Monday, February 07, 2005

La neige est fondue!

Could I have come to Montreal at the exact wrong time? Is it to be my curse to be followed by the media and capitalism fuelled trends that suck the life and culture from the little bits of realness left in the world? I refer, of course, to the article in Satan's favorite broadsheet that has identified Montreal as the next Seattle, Austin or [gak] Williamsburg. I'd rather the U.S. just start the Fresh Water Wars of '16 early instead of this propaganda attack. What's next, fey little boys going to their rehearsals on their banana seats? I should have known, what with the prevalance of trucker hats here already. The excessive metrosexuality of the french males in Montreal distracted me from the true danger, sneaking in from the West Island. I think the only way we're going to prevent the soiling and destruction of all that is good in this city is with a succesful "Oui" referendum!

But I digress from my stated mission. It has been too long since my last post (holidays and broken keyboard), but I am very happy to say that my french has improved significantly! I'm reading french novels fairly regularily now, around one french book for every two english ones. I probably read them in about one and a half to twice the time it takes me to read an equivalent english book. My writing has improved as well. My prose is still awkward and clearly the work of a non-native, but I'm starting to grasp the complex stylistic elements of french to the point where some of them even make sense in my mind. It was extremely gratifying to get back a page and a half that I'd written on Stephen Reid (famous Canadian bank robber of the Stopwatch Gang) and have around 15 errors. More significantly, my prof understood my prose and ideas. There were none of those moments where he's clearly trying to figure out what the hell I'm trying to say.

These improvements lead to a nascent appreciation of linguistics and from that a growing conviction that perhaps language is culture. That's a broad and uneducated statement, clearly, but whereas, in college, when I first heard it, I viewed that statement as a sweeping concept to be parsed and placed along many others (or a sign that I should strike the person who said it with the back of my hand), when you start to get into the deep end of a language, you begin to realize how fundamental it is to human response and behaviour. This understanding has helped me handle miscommunications here, which has in turn tightened up my french.

French is much more rigid than english. I'm told that the french of Molière is the same french taught today. English has been allowed to run free and in doing so has lost a significant amount of it's structure and vocabulary. A good example is the verb "to land." In french, it's "atterrir," literally to earth (the earth is la terre). When the first man walked on the moon, the french did not have a word to describe it! The generally used word is "Alunir" but if you look that up in the dictionary, it says "Terme condamné par l'Académie des sciences et par l'Académie française, qui recommandaient atterrir sur la lune."

And in french, you really can't shorten "atterrir sur la lune" to just "atterrir." They wouldn't get it. Even if you were to draw a picture of the lunar lander, they still wouldn't understand you for a bit, until finally they'd say, "aaahhh, tu veux dire atterrir sur la lune!" [oh, you mean land on the moon.] That's why they seem to be so annoying about their language sometimes. I think actually, they really can't understand what you are saying unless you use the precise word for that given situation. Every time I try to do a creative metaphor in french, which may be awkard or forced in english but at least would be understood, it is met with complete incomprehension.

And now getting way off into an area of theory where I have no business being, I'm starting to think that part of the reason english has ended up being the winner in the colonial race starting in Europe 400 years ago is because of it's incredible flexibility and dynamism. It changes with the money and the technology. I won't go any farther, but it's something to think about (and obviously has been) and it comes up more and more as I internalize this new language more.

So you can see why I consider an article from the New York Times on this magical place to be such a threat! On top of that, it's been above freezing for almost two weeks now. The snow is melting away ("fondre" is to melt, thus fondu). I went out with shorts on today. It's still early yet, but this winter has not lived up to my fears and expectations. Between Global Warming (La réchauffement de la terre) and American Cultural Imperialism (l'ostie de crosseur tabernaco Times de New York), I fear I may have arrived too late in Montréal.

[props to Lantzvillager for getting me the heinous article in question, in hardcopy no less. We're everywhere!]


Anonymous said...

I don't understand. Do you mean a "non" referendum because everybody must say no to hipsters? Is it a bilingual pun (a non-referendum of no)? Wouldn't a "oui" referendum be better. If there was a oui, the we would get rid of the non(francophones).

I think when I move to Mo'real, my hipster name will be Cinq.

Olman Feelyus said...

Oops! I meant "oui". :) I was feeling so negative at the time. Thanks for pointing that out.

Jarrett said...

all that literalism makes me wonder what the french hip-hoppers talk about in their much of what is good in rap and hiphop is figuring out the metaphors and code words.