Speaking the language

Parler la langue

Until the day I decided to come back on the Islands, I was blaming it on simple bad luck. There are worst hands to be dealt, but everyone still makes sure to remind me of this misfortune: I am one of the few unlucky Islanders who, even though born and raised on the Islands, don't have "the accent."

It's the first comment I get as soon as I say the magic words "I am from the Magdalen Islands" without the expected pronunciation. I hear it from new encounters outside of the Islands. I also get it more than not when I meet new Islanders. At different times in my life, it was phrased in either one of two ways: I've been told that I speak "like they do in books," or that I must be from Europe or some other place where the language I speak does exist.

I was well aware that I did not speak as the people my age did - or even the members of my family - but these questions never hurt me. On the contrary, it only made me more curious to discover why, when nothing could have I predicted it, I was speaking in tongues from another world, another place where I'd never been. As the years passed, I understood a few things:

Firstly, it has to be said that the Islands' "accent" is actually several accents. I believe there are as many variants as there are Islanders, but if pressed to be reasonable, we generally agree on seven or eight distinct dialects, depending on the island of origin.

Secondly, even if certain areas have a thicker accent, there is a linguistic something that we all share. It was made very clear to me when I first left the Islands and moved to Quebec City to study. I had always been told that I had no accent, and yet there I was, amazed by the hints and subtleties that people from the mainland were quick to point out: I was saying "woh" instead of "oah", "ti" instead of "tsi", and some words I thought to be common, mostly coming from old French or borrowed from the sea, were heard as gibberish.

Ultimately, I understood that the language of the Islands is more than a crushed, trilled or swapped out letter R. It's a dialect deeply rooted in the words we choose, that gets expressed just as much by what we say than by what we don't - it's the soul behind our words. And I am not without it. There's this colourful and poetic twist at the core of my everyday words. And this particular flavour of accent refuses to abdicate, even in the face of my very proper, sometimes CBC-like pronunciation.

It's now what I love the most about language; this colour has spiced up my French, giving it a newfound edge. My mother tongue went from battlefield to patchwork; it's an amalgam of foreign sounds and familiar expressions, stitched from television scripts and family dinners, borrowed equally from Michel Tremblay and Molière. A language made of alexandrine verses and seafaring words which, in the end, do go hand in hand.

 

Photo credit : Marie-Pier Chevrier

Par Nathaël Molaison

I came back on the Islands three years ago, and each day, I (re)discover the little details, the subtleties and — most importantly — the inspiration that this place brings me. In each and every one of my projects, I write a little piece of what makes us different and unique beings.

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