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MAPS & GLOSSARIES / Speak white
Date of publication at Tlaxcala: 23/02/2016
Original: Speak white

Speak white

Michèle Lalonde


Speak White is (was) a racist insult, borrowed from the slave masters in the US South, used by English-speaking Canadians against those who speak other languages in public. The slur inspired a French language poem composed by Québécois writer Michèle Lalonde in October 1968. It was recited in solidarity events with the Québecois political prisoners belonging to the FLQ (Québec's Liberation Front) and the author was recorded reciting it during the Poetry Night in Montréal on 27 March 1970. It was published in 1974 by Editions de l'Hexagone, Montréal.

It denounced the poor situation of French-speakers in Quebec and takes the tone of a collective complaint against English-speaking Quebecers. Her poem is directed primarily at English Canada, although often citing British and US-American references such as Shakespeare, Keats, the Thames, the Potomac and Wall Street as its symbols of linguistic oppression.

In 1980, Speak White was made into a short motion picture by filmmakers Pierre Falardeau and Julien Poulin, the six-minute film featured actress Marie Eykel reading Lalonde's poem. It was released by the National Film Board of Canada.

''Speak White" interpreted by Marie Eykel in the film by Pierre Falardeau & Julien Poulin


 Speak White

il est si beau de vous entendre it is so beautiful to hear you
parler de Paradise Lost talk about Paradise Lost
ou du profil gracieux et anonyme qui

tremble dans les sonnets de Shakespeare

or of the anonymous and gracious envelope

which trembles in the sonnets of Shakespeare

nous sommes un peuple inculte et bègue we are an uncultivated and stuttering people
mais ne sommes pas sourds au génie d'une langue but we are not deaf to the genius of a language
parlez avec l'accent de Milton et Byron

et Shelley et Keats

speak to us with the accent of Milton and Byron

and Shelley and Keats

speak white speak white
et pardonnez-nous de n'avoir pour réponse and forgive us to have for answer
que les chants rauques de nos ancêtres but the raucous songs of our ancestors
et le chagrin de Nelligan and the sorrow of Nelligan
speak white speak white
parlez de choses et d'autres tell us about various things
parlez-nous de la Grande Charte speak to us about the Great Charter
ou du monument à Lincoln or Lincoln's monument
du charme gris de la Tamise of the gray charm of the Thames
de l'eau rose du Potomac the pink water of Potomac
parlez-nous de vos traditions speak to us about your traditions
nous sommes un peuple peu brillant we are a people not very brilliant
mais fort capable d'apprécier but very much able to appreciate
toute l'importance des crumpets all the importance of the crumpets
ou du Boston Tea Party or the Boston Tea Party
mais quand vous really speak white but when you really speak white
quand vous get down to brass tacks when you get down to brass tacks
pour parler du gracious living to speak of gracious living
et parler du standard de vie and the standard of living
et de la Grande Société and the Great Society
un peu plus fort alors speak white speak a little louder then speak white
haussez vos voix de contremaîtres raise your foremen voices
nous sommes un peu durs d'oreille we are a little deaf
nous vivons trop près des machines we live too close to the machines
et n'entendons que notre souffle au-dessus des outils and hear but our own breath over the tools
speak white and loud speak white and loud
qu'on vous entende so we can hear you
de Saint-Henri à Saint-Domingue from Saint-Henri to Saint-Domingue
oui quelle admirable langue yes what an admirable language
pour embaucher to hire
donner des ordres to give orders
fixer l'heure de la mort à l'ouvrage to set the time of death at work
et de la pause qui rafraîchit and the break which freshens
et ravigote le dollar and stimulates the dollar
speak white speak white
tell us that God is a great big shot tell us that God is a great big shot
and that we're paid to trust him and that we're paid to trust him
speak white speak white
parlez-nous production profits et pourcentages tell us about production profits and percentages
speak white speak white
c'est une langue riche it is a rich language
pour acheter to buy
mais pour se vendre but to sell ourselves
mais pour se vendre à perte d'âme but to sell ourselves until we lose our souls
mais pour se vendre but to sell ourselves
ah ! ah!
speak white speak white
big deal big deal
mais pour vous dire but to tell you
l'éternité d'un jour de grève the eternity of a day of strike
pour raconter to tell
une vie de peuple-concierge the life of a janitor people
mais pour rentrer chez nous le soir but to get back home at night
à l'heure où le soleil s'en vient crever au-dessus des ruelles at the hour the sun dies over the alleys
mais pour vous dire oui que le soleil se couche oui but to tell you that yes the sun sets yes
chaque jour de nos vies à l'est de vos empires everyday of our lives East of your empires
rien ne vaut une langue à jurons nothing is better than a language of swear words
notre parlure pas très propre our not-so-clean way of speaking
tachée de cambouis et d'huile stained with sludge and oil
speak white speak white
soyez à l'aise dans vos mots be comfortable with your words
nous sommes un peuple rancunier we are a rancorous people
mais ne reprochons à personne but we blame no one
d'avoir le monopole to have the monopoly
de la correction de langage of the correction of language
dans la langue douce de Shakespeare in the sweat language of Shakespeare
avec l'accent de Longfellow with the accent of Longfellow
parlez un français pur et atrocement blanc speak an atrociously pure and white French
comme au Viêt-Nam au Congo as in Viet-Nam and Congo
parlez un allemand impeccable speak an impeccable German
une étoile jaune entre les dents with a yellow star in between your teeth
parlez russe parlez rappel à l'ordre parlez répression speak Russian speak call to order speak repression
speak white speak white
c'est une langue universelle it is a universal language
nous sommes nés pour la comprendre we are born to understand it
avec ses mots lacrymogènes with tear gas words
avec ses mots matraques with bludgeon words
speak white speak white
tell us again about Freedom and Democracy tell us again about Freedom and Democracy
nous savons que liberté est un mot noir we know that liberty is a Black word
comme la misère est nègre as misery is nigger
et comme le sang se mêle à la poussière des rues d'Alger ou de Little Rock and as blood mixes with dust in the streets of Algiers or Little Rock
speak white speak white
de Westminster à Washington relayez-vous from Westminster to Washington relay each other
speak white comme à Wall Street speak white like in Wall Street
white comme à Watts white like in Watts
be civilized be civilized
et comprenez notre parler de circonstance and understand our circumstantial way of talking
quand vous nous demandez poliment when you politely ask us
how do you do how do you do
et nous entendez vous répondre and you hear us reply
we're doing all right we're doing all right
we're doing fine we're doing fine
we we
are not alone are not alone
nous savons we know
que nous ne sommes pas seuls. that we are not alone.

Courtesy of Michèle Lalonde, 27 march 1970
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJwte_0QLvU
Publication date of original article: 06/10/2013
URL of this page : http://www.tlaxcala-int.org/article.asp?reference=17326


Tags: Speak whiteMichèle LalondeFrancophonyLinguistic discriminationLinguistic SupremacismLinguicismLinguistic sovereignismQuébecCanada

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