(post from phone, apologies for formatting) I have always had a strange relationship with my two languages. When I was younger, I always felt like my French wasn’t good enough, and my accent doesn’t help. Before, in cases where I could have easily done something in English, I have always forced myself to speak or write or
in French, just to prove a point. That is why I bristle when people say “Oh you’re from Louisiana, that’s why you speak French.” I’m not from Acadiana, I’m not from a French speaking family- my level of French has to do with a lot of hard work on my part and a few lucky breaks, and I feel like people who think I speak French because I am “from Louisiana” dismiss that. Over the last year, my feelings and insecurities over French have changed. Maybe it is because I am in my thirties, going on my sixth year in Switzerland, tenth year living in French-speaking countries and twentieth year of learning French, but now I feel like I have done my time and people who think my French isn’t good enough are the ones with the problem. I’m quite suspicious now of people who try to criticize my French- I wonder if it has more to do with their own insecurities, because I *know* my French is on lock.
My shifting feelings towards French have changed the way I relate to friends. Because speaking French was a point of pride for me, I always held English in a lesser regard in high school. In college, that changed. I was lucky enough to associate with writers and poets who helped me want to learn more about my mother tongue. So since then I have always been naturally drawn to people who spoke both French and English and were bilingual to a certain degree (here I could go into a side discussion on definitions of bilingualism but I won’t. I think there is a case to be made for what I call “functional bilingualism”, but that is another topic for another post). I feel like French is hardwired into my brain, and I enjoy being around people who can live in my two worlds. I love speaking Franglais, I love shifting between the two in the same conversation, I love using the “right word” in French or English when the same in the other language just won’t do. I can’t imagine living in a world where I didn’t speak French daily. I think it would make me unhappy. French is a language that comforts me- I feel like an outsider almost everywhere I go (the whole being a Muslim expat in a close-minded
redneck city thing), and I know that French isn’t “my language.” So having a high level of functionality in something that isn’t mine almost makes me feel like being out of place is almost ok- I can run in “their circles” and keep my weirdness private.
I started thinking of my relationship with French when I got married to someone who remains the most gifted linguist I have ever met. Over the past ten years our conversations were and are almost exclusively in English despite the fact that he is French mother tongue. I always thought it was his choice, but now I realize my role in our language interaction. Despite the fact that most of my entourage speaks both French and English, I (subconsciously) divide people into groups. People I want to keep at a distance get French. At work, I almost never speak in English (unless asked to translate or give a pitch) even though the vast majority of my colleagues speak English well. The people I want to be close to, the people I “let in” get English. But even when I am speaking English to someone, I still want that person to be able speak French; in fact, the people I consider my closest friends are highly bilingual French/English. So with close friends, even if 95% of the discussion is in English, I love the five seconds of switching that I sometimes do. The funny thing is that when I am not sure about someone new, it gets schizophrenic and the language divide gets closer to 50-50. I switch back and forth, I test the waters- I may write in French or call in English, or vice versa. If they pass, they get English; if they fail, they get French. My language use has somehow gone beyond the functional for me (even
though I appreciate the functional aspects) and turned into something much more personal whereby I put my social circle into little categories. What about y’all? Are any of you weird about languages?