more mundanely, any proper name). It seems most likely to just be a matter of orthographic clarification, given that it's only one letter but refers to a fairly important and common word – but must seem slightly odd to L2 learners. Doing it to all pronouns would make more sense I suppose…

  9. Ellen said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 10:35 am

    John, as far as capitalized pronouns, there's also She/Her when referring to God. Not as common, but it's out there.

  10. Dan T. said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 10:39 am

    "Monterrey" has the same meaning, in yet another language, doesn't it?

  11. rachel silver tapley.com » Blog Archive » On hegemony and language said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 10:53 am

    [...] is a very interesting post on Language Log today called ENGLI$H IS WRONG, about Michel Brûlé and his essay entitled Anglaid: Une langue irrémédiablement vouée à [...]

  12. Mark Liberman said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 10:58 am

    John: So… he's Canadian, right?

    Yes, though I suspect that he would prefer to be called "Quebecois".

    And from what little I know of the current nationalisms in different Francophone areas, his flavor of nationalism seems characteristically Quebecois. For example, I can't imagine anti-anglo-saxon feelings in France settling so easily on sympathy for Prussian revanchism, expressed in a heavy-metal song in German full of crosses and Die Heimat Den Helden memorials. (Or am I wrong about this?)

  13. Charles Gaulke said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 11:10 am

    "If he is Canadian, his hero-worship of France is rather funny, given that from what I've seen French people's opinions of French Canadians are rather less favourable than the more elitist of British views of America."

    Funny, but pretty common. Even before I moved to Québec, I encountered some of the substantial proportion of French Canadians who consider themselves French despite their families living here since before Confederation. In fairness, back in Ontario there are pockets of "British" people, public school accents and all, whose families haven't set foot in the UK for just as long. Maybe it's just a Canadian thing to identify yourself as from whatever country expelled your great-great-grandparents for stealing sheep.

    It's interesting to compare the rhetoric here to the American English-Only rhetoric, since they seem like they should be coming from very different perspectives but the tone and the intolerance seem remarkably similar.

  14. Émilie said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 11:39 am

    For many years, Michel Brûlé has loved to stir controversy, because it pays. To me (I live in Québec), he's a populist, a sensationalist, whose main goal is to be talked about, I wouldn't be surprised if he had come up with this idea first and foremost because he knew it would be talked about, in Québec and elsewhere. I certainly hope people don't consider him "characteristically Quebecois," as someone in the comments mentioned.

  15. James said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 11:49 am

    Worthy of note: on Montreal's city flag, 3/4 of the 'ethnicities' represented are non-Francophone. While that never reflected the anglo/franco/allophone ratio accurately, it gives you some idea of the history of the place.

    I guess M. Brûlé's disgust with l’impérialisme et à l’ethnocentrisme is giving him a case of selective amnesia. Montréal has been "Montreal" for native English-speakers for centuries. And, of course, it was called Hochelaga long before that.

  16. David said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 11:50 am

    "Longtemps, la suprématie de la France a rayonné sur le monde entier. De tout temps, les Français ont néanmoins reconnu les nombreux apports des différentes langues et sociétés au patrimoine culturel mondial.

    De nos jours, la culture anglo-saxonne domine le monde. Qu’elles soient britanniques ou américaines, les élites anglo-saxonnes ne s’intéressent qu’à elles-mêmes. Musique, littérature, dramaturgie, il n’y en a que pour les œuvres de langue anglaise créées par des locuteurs anglais."

    The first paragraph is obviously bullshit but the second paragraph is not far from the truth. Every year when the winner of the Nobel prize for literature is announced I read articles where critics from various countries are asked about their opinion of the author. It seems that if the author does not write in English the standard response from anglophone critics is "who is that? never heard of him". The latest winner, Le Clezio, has more works translated into Swedish than into English.

  17. DYSPEPSIA GENERATION » Blog Archive » What’s French for “whiner”? said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

    [...] Read it. [...]

  18. Roger Lustig said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

    He's also wrong about Koenigsberg. It was not "German for 692 years," but rather Prussian. East and West Prussia (aka Ducal and Royal Prussia, respectively) were fiefdoms of the King of Poland/Lithuania, later Poland; were never part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation; were not part of the German Confederation (1813-1870) except for a few years around 1848. (Imagine: the boundaries of the Confederation slicing right through the lands of its largest member!) In fact, the Prussias and Posen were part of the "German question:" what and where is Germany, or should Germany be?

    To be sure, most people in Koenigsberg spoke German, especially after the Teutonic Knights left the scene and the Dukes/Electors of Brandenburg became the hereditary Dukes of Prussia and colonized the area. Eventually the Old Prussian language–one of the Baltic languages–died out.

    Some of those old HRE boundaries are still there: Czech Republic vs. Slovakia; Austria vs. Hungary. Sure, it wasn't holy or Roman or an empire–compared to the very real Hapsburg empire it was more like conceptual art–but the relevant concept was "German nation."

  19. Mohamed Idris said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 12:45 pm

    The French do not have much credibility when it comes to protecting other languages from the hegemony of English. They just wish English would go away so that French can take over.

    Michel Brûlé may be a populist, but the issue he addresses, perhaps in the wrong way, is something many people around the world can identify with.

  20. Andrew said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

    Oddly enough, the capitalisation of 'He' when referring to God is not found either in the Authorised Version of the Bible (or in more modern versions which I am familiar with) or in the English Prayer Book and its revisions. I have always been rather puzzled about where it came from.

  21. parvomagnus said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 1:25 pm

    I just had a simple but revolutionary realization – that the man's mainly interested in self-aggrandizement's pretty evident from the "poubelle" video. Anyone in the grip of true, fiery revulsion to anglo-american culture would have constructed a much more credible pile of cultural symbols to steamroll over (Hollywood represented by blank video cassettes?), and probably would have devoted more screen time to said steamrolling, and less to himself gyrating like a drunken walrus.

  22. J. W. Brewer said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 2:54 pm

    Wikipedia claims that "I" is also standardly capitalized in Danish, although there it's a second-person plural pronoun. Maybe k.d. lang should get extra credit for being an unusually capital-eschewing Anglophone Canadian?

    Anne Applebaum's interesting book Between East and West (a travelogue from the borderlands of the erstwhile Soviet empire just after its early '90's collapse) starts with a vignette in Kaliningrad where the author is trying to track down what are rumored to be the only two ethnic Germans left in the city. However one might wish to describe the pre-1945 ethnic/political/linguistic/cultural identity of Koenigsberg, "Russian" wouldn't seem to be one of the plausible candidates.

  23. Sili said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 5:20 pm

    "I" (you pl.) is capitalised in Danish. I don't know why, but it may be to help distinguish it from small "i" which means "in".

    We do capitalise "De" (polite you, sg), but again that may be to help tell it apart from "de" (they, pl).

    There's prolly more to it, though, since until 1948 Danish capitalised nouns just like German. And German only recently stopped using capitals in pronouns (I believe): ich, du. They have a Sie/sie distinction like the Danish still, though.

  24. David Eddyshaw said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

    I don't know whether schoolbooks in Francophone Africa still go on about Gaulish forebears, but I can at least say that my wife used textbooks in her career as a French teacher in (Anglophone) Ghana which were very much oriented to West Africa; there was a family of Ivoirians called Kone who ate familiar things like ignames …

  25. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 6:09 pm

    FWIW although there is a latent anti-Americanism in Quebec (overlapping a significant worry about the cultural hegemony of English which is not restricted to Quebec, but exacerbated by sociohistorical factors), this particular brand of virulence is only found in a restricted fringe. In fact, the next day's issue had plenty of reader's response calling him on being as bigoted as those he supposedly exposes.

    Personally, I think If this were a science book, Brûlé would likely be branded a crank.

  26. David Eddyshaw said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

    @Andrew:

    From the preface to the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:

    "Furthermore, in the tradition of the King James Version one will not expect to find the use of capital letters for pronouns that refer to the Deity—such capitalization is an unnecessary innovation that has only recently been introduced into a few English translations of the Bible."

    I do get the impression that this is a Victorian habit at the earliest, but I can't track down any actual evidence. Wasn't this discussed previously on LL, or am I imagining it?

  27. Matt said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

    I'm sure that speakers of Breton, Basque, and Languedoc, whose languages were suppressed by the French government for centuries, would be surprised to learn that "the French nevertheless recognized the numerous contributions of different languages and societies to the cultural patrimony of the world". La marmite calling the kettle noir…

  28. David said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 8:01 pm

    1. This is why French-language philosophy (plus associated disciplines) tends to be regarded with deep suspicion by their (mainly English-speaking) analytical counterparts.

    2. The Swedish 2nd person plural nominative personal pronoun "I" (cognate to English "ye") was also spelled with a capital letter until its gradual disappearance during the 19th and early 20th c. Judging by Svenska Akademiens ordbok, "I" seems to have been spelled with a capital letter from the mid-18th c. onwards. It hardly needs noting that Sweden isn't a country one would normally associate with ruthless capitalist individualism…

  29. Robin said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 8:05 pm

    According to http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=i&searchmode=none :

    ‘Reduced to i by 1137 in northern England, it began to be capitalized c.1250 to mark it as a distinct word and avoid misreading in handwritten manuscripts.

    "The reason for writing I is … the orthographic habit in the middle ages of using a 'long i' (that is, j or I) whenever the letter was isolated or formed the last letter of a group; the numeral 'one' was written j or I (and three iij, etc.), just as much as the pronoun." [Otto Jespersen, "Growth and Structure of the English Language," p.233] ’

  30. J. W. Brewer said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 8:44 pm

    Note the asymmetry that by-and-large Anglophones (perhaps outside of those unfortunate enough to live subject to the whims of the present government of Quebec) don't systematically resent the continuing, if increasingly vestigial, cultural prestige of the French language. If, but probably only if, you like me have young daughters you may be aware of the "Fancy Nancy" series of books. As part of her general commitment to "fanciness," Nancy (who is probably supposed to be somewhere between six and eight years old) is fond of learning bits of French vocabulary, because "everything sounds fancier in French." Adult Anglophone purchasers of clothing and food are still apparently likewise convinced that random bits of French (not necessarily accurate or idiomatic) signify fanciness, at least if the marketing strategies of sellers are presumed to be rational.

  31. marie-lucie said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 9:31 pm

    m-l: Rayonner … = "radiate" (intransitive). The sentence means that French culture was a light that reached all over the world, not that it lit up the whole world. This word (and the noun rayonnement) is frequently used in discussions of the importance of French culture.

    [(myl) I wrestled with this one for a while in translating the passage. It's awkward and unidiomatic in English to say "the supremacy of France radiated all over the world".]

    The original French sentence is pretty awkward too. "Supremacy" is not what radiated, but cultural achievements and prestige. I was not trying to translate the sentence, just to clarify the meaning of the verb.

    m-l: une poubelle is a "garbage can".

    [(myl) But this song should have a one-word title in English as in French, I thought; and "garbage" seemed like the best choice to me.]

    I did not realize that you were translating the song, rather than just the word. "Trash can" would be just about as short as "garbage".

    [(myl) The refrain "à la poubelle" means "into the garbage can", I guess, but "into the garbage" mean about the same thing, and would work better, don't you think?]

    I would translate "à la poubelle" here by "out with the trash". The point is not to overfill the can but to get rid of all the things that should go out like garbage. For "into the garbage can" I would say "dans la poubelle", which would refer to the physical container where garbage should be placed, but "à la poubelle" can be concrete or metaphorical.

  32. BS said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 11:04 pm

    And in the French language when referring to groups and gender is mixed (ie: 2 female, 3 male), they use Ils. Are we to assume they are egotistical.
    This mans "story" deserves to be in "la poubelle", "trash can", "garbage can", whatever! He is A-typical of a 1/4 of the Nationalist extremists in Quebec! Rather sickening actually. Et je n'ai aucun problème avec la langue française, je parle et écris les deux. Il me donne l'envie de vomir!

  33. David Eddyshaw said,

    April 25, 2009 @ 11:10 pm

    Re "poubelle" – that excellent and vastly more sensible man Proust himself:

    "… car ces mots français que nous sommes si fiers de prononcer exactement ne sont eux-mêmes que des «cuirs» faits par des bouches gauloises qui prononçaient de travers le latin ou le saxon, notre langue n'étant que la prononciation défectueuse de quelques autres …"

    … although, to be fair, I suppose you could adduce this in *support* of M Brûlé's claims to the absorbent qualities of the French language, if not culture.

  34. Roger Lustig said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 12:17 am

    @Sili: if German doesn't capitalize Du anymore, I must have missed the memo. 2nd-person pronouns are capped; 3rd-person-pl. "sie" is not.

  35. Aaron Davies said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 1:05 am

    "Pis cé toué qui parle de préservé notre langue gros tabarnack?"

    is that quebecois? if so, could someone translate? (i'm reasonably good at standard french, but can't make out much beyond "who speak of preserving our language")

  36. Östen Dahl said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 2:45 am

    In a number of traditional dialects in Sweden (North Germanic varieties), the first person singular pronoun is pronounced [i:], and it is striking that people who try to use these dialects in writing pretty consistently write it as "I", just like the English pronoun.

  37. J Lin said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 3:50 am

    ِ@R. Lustig: I'm pretty sure that under the rules of the Rechtschreibreform Du und Ihr are no longer to be capitalized obligatorily, though of course anyone who went to school before about 1998 will have heard something different. Only 2nd-formal Sie must be capitalized under the new rules.

  38. Bernhard said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 4:46 am

    So there seems to be a trend in the comments to agree that the diagnose is right but the diagnostician is not credible?

    @Roger: You indeed missed the memo. The ‘really new’ (i. e. reformed reformed) orthography permits again to capitalise second person pronouns in letters etc. In all other texts (e.g. in novels), it has not been capitalised, anyway (in recent times; if the writer followed the norms).

    Allowing capitalisation again is certainly one of the concessions to popular usage, I think; the ‘old new’ orthography tried to abolish capitalisation.

    (Pronouns referring to God, emperors etc. seem to form an exception, such as third person singular and second person plural pronouns and used to address single people in earlier times. Third person plural "Sie" referring was already mentioned.)

  39. Dierk said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 4:54 am

    With Germany's latest spelling reform polite 'Du' gets not capitalised anymore; most older people [>30] will not conform to this rule if they do write letters at all, since they find it good to be polite in private relationships, too. The more polite 'Sie' is still capitalised by rule.

    'Ich' was never capitalised except when starting a sentence or in some literary context to give special attention to the word. Thus it could be argued – wrongly – that English is about the speaker while German is about the addressee [in polemical terms: Germans are humble, English are arrogant]. This argument simply ignores the historic facts mentioned already in the comments, 'i' easily looks like the capital 'I' in handwriting, it is also easily misinterpreted or overlooked due to being the narrowest and smallest character.

    Be clear, we are talking about salutary use in written documents.

    We should also remember when talking about capitalisation that German is still heavily capitalised compared to English and French.

  40. marie-lucie said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 6:12 am

    Aaron: "Pis cé toué qui parle de préservé notre langue gros tabarnack?"

    is that quebecois? if so, could someone translate?

    This is a more or less phonetic transcription. The sentence is not so different from the Standard French equivalent once you get past the spelling:

    Et puis c'est toi qui parles de préserver notre langue, gros "tabernacle"?
    "So then you're the one who speaks of preserving our language, you big [strong expletive]"

    "Pis" for puis is typical also of rural Western France. So is "toué" [twe], which is not recent but preserves the older pronunciation still standard at the time of emigration to Canada. Unlike "pis" this pronunciation sounds definitely rural in France, and uneducated in modern Québec.

    The last word is probably the most serious insult or swearword in Québec. The country was once totally under the heel of the Catholic Church, and beside the usual source of swearwords (intimate body functions), the ones considered the most powerful are taken from religious vocabulary. It is not so much a matter of "taking the Lord's name in vain", but to use the names of sacred cult objects in a profane manner. This seems to be a unique development among Catholic countries. The addition of gros "big, fat" for derogatory emphasis is traditional in all varieties of French.

    I would like to add that what is considered "Standard French" in Canada is usually (especially in terms of pronunciation) a high, formal register of French. Several books give tables of equivalents in QF and SF, where in most cases the pronunciation would be identical in normal speech (as opposed to reading aloud or declaiming classical poetry), for instance in the elision of schwa and consequent loss of l or r following the consonant, as in "notre" usually pronounced [not] before a consonant. According to this view of SF, one would have to say that most people in France, including highly educated ones, do not normally speak Standard French!

  41. marie-lucie said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 7:06 am

    MB: Königsberg veut dire Montis realis en latin d’où vient le nom de Montréal

    myl: (Though I think that would be mons regius in Latin, wouldn't it?)

    m-l: Montréal: "réal" is another version of "royal", from Latin "regalis" (hence English "regal").

    [(myl) Right, but Latin realis means something different entirely, and montis is the gentive case of mons, and wouldn't be the form used in a name.]

    I was puzzled by myl's reply to me, but he must have been responding to MB's statement (which contains two errors) rather than my comment.

    Both words are of the third declension, in which many words have identical nominative and genitive, as in the noun "turris, turris" ‘tower’ and the adjectives in "-alis" or "-aris". Some words of this class, like "mons, montis" have a shorter stem in the nominative because the nominative ending is actually "-s" not "-is" ("mons" < mont-s), but in Late Latin or Early Romance such nominatives became regularized on the basis of the stem of the other cases, hence Italian monte and French mont (the final written t was pronounced in Old French). Italian Monte Reggio corresponds to the Late Latin form of myl's Classical "mons regius".

    The Latin word I mentioned is “regalis” ‘royal’, the ancestor of Old French réal meaning ‘royal’, not “realis” ‘real’ which is the ancestor of réel ‘real’.

    The name Montréal means the same as Mont-Royal, the name of a large park in the centre of the city, but it is an older form. Similar place names in France are Réalmont in the South and Royaumont in the North (from earlier Royal-mont). The form réal is not used in Modern French but it is identical to the Spanish equivalent real as in the name of the soccer team Real Madrid (meaning ‘Royal Madrid’ not ‘Genuine Madrid’). The Montréal region is now known by the neologism la Montérégie where "reg" is the root of Latin "rex (< reg-s), regis" 'king' as well as of the adjectives "regalis" and "regius", the latter mentioned in myl’s post as the possible “mons regius".

    The French names of cities and towns above were originally compounds. The component words are of Latin origin, but that does not mean that the names all go back all the way to Latin: they are French names built of French components.

  42. Yanpol said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 7:09 am

    I wonder why, then, the aboriginal peoples of Quebec wanted to stay part of Canada and tell the Quebecois to bugger off!!

  43. marie-lucie said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 7:38 am

    Yanpol: One reason is that most of them speak English, not French. But they also knew where they stood with the government of Canada (which has direct responsibility for them in all parts of the country) but did not know how things would be under an independent Quebec government. For one thing, it would be much harder for them to make common cause with their counterparts in other regions of Canada.

  44. MLG said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 8:37 am

    I find it interesting that the parts of the synopsis you chose to translate are some of the least incendiary* parts. This book is being advertised in the form of posters claiming that it will "forever change peoples' perception of the English language" all over Montreal. Here is a more thorough portrait of this man's brilliant contribution to linguistics: http://www.renaud-bray.com/Livres_Produit.aspx?id=964077&def=Anglaid%2CBRULE%2C+MICHEL%2C9782894854310

    Pour couronner le tout, les anglophones sont narcissiques et ethnocentriques à l'extrême : ils ne regardent que leurs films, ne lisent que leurs livres, n'écoutent que leur musique et ne mangent presque tous que leur bouffe – je n'ose pas appeler ça de la nourriture. Les plus sceptiques diront que les Français, par exemple, étaient pareils, quand la France contrôlait plus ou moins le monde. C'est faux ; les Français, malgré leur arrogance indéniable, étaient très ouverts sur le monde. Il n'est pas exagéré d'affirmer que les anglophones sont les personnes les plus ethnocentriques de l'histoire de l'humanité, rien de moins.

    To top it all off, anglophones are narcissistic and ethnocentric to the extreme: they only watch their movies, only read their books, only listen to their music and eat only their grub (I dare not call it food). Skeptics would say that the French, for example, were the same, when France controlled the world. This is false; the French, despite their undeniable arrogance, where very open to the world. It is not an exaggeration to claim that anglophones are the most ethnocentric people of the history of humanity, and nothing less.

    ===

    *Let's not forget that a frat-boy lighting a fart is technically incendiary.

    [(myl) What, you think I have secret sympathies for M. Brûlé? He's such an easy target that I thought an understated approach was more amusing. It's true, I might feel differently if I lived in the same city with him.

    But maybe you can help with this: what's with the weird sympathy-for-the-third-Reich stuff? Is he trying to tap into the Delisle controversy? ]

  45. joseph palmer said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 9:28 am

    You could find lots of examples of self-glorification/English bashing in many cultures, but it would not look proper to subject an Asian countries scholarship to this kind of tirade, for example (speaking of some of the comments, rather than the article). Since we secretly see French scholarship as being at least reasonably equal to our own, and somewhat understandable, it always seems to be fair game to have a few jabs at it.

    [(myl) "Scholarship"? I haven't read M. Brûlé's essay, but from his synopsis and his interviews, it seems that this term is unwarranted. As for reactions to odd or silly claims on the part of writers from other cultures, can you provide any specific examples where you think we ought to withhold comment, as if to avoid discouraging a child? Do you feel, for instance, that this critique of a Japanese book was not "fair game"? And in what way is "our" attitude about French scholarship "secret"?

    In fact, the more I ponder your comment, the less coherent it seems. ]

  46. Francis Tyers said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 9:39 am


    Une poubelle is a "garbage can".

    [(myl) But this song should have a one-word title in English as in French, I thought; and "garbage" seemed like the best choice to me. The refrain "à la poubelle" means "into the garbage can", I guess, but "into the garbage" mean about the same thing, and would work better, don't you think?]

    "Bin" would work then no?

  47. marie-lucie said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 11:47 am

    FT: "bin": it depends where you are. In Canada "bin" would not call to mind garbage, it refers to a large container for dry foods like rice or flour when sold in bulk rather than in bags or packages. "garbage bin" or "trash bin" would be understood but not commonly used.

  48. marie-lucie said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

    (bin 2) Or it could also be a large container for soft furnishings like pillows, towels, cushions, etc sold in a store, especially cheaper or discounted ones that are not displayed as carefully as better quality merchandise. Or the clearance bin for unsold clothes at the end of the season. Storage bins are also sold for household use, for instance for out of season clothes or sports equipment. In other words, containers for cheaper or unbreakable items not needing careful attention, but not garbage.

  49. tablogloid said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

    "Tabarnac" reminds of other French Canadian Catholic sacriligious cusses I used to hear while I growing up as a Montreal Anglophone from 1947 until I moved to Toronto in 1971. There are more amusing variations of tabernacle such as, tabarnouche and tabourrette (my best guess at the spelling).
    The sacred host, hostie, takes a beating as something that sounds like "ess-tee". The chalice is calice and the ciborium, which holds the individual communion hosts is, ciboire.
    It was quite common to hear a dissatisfied hockey fan scream at the referee, "Calice, ess-tee, tabarnac…ciboire."
    Then there are a few "Franglish phrases I find hilarious. One I love is, "Ain! Doan press my nerve I stretch your bowtie.".

  50. J. W. Brewer said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 3:07 pm

    I'm a little puzzled by Prof. Liberman's Delisle reference. W/o at all doubting the historical link between some exponents of Quebecois nationalism (and most ethnolinguistic nationalisms, probably) with various unsavory characters and beliefs, I don't see regret for the unhappy fate of Koenigsberg and its historical population at the hands of Stalin to be, without more, particularly compelling evidence of "sympathy for the Third Reich." Maybe there's more than appears on the face of the original English-language post? (Following the link to a French-language text does me no good because I have no French and my German is sufficiently rusty that I can't really parse text being sung by a French-Canadian.) Failing that, isn't there already evidence that this particular guy is an unpleasant kook w/o running the risk of invoking, um, would it be le loi du Godwin?

    [(myl) I'm puzzled, too, not by the laudable regret for Stalin's victims, but about why a Quebecois nationalist writes (?) and performs a song, in German, about German territory lost in in WWII, full of glimpses of German war memorials, the Quadriga from the Brandenburg gate, the odd iron cross, etc. Maybe it's just the "king's mountain" connection. But I certainly wouldn't have predicted that song -- or the skinhead-vibe music video for it -- from the rest of his oeuvre. ]

  51. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

    One last element that I just noticed: this is just camouflaged vanity publishing. The guy owns this small publisher, which he even renamed after himself! (he also is CEO of another, much more respectable publisher).

  52. James said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

    marie-lucie said:

    [Tabarnack] is probably the most serious insult or swearword in Québec.

    Haha – yes. So serious that it's got the highest utterance-per-km2 of any spoken word in Quebec.

  53. J. W. Brewer said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 11:53 pm

    OK. Still puzzling. I did not watch the video all the way to the end after accepting that I would not be able to figure out the lyrics, but I certainly take myl's point that the visuals did not necessarily focus benignly on the lost Koenigsberg heritage of Kant, Euler's topological problem involving the bridges, and, uh, Woody Allen (nee Konigsberg) as opposed to other perhaps more troubling symbolic items. I don't think it's an immutable law that non-Germans singing in German are Nazi-symps, although of course David Bowie's German-language recording of "Helden" was only a year or two after certain controversial press conferences at which he made allegedly pro-Hitler remarks (although these are generally explained away as side effects of excessive cocaine consumption plus residence in Los Angeles).

    Did some Soviet propagandist of the WW2 era prefigure our current subject by propounding a theory that certain syntactic or orthographic or lexical peculiarities of German demonstrated the inherent evil/ethnocentrism/imperialism of its speakers? Ezra Pound (who was pro-Allies during WW1, albeit still a crackpot) put forth a theory circa 1917 that aggressive and militaristic "Kaiserism" represented the spirit of the evil Teutonic research university as against the more civilized spirit of the traditional Anglo-American liberal arts college, but I think he stayed away from language-specific claims.

  54. Christian DiCanio said,

    April 27, 2009 @ 7:55 am

    Ahh, but in English we at least capitalize the names of languages, which they don't do in French. Perhaps this means that the French don't esteem other languages as highly as we do? Perhaps Germans esteem all nouns more highly than we do as they are all capitalized too? Perhaps IF WE START WRITING IN CAPS, WE'LL BE HONORED AS BEING THOROUGHLY EGALITARIAN.

  55. Arnold Zwicky said,

    April 27, 2009 @ 8:07 am

    On "tabarnack": see

    RS, 12/5/06: Oh tabernacle! What the wafer!:
    http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003861.html

  56. Ginger Yellow said,

    April 27, 2009 @ 8:15 am

    Re: 'poubelle' – as if to demonstrate the superiority of British English, 'dustbin' works perfectly.

  57. marie-lucie said,

    April 27, 2009 @ 8:26 am

    There are more amusing variations of tabernacle such as, tabarnouche and tabourrette (my best guess at the spelling) (by "tablogloid" above)

    The fact that there are a number of alterations to the particularl word tabernacle in order to avoid pronouncing the word itself shows how strong it is. Partially disguising a taboo word is a well-known compromise between propriety and the need for emotional expression. Similar examples in English are "heck" for "hell" and the various substitutes for "the f-word" (a word which also peppers the speech of some people even though there is still a strong taboo about it). Milder words do not need to be disguised.

    "tabourrette" is probably the word tabouret 'stool' (eg a kitchen stool). Some words which have lost the final t in "Standard" French still have it in some rural dialects in Western France, and also in some Canadian varieties.

  58. fiddler said,

    April 27, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

    @Francis Tyers,

    [(myl) But this song should have a one-word title in English as in French, I thought; and "garbage" seemed like the best choice to me. The refrain "à la poubelle" means "into the garbage can", I guess, but "into the garbage" mean about the same thing, and would work better, don't you think?]

    "Bin" would work then no?

    "Bin" is a bit generic for me–how about dumpster?

  59. marie-lucie said,

    April 27, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

    A "dumpster" is very large, much larger than the lowly poubelle that is in every French kitchen.

  60. Roger Lustig said,

    April 27, 2009 @ 10:32 pm

    @J Lin and Bernhard: thanks for forwarding the memo, as it were. Been trying to avoid it since well before it appeared in final form. In future will pass all such comments by a competent everyday user of the language.

    I owe you Pommes mit Majonese…

    Roger

  61. Elvi said,

    April 28, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

    BS wrote: "He is A-typical of a 1/4 of the Nationalist extremists in Quebec!"

    This seems to be almost an eggcorn, except for the fact that the new word is made up. It seems to be meant as "typical", or even "extra typical", from the context, rather than the opposite as we would expect "atypical" to signify.

  62. maxim said,

    April 28, 2009 @ 2:03 pm

    Marie-Lucie wrote above:

    > > There are more amusing variations of tabernacle such as, tabarnouche
    > > and tabourrette (my best guess at the spelling) (by "tablogloid"
    > > above)
    > … "tabourrette" is probably the word tabouret 'stool' (eg a kitchen
    > stool). Some words which have lost the final t in "Standard" French
    > still have it in some rural dialects in Western France, and also in
    > some Canadian varieties.
    >

    I thought the original poster was referring to "tabarouette", something
    one indeed hears in Montréal from time to time, but not as frequently as
    the other variants. The one person I heard this from frequently was from
    Mauricie region; I have no idea if this is a coincidence.

    BTW, I always wondered if the widespread "simonac/simoniaque" is
    actually referring to the medieval practice of "simonia"? If so, how
    could this have been a word used in parish churches frequently enough to
    become a popular expletive just like "hostie" and "tabarnacle" — maybe
    they had a flourishing relics trade or something of the sort in New
    France?

  63. marie-lucie said,

    April 28, 2009 @ 4:43 pm

    Maxim: I thought the original poster was referring to "tabarouette", something
    one indeed hears in Montréal from time to time, but not as frequently as
    the other variants.

    That is probably more probable than my suggestion, which relied on the previous poster's transcription. It is likely that the various substitutes for the "t-word" differ according to regions.

    simoniaque: It seems that simony refers to making people pay for various ecclesiastical and clerical services, such as performing the sacraments. I don't know whether it applies to the trade in relics, but sellers of imported (and most likely fake) relics would have found a ready market among churches. Not many "relics" in European churches are demonstrably genuine.

  64. ppindia said,

    April 30, 2009 @ 8:30 am

    Language Jingoism is part of all cultures. As a multilingual person I know that when dealing with many cultures and languages it is very common to see the person say that his language or culture is superior to others. This is part of the human mentality. Language and culture is what defines a person(you can include family and place also if you want). So since this is part of a persons ego he will always claim that his language and culture is superior to others.

  65. marie-lucie said,

    April 30, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

    ppindia: he will always claim that his language and culture is superior to others

    This does not apply to people whose language and culture have been denigrated and who are made to feel inferior for that reason, such as members of various minorities in countries where a dominant majority does not respect or value them. It is common then for such people to feel that their language is "warmer" or more alive, more expressive, etc while the dominant language is "cold". But anyone's native language, bound up with the strong emotional experiences of early childhood, will feel warmer, closer, etc than one learned later in life, especially it the latter is associated with poor experiences in school or in society at large.

  66. Pierre de Ravel d'Esclapon said,

    May 1, 2009 @ 8:56 am

    As a Frenchman living in the North American continent for the last 43 years -3 in Montreal and 40 in the United States-early on I developped the habit of segregating in my mind what is French and what is English.In my early days in Montreal this was particularly difficult because the day-to-day speech patterns of my classmates at the law school showed an admixture of French and English (je suis casse=I am broke;il etait loaded au bout du bout=he was dead drunk).
    I do love both languages but do not love to mix them indiscriminately.To insist on the use of a proper French word,or on the proper usage of a word is not culturral imperialism-it is common sense.Hence I write an occasional column on proper usage in http://www.lecourrierdesetatsunis.com or http://www.americancourrier.com see for example my analysis of the words "challenge" and "trillion" both grievously misused by the French business community.
    Is is to be imperialist to reject the use by Elle magazine the use of "relooker" une robe?
    One need not go the the extremes of Michel Brule to make the point.Yet,linguistic laziness should be tolerated by no one lest we find ourselves in the situation of our German friends coping with Fremdwoerter and in a situation where the quality of thinking will be impaired for lack of clarity and rigor.

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