Franco-Manitoban Discourses on Community Origins and Nineteenth-Century Migrations: A Sociolinguistic Approach

Sandrine Hallion et Yves Frenette (Université de Saint-Boniface)

Our study focuses on Francophone parishes and communities established in Manitoba after the province was created in 1870. By analyzing a vast corpus of spoken French, namely the Hallion-Bédard Corpus (2008–2010), we intend to analyze discourses on origins, migration, inter-ethnic and inter-linguistic relations, language use, and different varieties of French. The study also draws on a comprehensive database of bibliographic and archival materials relating to the communities where the Hallion-Bédard Corpus was collected. Our research efforts progress from the individual and family level to the local level, with the broader goal of providing a general portrait of the situation in rural Franco-Manitoban communities.

The Hallion-Bédard Corpus was collected between 2008 and 2010 in four rural Francophone areas of Manitoba: the Mountain Region (communities of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes and Saint-Claude), the southern Red River Region (communities of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Saint-Joseph and Letellier), the community of La Broquerie, and the community of Saint-Lazare (on the Saskatchewan border). These communities were chosen based on the diverse origins of their French-speaking populations. Through its narrative, linguistic, and cultural dimensions, this diversity is likely to reveal a range of discourses on lived, transmitted, and imagined migratory experiences. Although all the communities in question originally included Métis, French Canadian, and Franco-European elements, the proportions varied.

The corpus includes more than 80 hours of digitally recorded interviews, which have been fully transcribed, with a sample of 80 research participants, consisting of equal numbers of women and men, a third of whom were born before the 1940s. The semi-structured interviews were conducted by a woman with a Franco-Manitoban background, using a set of questions that addressed various aspects of daily life in the past and present, including family origins and migration patterns; professional and economic activities; interethnic relations; traditional social, religious, and family practices; identities and representations; and language use.

The Répertoire bibliographique et archivistique de cinq localités du Manitoba français is a large index (nearly 400 pages long) recently compiled under the supervision of Yves Frenette. It lists all studies and sources available on the communities where the Hallion-Bédard Corpus was collected.

The study seeks to address several research questions:

  • How does migration resonate with present-day residents, most of whom are three or four generations removed from the experience?
  • At the time the interviews were conducted, what discourses were present on community origins, migration, relations between ethnic and linguistic groups, and different varieties of French (whether local or “imported”)?
  • How did institutions, especially the Church and the schools, shape intellectual discourses on language (with respect to preservation, purity, standards, etc.)? What role did geographic and social origins play in shaping these discourses?
  • In those Franco-Manitoban communities where the original population was predominantly Franco-European, such as Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes and Saint-Claude, what was the linguistic situation in the migrants’ communities of origin when they left Europe?
  • To what extent do linguistic traits and diversity associated with the French spoken in the communities covered by the corpus reflect the origins of the migrants who originally settled there? Are these traits and varieties still widely present within family networks or do they merely constitute “remnants” of older linguistic forms?

Our study involves the preparation of monographs on the communities in question, as well as the online publication of annotated interview excerpts and research results in a form accessible to non-academics. We may also present archival research data in less traditional ways, such as through 3D representations of land use.