Dr. Hélène Blondeau, Associate Professor of Languages, Literatures and Culture, used her 2016 Rothman Faculty Fellowship to travel to the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Canada. She used the trips to access research materials at the University of Montreal, and to consult other specialists in Brussels and Birmingham focusing on language variation and language identity in Montreal and Brussels. This will provide the foundation for her current project which compares the role of French in the two cities and the impact that historical developments, contemporary migrations, and multicultural contact have had on the two local varieties of French.
Montreal is a major point of contact between English and French languages in North America. This multicultural city underwent significant shifts in the late 20th century. Policies such as the language laws cemented French’s place as the language of the public domain and the workplace. However, factors such as the integration of ethnically diverse children who historically went to English schools into French schools has led to increased multicultural influence on the local variety of French spoken in Montreal.
Brussels, officially a bilingual city of French and Dutch, is also home to many English speakers. This multilingual urban area is home to both skilled migrants coming to the city to work for international organizations who adopt English as the lingua Franca, and other economic migrants who are more likely to speak their mother tongue at home and French in the public domain. The French spoken in Brussels is notable in that it features unique characteristics resulting from both its historical and contemporary language contacts.
Brussels and Montreal, both large multilingual urban areas with comparable corpora of French, provide ample opportunity of sociolinguistic comparison. Dr. Blondeau’s work is significant in describing the diversification and development of vernacular French. While Montreal is an example of French affected by multicultural contact but provided a protected status, Brussels provides an example of a French variety where the language is not granted a unique status. Factors such as gentrification, social mixing, and globalization have greatly impacted regional vernaculars. Documentation and comparison of grammatical constructions such as quotatives and future temporal references in a variety of sources including text messages and semi-directed interviews with Francophone speakers, allow for an examination of the changes in the sociolinguistic configuration of the two cities and the impact on language practice. In this way Dr. Blondeau’s work aims to illustrate the effects of globalism and multiculturalism on the way people in diverse areas communicate.
Center for the Humanities
and the Public Sphere
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
200 Walker Hall
P.O. Box 118030
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611