11 December 2009


I will soon be among you! Four days from now, I will take a bus and a train and a plane and a metro and another train and a vehicle, and then I will see your bright faces chasing away the Breton rain. My countenance, as you may imagine, has lightened considerably since my last post. And whose wouldn’t, with Christmas presents strewn about the room, a suitcase attentively waiting to be packed, and numerous messages telling me I’m expected? I love my people. I also love very specific things about being home. Among them: the woodstove, the KenapocoMocha coffeeshop, carpet, my down comforter, a large kitchen with full oven, snow, and pets. Surely there is no place like home for the holidays.

In anticipation, I’ve worked hard to finish my application to McGill University in Montreal, where I will be studying next year thanks to the Rotary Foundation. I finished the online application last night, which officially marked the beginning of excitement and included a rash of phone calls. The application requires a research proposal, which gave me the opportunity to articulate what exactly interests me about sociolinguistics. My current impression of the linguistics field in general has turned a bit sour, given that the McGill professor I thought could be my advisor wrote that he is currently working in “the nativization of foreign words containing the /a/ sound, such as ‘llama’ and ‘pasta.’” Such studies do not entice me. However, the sociolinguistics I studied in Strasbourg strike me as vastly interesting (although you may disagree). I want to study the perceptions speakers have of their languages, as the case studies in Alsace elicited what people thought about French, German, and Alsatian. For example, many Alsatians who still speak the regional language have not taught it to their children because it is considered useless or even worthless. Linguistic perceptions aren’t necessarily so damaging: I realized when I traveled in Spain that I had subconsciously associated Spanish with directives like, “Don’t drink the water” and “Don’t eat fresh fruits or vegetables.” It’s strange what we are capable of thinking without thinking about it.

I am ecstatic to study in Montreal next year, where French and English blend in this “bilingual city.” But is it really? Are French Canadians the only real bilinguals? Why so many language laws if neither variety is threatened? My intuition is that language policy reflects and then deeply shapes linguistic perceptions. After World War II the Alsatians were told to reject everything German, so is it surprising few pass on their Germanic language, favoring French instead? How can bilingual Canada serve as a model for bilingual regions in the US? Fascinating.

This and Christmas have occupied my thoughts intensely for the last week. Both tales have a happy ending, I hope, but no pictures just yet. But who needs pictures when the real thing will land in five days?

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