Transmission of Oral Traditions in Acadia

Éva Guillorel (Université Rennes 2) et Carmen Leblanc (Université Carleton)

Éva Guillorel (Université Rennes 2) has undertaken this study in collaboration with two independent researchers: Robert Bouthillier and Vivian Labrie. The study also draws on the efforts of other scholars working on Acadian topics in the context of the TSMF partnership project, especially those affiliated with the Université de Moncton’s Centre d’études acadiennes. Furthermore, the Archives de folklore et d’ethnologie de l’Université Laval and the Centre interuniversitaire en études québécoises (CIEQ) supply key resources.

At its core, the study involves analyzing collected Acadian oral traditions, especially those transmitted through stories  and songs, as well as their presence in cultural flows involving North American Francophones. The research focuses on the unpublished corpus gathered on the Acadian Peninsula (Tracadie region) by Robert Bouthillier and Vivian Labrie between 1974 and 1979. This main source is  being supplemented by other existing ethnographic collections and by a field survey conducted in the context of the larger partnership project.

Analyzing Acadian oral traditions and their presence in transatlantic and North American cultural flows will, among other study objectives, make it possible to explore the transmission of narratives and literary motifs from France and in French North America since the colonial era. The Acadian context is particularly relevant to the corresponding themes because of how its communities—including those covered by the study—have maintained a very rich repertoire of oral traditions, especially in the form of age-old complaintes.

The study also involves analyzing the geographic and historical trajectories of those Acadian families that have passed down these traditions, with a focus on three families from Tracadie. The mechanisms of intergenerational transmission observed in these families and in the surrounding community have been very well documented over three or even four generations, thanks to successive ethnographic surveys conducted since the 1940s.

The analysis draws on the disciplines of linguistics and ethnomusicology to adopt a truly multifaceted and interdisciplinary approach to the study of oral traditions.

The study’s originality is rooted in several methodological innovations, including the use of an enormous and unpublished ethnographic corpus. Indeed, the latter is the result of one of the largest audio surveys ever conducted in French-speaking North America. This source material—which includes sound recordings, text, and photos—will be showcased in a scholarly publication that makes innovative use of digital technology. Given the complexity of this technology, the study is treated as a pilot project with the aim of supporting the wider adoption of digital tools in the context of future partnership projects and funding opportunities focused on facilitating access to archival collections relevant to oral traditions (a field where Canada lags behind other countries).

Another original aspect of the study relates to how it combines synchronic ethnographic analysis—through the comparison of repertoires from France, Acadia, and, to a lesser extent, other French-speaking areas of North America—with diachronic historical analysis—through the study of long-term family trajectories. No previous studies have adopted such a methodology.

Furthermore, the study methodology reflects an unusually deep level of engagement with the Acadian communities in the Tracadie area, and especially with the families from which the source material was collected. These families have provided biographical information on the research participants, present-day perspectives on a cultural legacy spanning multiple centuries, as well as viewpoints on the future of Acadian oral heritage and on their role in transmitting it over the last three generations.

The overall study represents the largest and most ambitious investigation and publication project ever attempted involving collected Acadian oral traditions (or, for that matter, the collected oral traditions of any French-speaking group in North America). It is an essential contribution to understanding Acadian oral traditions (and those of other French-speaking groups in North America) and the associated cultural flows. Another significant methodological legacy will be the creation of digital tools to support the online publication of other collections of documents related to oral traditions. Finally, study results will interest a broad range of audiences: academics in multiple disciplines, community networks spanning the international Francophonie (which play a key role in maintaining oral traditions of story and song), and the communities directly involved in the research.