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Last revised:
23 August 2000


The Impertinences of Brother Anonymous  

Quotations from the book

"In October, 1959, André Laurendeau published a short column in Le Devoir in which he qualified the speech of French Canadian students as "joual talk". He, not I, invented the name. It was well chosen. The thing and the name are alike, both hateful. The word joual is a summary description of what it is like to talk joual, to say joual instead of cheval, horse. It is to talk as horses would talk [...].

Our pupils talk joual, write joual, and don’t want to talk or write any other way. Joual is their language. Things have gone so far that they can’t even tell a mistake when it is shown to them at pencil point [...]. The vice is deeply rooted at the grammatical level, and on the level of pronunciation. [...]

Joual is a boneless language. The consonants are all slurred. [...] They say chu pas apable for je ne suis pas capable (I am not able). I can’t write joual down phonetically. It can’t be fixed in writing for it is a decomposition [...].

Joual, this absence of language is a symptom of our non-existence as French Canadians. No one can ever study language enough, for it is the home of all meanings. Our inability to assert ourselves, our refusal to accept the future, our obsession with the past, are all reflected in joual, our real language. [...]

The day it appeared I read Laurendeau’s comment to my class. My pupils realized that they spoke joual. One of them said, almost proudly, "We’ve founded a new language." They saw no need to change. "Everybody talks like us," they told me. Some said, people would laugh at us if we talked differently from the others." One said - and it is a diabolical objection - "Why should we talk otherwise when everybody understands us?" It’s not easy for a teacher taken unaware, to answer this last proposition, which was made to me one afternoon.

Of course joual-speakers understand each other. But do you want to live your life among joual-speakers? As long as you want merely to chat about sports and the weather, as long as you talk only such crap, joual does very well. For primitives, a primitive language is good enough; animals get along with a few grunts. But if you want to attain to human speech, joual is not sufficient. You can make do with a board and some whitewash if you want to paint a barn, but finer tools are necessary for the Mona Lisa.

Now we approach the heart of the problem, which is a problem of civilization. Our pupils speak joual because they think joual, and they think joual because they live joual, like everybody around here. Living joual means rock’n roll, hot dogs, parties, running around in cars. All our civilization is joual. Efforts on the level of language don’t accomplish anything, these competitions, campaigns for better French, congresses, all that stuff. We must act on the level of civilization [...]".

Frère Untel, The Impertinences of Brother Anonymous, Harvest House, 1962, 126p. (translated by Miriam Chapin)

© 1999 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College