Acadia is a francophone community in Eastern Canada. Canada is an officially bilingual country since the late 1960s. While French is an officially recognized language by the Federal State, it is not a dominant language within most provinces in Canada. In fact, at the provincial level, there are only two provinces in Canada that recognize this language in the public sphere: Quebec and New Brunswick. Both of these provinces are neighbors and while French is a majority language in Quebec, it is a minority language in New Brunswick. The francophone community in New Brunswick (about 33% of the population) mostly self-identify as “Acadians”, which is a distinct francophone identity associated with a collective history, cultural symbols and language ideologies. How does gender, identity and language intersect in a peripheric Canadian community and how does “care” allow me to examine new intersections of identity practices?
After I spent years researching the role of women in the production of normative language discourses in a small francophone community of New Brunswick, I started to question the heterosexual dominance of voices and perspectives in sociolinguistic fieldwork (and how this also influences how I teach and how I do research as a sociolinguist). I realized that, in my research, the role of women was always conceived as the role of straight women. My research seemed to be focused on straight culture in this particular western community (Acadia) and how it valued biological, cultural and linguistic reproduction of identity. At first, I was interested in questioning and caring about the voices that were excluded from this narrative. Whatever did not correspond with this straight / heterosexual norm of identity associated with purism (biological, cultural and linguistic) seemed important to me. I also started to question the shaping of women’s roles in regard to reproducing ideas of homogeneity, pureness and authenticity.
These ideas brought me to design a new research project on queer voices in Acadia. It is a new project and this discussion about “care” as methodology will allow me to explore ideas about how to better integrate this component in all parts of the project.
The objective of my research project is to examine the stories of those who have been socialized as francophones, as Acadians, but also as queer. How did their identity representations and practices resist, negotiate or compromise existing norms within a straight unmarked majority?
In thinking about these stories, about queer linguistic representations and identities, about the struggle to belong within a linguistic minority as a stigmatized participant from within, I am curious about the emotional labor that goes into such a research project that is anchored in caring that these voices have not been heard or recognized as important within the community; caring that these voices have not mattered in the political sphere; caring that these voices are questioning how to self-address and address others in their native language without having the necessary resources or necessary strategies to successfully do so: for example, if the straight majority says that language inclusivity is ridiculous and impossible in French (binary norms), what does that mean for people who identify as non-binary/ queer? What message are they getting from this?
Isabelle LeBlanc, Ph.D., is a professor of sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology who examines the intersection of gender, language and sexuality in the francophone community of Acadia, in Eastern Canada.