When BILD takes the stage: Reflections on a recent BILD conference talk

~ by Mela Sarkar, Stephen Davis, Kathleen Green, Emmanouela Tisizi, and Alison Crump

On Thursday, May 11, several members of the BILD group (Mela Sarkar, Stephen Davis, Kathleen Green(Apple), Emmanouela Tisizi) gave a boundary-breaking group presentation at the ACFAS (Association francophone pour le savoir) congress, in a conference organized by the QUESCREN (Réseau de recherche sur les communautés québécoises d’expression anglaise) called “Les 40 ans de la loi 101 : la Charte de la langue française et les communautés québécoises d’expression anglaise, 1977-2017.”

The original title for the talk was:

Critical sociolinguistic research in post-Bill-101 Quebec: mixage & métissage as the new normal

The title that appeared on the program was:

La recherche sociolinguistique critique dans le Québec de l’après-loi 101 : le mixage et le métissage comme nouvelle norme

And, the title we ended up using was:

Critical Sociolinguistic Research dans le Québec de l’après-bill 101 : le mixage et le métissage comme new normal

Our abstract gives you a good idea of what the presentation was about:

In the 40 years since the implementation of Quebec’s Bill 101, the English-speaking community in Quebec has diversified (Bourhis, 2008) and the current landscape is wildly unlike Montreal’s original white Scots-English-Irish base. In this presentation, we explore how this has led to a parallel diversification among Quebec’s English-speaking researcher community through a self-study of the BILD (Belonging, Identity, Language and Diversity) research group. Founded in 2013 at McGill’s Faculty of Education, as a group, we both reflect, and reflect on, the growing diversification of Quebec’s English-speaking communities. BILD members have independent research projects, for example, on the ways Quebec residents of all ages interact with the teaching, learning, and use of French, English, and other local languages. Yet, scholarship is a profoundly social activity (Paré, 2016), and we share how working in a non-hierarchical and collaborative research group has created a new way of being English-speaking researchers in Quebec and new ways of doing sociolinguistic research in English-speaking Quebec.


As usual, the BILD group approached this opportunity to present at a conference to stir the conceptual pot and encourage the audience to think differently about language. And we did so in just 15 minutes!

Mela started off the talk with a brief introduction to the BILD research group and some of the highlights of our activities over the past 4 years: establishing a social media presence; organizing a symposium; starting this blog; doing conference talks; and our most recent project, the J-BILD (Journal of BILD), which will be launching in June (stay tuned!).

Then Emmanouela took the stage and provided a succinct overview of the critical sociolinguistics approach we take to our various research projects. She drew attention to how power is embedded in language and how this is reflected in people’s attitudes towards languages. The idea that languages are distinct and bounded dominates most people’s understanding of them. And though it is relatively easy for people to realize that languages change over time, accepting that languages evolve and are shaped by human contact is more challenging. This becomes all the more apparent if one makes the case that human contact can lead to the creation of new languages, equally valid and just as fluid as all linguistic varieties, and that there is no such thing as a fixed language. When Emmanouela presented the idea that everyone has a linguistic repertoire that they use differently depending on the context, as opposed to having distinct linguistic systems between which they switch, the response from the audience was mixed. Indeed, arguing that so-called ‘proper’ linguistic varieties and so-called ‘broken’ linguistic varieties are just different, and should be examined in their sociocultural context instead of being unfavourably juxtaposed, managed to raise a few eyebrows. Emmanouela did a great job of highlighting that what most people consider as a language is in fact shaped by sociopolitical criteria.

When it was Apple’s turn to speak, she decided to mix and mélange while talking about mixing and mélange-ing.

Her point was mainly that, ici à Montréal, ça serait difficile de parler juste one language à la fois, même si on voulait faire ca. On peut voir, here, que les langues se touchent, se mixent, mélangent. The boundary between languages n’est pas si clear. We have to work hard, make arguments, pour trouver le boundary. Il faut point out to each other, “ça c’est un anglicisme. Dis pas ça.” “That’s a Frenchism. In English, we say…. “Nous, les profs de langues especially, on essaie to keep languages separate. Mais c’est du WORK”.

[Side note: There were two interpreters at the conference rendering the talks into sign language—both ASL and LSQ—who Apple threw for quite a loop with her creative and fluid mixing and mélange-ing. This raises the interesting question of whether, in places where spoken language is mixed and mélanged, signers perhaps mix as well. In formal settings like university conferences it doesn’t look like it, but elsewhere…?]

Next up was Stephen, who gave a great explanation of translanguaging and showed some of the many blog posts that have been published on this blog about translanguaging (e.g., Parc Jarry: Parler comme un ballophone; Back to Bangla: Rediscovering translanguaging; Translanguaging pedagogy: ¿Qué significa?; Is there such a thing as too much linguistic pluralism?).

This year, ACFAS, one of the most well-known francophone conferences in Canada, was held in Montreal, a place that has long been characterized by the language tensions between French and English; it was held, furthermore, at McGill, long known as Quebec’s last bastion of Anglo(eccentri)city. The deep Englishness that characterizes McGill as an institution always comes into clashing and ironic contrast with the pur et dur promotion of research in French for which ACFAS has made itself the Canadian standard-bearer. In this context, addressing issues related to the fluidity of languages and the new varieties that emerge when people from different cultural, social and linguistic backgrounds come in contact, illuminated the extent to which languages are political and constitute a huge part of people’s identities.

Introducing people to the idea that languages are fluid and constantly evolving and addressing the power relations which are embedded in languages disrupted what many people had in mind before entering the room and caused various defensive reactions. Such instances bring to mind Max Weinreich’s famous words: “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.” As we looked out over the sea of faces alternating expressions of puzzlement, alarm, dawning appre- or compre-hension, and eventually, for many, amusement, as they decided to go along with us (though there were a few disapproving diehards), we felt like mariners on a flagship braving an undiscovered ocean of language.

Never a dull moment when BILD takes the stage.


Bourhis, R. Y. (Ed.) (2008). The Vitality of the English-Speaking Communities of Quebec: From Community Decline to Revival. Montreal, Quebec: CEETUM, Université de Montréal.

Paré, A. (2016, April 17). Making knowledge together: Voice, identity, agency and communal effort. Blog post [BILD blog]. https://bildlida.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/making-knowledge-together-voice-identity-agency-and-communal-effort-by-dr-anthony-pare/

Weinreich, M. (1945). Der YIVO un di problemen fun undzer tsayt. YIVO Bleter(in Yiddish), 25(1). Retrieved from: http://download.hebrewbooks.org/downloadhandler.ashx?req=43629

This ongoing blog series is one of the projects of the BILD research group. We invite you to contribute to our blog or submit to our journal, J-BILD.

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One thought on “When BILD takes the stage: Reflections on a recent BILD conference talk

  1. Wonderful! It sounds a fun and successful way of encouraging people to question some traditional social and linguistic boundaries. 🙂

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