As we move closer and closer to the start of term, there’ll be more updates and news about all things French and Francophone at Stirling. In the meantime, we just wanted to let you know about a few new publications and conference papers written by some of our current and former postgrads and colleagues.
And our current PhD student Fraser McQueen gave a paper at the Society for French Studies annual conference at Royal Holloway in July entitled ‘Muslim is French: Zahwa Djennad’s Tabou. Confession d’un jeune de banlieue (2013).’ Fraser will be conferencing again later this week, at the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France in Paris, where he’ll be speaking about ‘Transnational Paris and Peripheral France in Michel Houellebecq’s Sérotonine.’
And finally, for the moment, our former colleague, Bill Marshall, has a chapter on Xavier Dolan’s films out in ReFocus: The Films of Xavier Dolan, a new collection focusing on Dolan, edited by Andrée Lafontaine. The chapter was previously published in Nottingham French Studies. Bill’s chapter on ‘Quebec Cinema as Global Cinema’ was also published earlier this year in Janine Marchessault and Will Straw’s Oxford Handbook of Canadian Cinema.
Another week until the start of semester and these final few days before the new academic year are full of news to report. Usually, the bits of this blog that are written by me (Cristina Johnston) are written in Scotland but this post sees me making my way to Strasbourg where I’m headed for meetings with our colleagues at the Ecole de Management. We’ve had an exchange partnership with them for many years now and currently have a great Integrated Masters programme that we run with them in International Management and Intercultural Studies. As is the way with these things, most of the time that just means corresponding via email and it’s our students who benefit from being able to enjoy the delights of our respective institutions and cities. Every now and then, though, colleagues come from Strasbourg to Stirling or from Stirling to Strasbourg and that’s what I’m up to just now. A good day of meetings and discussions about possible future partnerships and teaching and research collaborations lies ahead, and I’m looking forward to getting a chance to see the EMS.
The added bonus – from my perspective, at least – is that I spent my own year abroad when I was an undergraduate as an English Language Assistant living and teaching in Strasbourg so it’s a city I used to know well. As those students who were away as ELAs last year make their way back to campus in Stirling, and some of those who are just starting on new adventures as assistants in places as far-flung as Colombia (watch this space for more…) send emails to say hello, it’s great to get a chance to reminisce on my own experiences as a Language Assistant. I taught at the Lycée Marie Curie in Strasbourg where – at the time, at least – they taught both the French Bac and the European Bac, meaning that one class of pupils in terminale had extra language tuition, History and Geography taught in English and an impressive openness to the possibilities that language learning opened up for them.
For me, it was a great first experience of teaching – I wasn’t much older than the pupils, they were (without exception) really keen to learn, and the school was incredibly supportive (of me and of their pupils). As well as the actual teaching, I was lucky enough to be asked to accompany that terminale class on a 10-day trip to Northern Ireland and was just generally made to feel part of the school community. I kept in touch with some of the pupils for a few years after I came back and, ever since then, have also kept in touch with one of the former English teachers from the school so this EMS trip will also give me a chance to catch up with her, having not actually seen her face-to-face in 20 years! All in all, a good trip lies ahead!
Enough about me, though… What other news? Well, Fiona Barclay and I had a great meeting last week with the ever-enthusiastic Grahame Reid of Stirling’s MacRobert cinema to talk about (fingers crossed) bringing some of this year’s French Film Festival films to Stirling again this year. All being well, November should be French cinema month at Stirling but more will follow on that once we get confirmation. French at Stirling has also been busy preparing workpacks for all the modules we’ll be running in the new semester and generally getting ourselves ready for all our new and returning students. And, at the end of this week, just before the focus shifts back more towards teaching, many of us will also be attending a Research Away Day led by Bill Marshall to discuss research plans and ideas with colleagues from Languages, Translation, Religion, English and Creative Writing. Oh yes, and our former PhD student Martin Verbeke has another article forthcoming: “Represent Your Origins: An Analysis of the Diatopic Determinants of Non-Standard Language Use in French Rap” has been accepted for publication by the International Journal of Francophone Studies!
A flurry of pre-semester activity! And pictures of Strasbourg will doubtless appear on the blog over the next week or so…
The Summer is always a good time for a bit of a catch-up on news about research by French at Stirling colleagues and postgrads (past and present) so, if you’re looking for some pool-side reading, we would highly recommend:
Congratulations to our PhD student, Martin Verbeke, who passed his viva last week! Martin’s research examines ‘Rappers and Linguistic Variation: A Study of Non-Standard Language in Selected Francophone Rap Tracks’ and it was conducted under the joint supervision of Bill Marshall and Cristina Johnston. All the best to Martin for the years ahead and we look forward to following his career.
One of our current PhD students, Martin Verbeke, is examining French and French-speaking rap in his PhD thesis, triggered by an observation from his time as a French linguistics student at the University of Antwerp (Belgium): “Many of my foreign friends who could otherwise speak and understand French very well would struggle a lot to decipher lyrics from French rap artists. This led to my desire to conduct a thorough analysis of these problematic words. Initially, my approach to this sociolinguistic question was very lexicographic: I analysed lyrics to categorise words and study their meaning, use and etymology. The end result was a very complete description of the language used by French rappers but I could feel that more could be done with this modern problematic.”
Martin’s PhD seeks to take this analysis much further: “In my PhD, I focus on non-standard language use in selected-francophone rap tracks (i.e. from French and French-speaking Belgian rappers). By non-standard, I mean any type of words that belong to lower registers of language, such as abbreviations, colloquial and vulgar words, slang, foreign borrowings, verlan (a type of slang formed by switching the order of syllables) or any combination of these categories of words. Quickly, the focus of the analysis has moved from what and how to why. The use of such non-standard language is certainly prevalent in French rap but it also varies considerably from one song to the next, even when analysing only one album from a single artist. As a result, trying to understand the reasons why such fluctuation exists has become the focal point of my research.
In order to enable such analysis, a wide corpus is necessary. What is more, this corpus must illustrate a variety of potential influences like time, ethnic and geographic origins, social class, gender and rap music style. Eventually, the corpus was divided in four main sections, which will end up being four different chapters in the thesis. The diachronic section looks at the influence of time by focusing on three years, 1991, 2001 and 2011. This section is divided in two: the first part looks at successive generations of rappers and the second at the influence of time across one artist’s career. The diatopic section, focusing on all possible geographic influences, has three parts and studies the influence of ‘origins’ (French, Algerian and Senegalese), of cities (Marseille, Paris and Brussels) and of departments (Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne). The section on gender only contains tracks from female rappers but these are compared to the rest of the corpus which is male-dominated (as is French rap in general). The last diaphasic section investigates the influence of three different famous rap styles: poetical, ego trip and political.”
Alongside in-depth textual analysis, Martin has carried out a number of interviews with leading French and Belgian rappers including Shurik’n, El Matador, Disiz, Starflam, Scylla, Black Barbie and many more. “These artists were asked a series of questions regarding their own use of non-standard language as well as their general perception of the rap movement. The results from these interviews will be paired with the statistical results from the linguistic analysis and targeted literature review for all four sections of the corpus to create a thorough description and interpretation of the linguistic variation observed in the French rap movement. As I write this blog post, I have already completed my first four chapters: only the influence of rap styles still needs to be analysed. For example, I found that non standard language use has been increasing over time or that no real difference exists between male and female rappers. However, all influences impact rap tracks simultaneously and no clear picture will be formed before the four sections of the corpus are unpacked. So I invite you to keep a close eye to my research as my investigations are coming to an end.”
We wish Martin all the best for the rest of the thesis and look forward to reading the final results!