I am weirdly fascinated by a comedic music video titled ‘Anglo’ by Montréal-based comedian, Mike Patterson. The video is captioned with this description (translated from French), “Are you an Anglophone? Are you annoyed when you speak in French and all the Francophones switch into English because of your accent and grammatical errors? It’s important to practice though! That’s why I wrote this song. We live in Québec, let us speak French, even if it’s not good! Speak to me in French when I buy my beer at the corner store, ostie!” (‘ostie’, referencing the host, is a religion-based expletive unique to the variety of French that is spoken in Québec, and is roughly equivalent to ‘damn it’). To give you a general idea, the video is about self-described Anglophone Mike Patterson, who in the song (entirely in French) expresses his frustration at always being spoken to in English whenever he speaks French. Since putting this video up on YouTube in 2012, Patterson’s video has received around 13,000 views and some pretty interesting comments from viewers. I’ve included the complete lyrics and an English translation at the very bottom of this post and you can view the video below (Note: there’s some potentially offensive language in the lyrics and the video).
Comedic value aside, the video is about much more than language and the need to practice speaking French. It also touches on issues of identity, belonging, and culture. For example, Patterson states from the outset that he is an ‘Anglo’, and at the song is peppered with references to hallmarks of typically ‘English-Canadian’ culture (Tim Horton’s, Nickleback, bowling, The Gazette), but he also suggests that French is the language of his day-to-day movements around the city:
“Français dans les bars [French in the bars]
Français dans ton char [French in your car]
Quand je mettre un foulard [When I put on a scarf]
Et fume une cigar [And smoke a cigar]
Français quand je boire [French when I drink]
Avec tout mes gars [With all my guys]
Quand je voir des giraffes [When I see the giraffes]
Aux Parc Safar! [At Parc Safari!]
Français chez ma soeur [French at my sister’s house]
Au Île Bizard [at Ile Bizard]”
In this sense, Patterson’s video paints a picture of a person whose outward cultural affiliations are typically ‘English’, but also firmly claims the title of a proud Quebecker:
“Français dans ma coeur [French in my heart]
Ca-ca-ca-coeur [Ha-ha-ha-heart]…” (mid-song)
“Je suis une fier Quebécer [I’m a proud Quebecker]” (final verse)
With French in his heart (a powerful image!), Patterson rejects the idea of an ‘either-or’ division of culture, and points instead to a blurring of what it means to be a Québecker. Mixing French and English throughout his lyrics, Patterson’s cultural identity is reflective of anything but the two solitudes whereby ‘Anglos’ only want to speak English and ‘Francophones’ only want to speak French; rather, he creatively mixes features of what are typically thought of as either ‘French Canadian’ (speaking French) or ‘English Canadian’ (socks and sandals), pointing to a cultural identity that is deeply connected to the language that he speaks:
“Il y a du monde qui pense que [There are people who think that]
Parce que chuis un anglais [Because I’m English]
Que chuis pas une Quebécer [I’m not a Quebecker]”
Yet, despite Patterson’s strong claim to French as a part of his identity as a Québecker, he distances himself from French with text/lyrics like (emphases added):
“Laissez nous parler en français même si on n’est pas bon [Let us speak French even if it’s not very good]…” (from the description)
“Parle à moi moi dans ta langue [Speak to me in your language]…” (mid-song)
“Je vais faire ma mieux [I’m going to do my best]
De parle ta langue! [To speak your language!]…” (final verse)
The discourse of ‘let us’ and ‘your language’ can give the perception of ‘Francophones’ as the gatekeepers of French. I have to wonder if this is a form of othering, but at the same time it also seem understandable given the rest of the song. Patterson’s video is essentially telling the story of someone who’s frustrated because he wants to speak French but people (Francophones?) consistently switch into English with him. In this sense, the feeling of having French gate-kept from him makes some sense. I think of this as a language-identity dissonance: Patterson wants to speak French because there’s French in his heart and speaking French is part of how he identifies as a Quebecker. When he speaks French, he feels like a Quebecker. When people speak back to him in English, he feels he is treated like a monolingual ‘Anglo’, an identity that he doesn’t relate to. Just as languages are the means through which we engage with other cultural and social worlds, language switching can also be the means through which we are excluded from those worlds.
Patterson’s video really appeals to me because, not only is it funny (and definitely kind of tacky), but it’s also telling of one of Montréal’s puzzling language dynamics: the ‘Montréal switch’. This is a colloquial term for what some people might call code-switching (cognitivist applied linguists), or convergence (social psychologists), but I like the local flavour of calling it the Montréal switch. The Montréal switch is what happens when people (like the stripper in Patterson’s song) switch into English with someone (like Patterson) who speaks French as an additional language. This isn’t just something that happens in comedic music videos; this is a pretty common feature of life for someone in Montréal for whom French is an additional language: begin a conversation in French, and be answered in English. The Montréal switch is a bit puzzling in light of our current language policy: According to the overarching goal of La charte de la langue française (commonly known as Bill 101), everyone in Québec should speak French as their normal and everyday language in public. Does the Montréal switch reflect a language ideology that is in conflict with the intention of Bill 101? I’m not sure.
I like to speculate that there are lots of reasons why people might respond in English to someone who speaks French with an accent, like Mike Patterson; most of the time (but perhaps not always), it’s probably intended to be accommodating or helpful. Yet, this seems based on the assumption that English is the preferred language of the learner (I’m switching to English because I assume you prefer it). Further, there’s an undercurrent of evaluation in the accommodative switch (I’m switching to English because you’re French isn’t perfect) that can come across as patronizing or even insulting. Patterson alludes to this in the description of the song. Indeed, while a lot of people might find it helpful to be answered in English if they’re struggling to get by in French, the chorus of Patterson’s song suggests a frustration with the perception of having his French evaluated:
“Je suis une Anglo [I’m an Anglo]
Chuis pas slow [I’m not slow]
Parle à moi en français [Speak to me in French]”
To conclude this post, Mike Patterson’s video might be tacky and at times problematic and in poor-taste, but it also represents an interesting push-back against the stereotype that cultural identity is an ‘either-or’ choice between two solitudes. Moreover, it points to language use in Montréal as complex and fraught with the potential for miscommunication.
Artist: Mike Paterson
|Description: Est-ce que vous êtes un anglophone? Est-ce que vous êtes tanné de quand tu parles en Français tous les Francophones switch en Anglais à cause de ton accent et tes erreurs de syntaxe? Il faut pratiquer, donc! C’est pour ça que j’ai écrit cette chanson! On habite au Québec: laissez nous parler en français même si on n’est pas bon! Parle à moi en français quand j’achète mes bières au dépanneur, hostie!||Description: Are you an Anglophone? Are you annoyed when you speak in French and all the Francophones switch into English because of your accent and grammatical errors? It’s important to practice though! That’s why I wrote this song. We live in Québec, let us speak French, even if it’s not good! Speak to me in French when I buy my beer at the corner store, hostie!|
|Mon nom est Mike P, j’habite dans le Plateau
Ça c’est le endroit ou j’ai acheté mon condo
Comme Steven Seagal je connais aikido
L’autre affaire c’est que je suis un anglo!Je mange chez Tim Horton’s
Mais quand tu parle à moi
Parle en français Tabarnak!Il y a du monde qui pense que
Parce que chuis une anglais
Que chuis pas un Québecer
One hundred percent pure laine
Je suis un Anglo
Anglo Quebéc Style
Quand je parle en français
La soire est passée à la Caveau du Sexe
Je suis un Anglo
Anglo Québec styles
Français dans les bars
Je suis un Anglo
Je suis un anglo la
 Tabarnak is another regional religion-based expletive, in this caase referencing the tabernacle.
 Chuis is the written form of a reduced pronunciation of je suis [I am].
 Pure laine literally translates as ‘pure wool’, but is also an idomatic expression unique to the variety of French spoken in Québec that is used to refer to the people whose original ancestry is exclusively French-Canadian. It is roughly equivilant to the English terms ‘true blue’, ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ or ‘old stock’.