Behaviors toward language and language users – by which is meant a wide range of gestures, actions or value judgments made towards a variety of language or its speakers, from violent assault to demeaning joke and everything in between – are not just headline material, they are also the spark from which originate many political fires. Language is more than a way to communicate with other human beings; it is a matter of cultural survival, of life and death.
The Canadian province of Québec provides a clear example of how behaviors toward language and language users can be recuperated extra-linguistically to support a larger social or ideological discourse. There, language has been a cornerstone of a national and individual identity in perpetual construction since the very beginning of European settlement. The most intense linguistic debate to take place in Québec occurred in the 1960’s, a period of enormous and uncharacteristically fast political and social changes. This debate focused almost exclusively on the slang of poor, uneducated French-Canadians, commonly known as joual, which quickly became conceptualized as a dual linguistic entity that was both the symptom of a cultural oppression and a potential tool to destroy this very oppression. This period also marked the first use of joual in the literary field as part of a political and stylistic movement aiming at creating a true “littérature québécoise”. The theorizations of joual by its enemies and supporters, in both literary and political works, has contributed to the larger discourse and praxis of cultural change that was affecting Québec society during the so-called Quiet Revolution.

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