France Martineau, full professor in the département de français, is no stranger to awards. This time, the internationally renowned researcher, whose work has been recognized on many occasions, is the recipient of the University of Ottawa’s Award for Excellence in Research.
“My field of expertise is the French language, its story, past and present, internationally and in Canada, and the social issues linked to the development of French in a multicultural context. This is a new perspective, because it combines social history and historical sociolinguistics,” she explains.
University Research Chair in Language and Migration in French America, editor of the Voies du français collection (Presses de l’Université Laval) and founder-director of the Polyphonies du français laboratory, Professor Martineau has received many grants to complete her research. Her total grants, which run to almost $8 million, testify to her standing in the field.
Two major research projects
For example, two grants totalling $5 million allowed her to set up two international interdisciplinary projects, Modelling Change: The Paths of French (2005-2010) and her current project, Le français à la mesure d’un continent: un patrimoine en partage (2010-2017), both funded under the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s (SSHRC) Major Collaborative Research Initiatives.
“The history of North America began in the 17th century, but its roots are in the Middle Ages,” explains Martineau, who leads the project, backed by 13 co-investigators, 88 collaborators and partners and 40 universities. “North America is an excellent laboratory to understand how a language evolves through contact, because francophones were in contact among themselves — Québecois, Acadians, European francophones — and with other language groups — Amerindians, anglophones, Creoles, Métis…” There are as many combinations as there are francophone communities.
“The idea isn’t just to understand current issues facing francophone communities, but to preserve their records. In fact, many documents are being lost. This is particularly true in New England, where the francophone community is slowly disappearing. If we don’t start conducting interviews now, in ten or twenty years we won’t be able to document this community, because it will no longer exist. That’s why we’ve rushed to put procedures in place to document francophone communities and to create large databases to archive the records.”
What’s unique about this project is that it doesn’t just deal with francophone communities, but with individual francophones. “When we tell the history of a language or a community, the usual procedure is to look for official documents, because they’re easier to access. However, our project moves totally away from that. To really understand how people spoke and felt, you have to find personal documents like diaries or letters, to track families over long periods.” This is what happened with the Campeau and Barthe families, who have lived in the Detroit River area and who can be traced back to the 18th century.
“The francophone community of tomorrow is the youth of today…”
Ensuring the next generation is another cornerstone of Le français à la mesure d’un continent. In fact, two youth education initiatives will take place this summer: an international summer school in Louisiana and a workshop led by Biz, of Loco Locass, where young francophones from across North America will be encouraged to speak about how they live as francophones, at the Forum mondial de langue française, in Quebec City. “Tomorrow’s francophonie will be different than that of fifty years ago. Youth need to feel that they belong to the francophonie.”
When she looks back on her career, France Martineau is particularly pleased to have established a basis to better understand the issues of today’s francophone communities. “Bridges between communities and disciplines have established lively exchanges,” she concludes.