“Hacking,” as a liberating activity (see previous post on Google Translate Hacks) coordinates well with “Citizen Sociolinguistics.” Both take the tools of a highly standardized and hierarchically controlled world, and try to put them to work in new, even quirky, ways.
Combining the two yields endless possibilities for quick ‘n’ easy Sociolinguistic Persona Hacks. As a Sociolinguistic Persona Hacker, one can draw on easily accessible Internet based sociolinguistic portraits of speakers and combine those with one’s own specific language needs.
This week, I attempted such hacking with my 8-year-old daughter. She came home from Performing Arts day camp gushing: “I am going to be a Frenchman and all my lines are in French!”
“Cherchez la femme” being the only French phrase I know, I wasn’t sure how I was going to be a helpful mom with practicing these lines.
Fortunately, if you want to learn a few words in French to be in a play, you don’t need to absorb the three-year curriculum of French I, II, and III.
Using tools of the Internet, specifically YouTube and other helpful video sources, my daughter and I took a few shortcuts in language learning. We didn’t care about everything French speakers do with language. We just wanted to get the gist of how “The Frenchman” in the play Slick Macarons would say this:
“Ce n’est pas grave, mon cherri” ((while lying down))
We started by taking a look at YouTube-based French speakers and what they have to tell us about using language.
First, the basics: What does it mean and how do you say it? Drawing on my dormant French repertoire, I remembered “mon cherri” as “my darling” (maybe from cartoons? Sacre Bleu!). Here’s our first video hit for the rest of that line: “Ce n’est pas grave”:
Ce n’est pas grave (it’s no problem)
This was enough to get started rehearsing. But, I wondered, what other sorts of performances are out there that could enrich this role? As my daughter went off to practice, out of curiosity, I couldn’t help going through a few more helpful French videos.
“Allons-y” (Let’s go!) by the same performer caught my eye:
This seemed like a useful phrase. I thought I might suggest it to my daughter as something The Frenchman could throw in during an improvisational moment in Slick Macarons. Or maybe even use it myself with my French speaking friends!
Apparently others thought the same. It turns out “Allons-y” is all over the Internet. A very socially productive phrase. One viral pathway follows Doctor Who, using it in very silly ways, “Allons-y, Alonso!” being one of his favorite things to say, according to Urban Dictionary.
And here is a nearly 3 minute compilation of “Allons-y” tokens in Dr. Who:
Allons-y has also been immortalized in memes like these:
So, using “Allons-y” might not have much purchase if one is going for “French authenticity.” It might even convey something more like “Big (Anglo)Phony.”
But. It still might add something fun to the Philadelphia performance of Slick Macarons.
Moving on, I thought I would try to zero in on the more paralinguistic aspects of being “The Frenchman” and found this video on “Ten Ways to be Parisian with (“Chanel Muse”) Caroline De Maigret.”
On viewing her lovingly hilarious portrait of the Parisian Woman, I thought tip #2, “Look at your phone when it rings but don’t pick it up,” might give my daughter some sense of the physical performance she could enact as The Frenchman in Slick Macarons.
In all, these few minutes of Sociolinguistic Persona Hacking gave us a lot to work with.
Sociolinguistic Persona Hacks may also suggest a broader lesson about language. Creating a Sociolinguistic Persona ultimately has less to do with “accuracy” or “mastery” of a named language (like French) and more to do with combining languages, attitudes and one’s own personal flair. Learning a language (or to act out a language) is necessarily about learning about languages and their many ways of acting.
Ce n’est pas grave, mon Cheri!
Have you ever tried your own Sociolinguistic Persona Hacks using languages you are not familiar with? Or, if you are a language teacher, with the languages you teach? Share your secrets—er, stories—below!