The Two Solitudes?

Two Solitudes was a novel by Hugh MacLennan that described the difficulties of reconciling the English and French realities that existed in Canada in 1945. The main character was born from the union of a French father and an Irish mother.  He is equally comfortable speaking either language, and understands the dichotomies of both cultures, but has great difficulty defining his own identity.

I myself was born and raised in the French-Canadian culture. We spoke French at home and I went to French language schools. Yet, because I grew up in Ontario, I also learned English at a young age. Therefore, it was easy for me to understand both cultures, although I have always associated more with the French-Canadian culture, for obvious reasons.

It was in this context that I met my wife, Jen. She was from Southern Ontario, of Irish descent, and was born and raised in the English culture. She did, however, have a fascination with the French language and was quite fluent. While we spoke mostly in English in our home, she was able to switch to French whenever we spent time with my old friends and my family. Over the years, her French transformed itself from the proper form to the slang spoken by most French-Canadiens. What a  beautiful thing! It was then that things got interesting.

You see, for years we didn’t have kids and then, boom, kids came into the picture. How were we going to raise them? We had always agreed they would go to French school, since it was, in our minds, the only way they would learn and retain the language. That was a no brainer. But what was more difficult was what to do when we were at home. Should we speak French all the time? Should we insist they watch French language channels on TV?

Eventually, we agreed that when I was at home, everyone would speak French. When I wasn’t home, the kids were free to speak whatever language they wanted. This seemed like a good plan.

Plans, however, rarely pan out. The trouble is, they are surrounded by the English language at all times. Most of the shows they watch on TV are in English. Most of their friends speak English only. Therefore, it is only normal that they gravitate towards English most of the time, even when I am at home. I find myself constantly reminding them to speak French when I am at home, to the point where I’m sure it has become extremely annoying to them and to Jen.

It is a great stress to me.  I know of people I went to school with who speak little French now, preferring English. This is one of my greatest fears. That my children will not speak French later on in life, and that they will be the last generation in my family to speak French.

I know that this may not happen. They may yet embrace their heritage and keep on speaking French. But I can’t forget that they are the children of a French father and an Irish mother. Born of the Two Solitudes, they will no doubt define their own identity, and whatever path they choose, I will support them.

Read what Jen had to say on this topic.

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6 Responses to “The Two Solitudes?”

  1. Marc Richard Says:

    Le coeur de ma vie – Michel Rivard

    C’est la langue qui cours dans les rues de ma ville
    Comme une chanson d´amour au refrain malhabile
    Elle est fière et rebelle et se blesse souvent
    Sur les murs des gratte-ciel, contre les tours d´argent

    Elle n´est pas toujours belle, on la malmène un peu,
    C´est pas toujours facile d´être seule au milieu
    D´un continent immense où ils règlent le jeu,
    Où ils mènent la danse, où ils sont si nombreux

    Elle n´est pas toujours belle, mais vivante, elle se bat,
    En mémoire fidèle de nos maux, de nos voix,
    De nos éclats de rire et de colère aussi,
    C´est la langue de mon cœur et le cœur de ma vie

    C´est une langue de France aux accents d´Amérique,
    Elle déjoue le silence à grands coups de musique
    C´est la langue de mon cœur et le cœur de ma vie,
    Que jamais elle ne meure, que jamais on ne l´oublie

    Il faut, pour la défendre, la parler de son mieux,
    Il faut la faire entendre, faut la secouer un peu
    Il faut la faire aimer à ces gens près de nous
    Qui se croient menacés de nous savoir debout

    Il faut la faire aimer à ces gens de partout
    Venus trouver chez nous un goût de liberté
    Elle a les mots qu´il faut pour nommer le pays,
    Pour qu´on parle de lui en le chantant tout haut

    C´est une langue de France aux accents d´Amérique,
    Elle déjoue le silence à grands coups de musique
    C´est la langue de mon cœur et le cœur de ma vie,
    Que jamais elle ne meure, que jamais on ne l´oublie

    • Kelly Fruhauf Says:

      Merci, Marc pour ce poème. Je viens de le lire à mes enfants! Merci, Luc d’avoir écrit quelque chose qui me fait penser. And that’s the most French I’ve written in awhile. Thanks for reminding me how much I miss it.

    • Merci Marc. C’est en effet une belle chanson qui souligne bien mes pensées.

  2. Sounds like we’re living somewhat parallel lives! I’m American, but speak French, and my husband is French. We’re trying to teach our children French, but it’s a struggle already, as we live in California. We’ve sent our daughter to a French school, but already she prefers English. Currently, we’re trying to speak more French at home. How old are your kiddos? I too, live in fear that the kids won’t pick up the French language or embrace my husband’s culture!

    • We do seem to be living parallel lives! My kids are 9 and 7. But I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to raise children in French in California. At least here in Ontario, there are substantial numbers of French speakers. The key I guess is not to give up. Eventually, they will appreciate your efforts!

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