Linguistic insecurity… what and why?

Hello everyone!

I decided to write my first blog in English for a few reasons. Firstly, this blog was created as a project in a conference organized by Ontario Extend and I wanted the participants to be able to read and understand my contribution. Secondly, language insecurity is a phenomenon that can be felt by any person, in any language. Therefore, this blog will sometimes be in French and sometimes in English since I speak both languages daily.

So, what is language insecurity? Have you ever felt like you had to adapt your speech depending on whom you are speaking with? Have you ever felt like if your English/French or any other language was not as good as someone else’s? If so, you have felt language insecurity. Language insecurity was first defined by Labov in the 1960s as «hypersensitivity to stigmatized features which [speakers] themselves use».

I have often felt language insecurity even though I was never aware of it. I grew up in Elliot Lake in a French-Canadian household with a father that was Québecois and a mother that was a French Ontarian. There, I only spoke French and was not aware of feeling any insecurity. I moved to Sudbury when I was 8 years old and at that time, I didn’t know much English. It might come to you as a surprise, but when I moved here, I felt a lot of pressure to speak English, but not because of the English speakers, it was in fact because of the French speakers. I was often teased by the French Sudburians for not knowing how to speak English. Even though I was at a French school, I felt a huge pressure to speak in English, just to fit in. That is a pressure that I felt during most of my life.

Sudbury, Ontario Photo credit : Tony Webster

On the other hand, I have also felt a lot of language insecurity when travelling to Québec. Even though my French was above average in a French Ontarian setting, it was considered below average in a Québecois setting and this, mostly because of my accent and my expressions. My family members would not hesitate to tell me that my French needed some work. My own grandmother, that I love with all my heart, would introduce me to her friends by saying that I was from Ontario and that I had «a little accent».

Now there is many more that I could say about this, but that will be for another day. I will only add that unfortunately, this French shaming (in both Québec and Ontario) has created a climate where people who were raised in French Ontario feel uncomfortable in their own language. I’m sure that there are others, in other parts of the world, speaking other languages, that have felt the same feeling. Therefore, I have created this blog for these people to understand that they are not alone, that it’s OK to feel insecure sometimes and that there is nothing wrong with your language, accent or way of speaking. Embrace yourself and your culture!