Courtesy Dano LeBlanc
Here's a linguistic recipe.
Take French grammar and syntax and add English verbs. Take English verbs and conjugate them like French verbs. Sprinkle in the vocabulary of 17th century French settlers to French Acadia. Translate an English idiom literally to French. That's Chiac.
That’s how you’ll get sentences like, "J'ai backé mon car dans la driveway."
Chiac emerged naturally from close contact between French and English speakers that goes all the way back to the colonial period. Chiac speakers with the common last names, Leblanc and Daigle, descend from the early French settlers who have preserved their culture against formidable odds. In the deportation of 1755, the British evicted 10,000 Acadians, many of whom later returned to a world now dominated by English.
Their descendants speak Chiac, but ideally not too much of it — the boundaries are subtle, informed by fears about the erosion of French culture.
While activists and politicians have fought to carve out space for French in New Brunswick, artists and musicians have led an evolving conversation about where Chiac fits in a regional identity.
For Dano Leblanc, the Acadian band “1755” made him aware in high school that he used a vocabulary he wouldn’t hear on French television.
“They had lyrics that were in Chiac and, you know, suddenly it was written down, you know, in the lyric sheet and the album and you could see it and suddenly became really self-conscious of the way we spoke.”
As an adult, he put Chiac on television, spoken by the animated superhero Acadieman.
The show aired not just in New Brunswick, but elsewhere in Canada.
Chiac has in fact never been higher-profile than today, with Chiac musicians Lisa LeBlanc and Radio Radio touring France and Quebec.
“We get from other provinces [that] you're destroying your French,” says Marie Annick-Bisson, who knows LeBlanc and has followed her growing success. “It's like, well, if we can manage to speak a good French to other people who actually speak French and we speak Chiac amongst ourselves, then what's the problem?”
In this episode, we pose that question to the region’s best-known writer, France Daigle, to members of the hip-hop act Radio Radio, to politicians and to parents.
00:30 A spin of the radio dial in Moncton, New Brunswick.
1:00 Canada is chock-full of language policies, at provincial, territory and city level.
2:35 Chiac is not Franglais.
Courtesy Dano LeBlanc
5:20 Should a public-service movie about teenage bullying in Moncton include dialogue in Chiac?
6:50 Is Chiac "bad French"?
7:50 The "Stop" sign in New Brunswick.
9:00 Some Acadian history: why Moncton sits on a linguistic border.
10:30 Language rights protests of the 1960s
13:30 Musician Gabriel Malenfant struggled at school to learn academic French.
15:31 Dano LeBlanc and a friend dream up "Acadieman."
19:25 How much Chiac is too much Chiac?
19:35 Novelist France Daigle uses formal French in her narration but her character often speak in Chiac.
23:13 Politician Bernard Richard: "We have a saying: 'We learn French but we catch English.'"
27:25 "Ah papa, j'ai entendu il y a un nouveau jeu qui sort. Puis, il est pretty awesome."
Here's a different version of the story that aired on The World radio show...
MUSIC HEARD IN THE PODCAST
00:00 Podington Bear: Dramamine
13:48 adio Radio: Guess What?
15:03 1755: C.B. Buddie
17:52 Lisa LeBlanc: J'pas un Cowboy
18:48 Lisa Leblanc: Aujourd'hui, ma vie c'est d'la marde
25:16 Radio Radio: Cliché Hot
29:36 Lisa LeBlanc: Kraft Dinner