Tuesday, 18 November 2008

To the Eastern Townships, les Cantons de l'Est or L'Estrie, Take Your Pick: Talking to Mark Abley Tonight about Language and Other Things

Today I’m off to Sutton in the Eastern Townships to do a Writers Out Loud event with journalist, poet, and non-fiction writer Mark Abley. He’s supposed to interview me, but I imagine we’ll end up talking about his work as well. (For those of you in hailing distance, it starts at 7 p.m. at 4-C Chemin Maple, is free, and is co-sponsored by the Librairie Livre d’or and the Quebec Writers’ Federation.)

Over the last 10 days I’ve been dipping in and out of Mark’s two most recent books, Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages and The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches From the Future of English. Both of them are fascinating, and great reading either straight up or a chapter at a time. Mark’s love of poetry comes through clearly, not only in his use of many poems to illustrate his points but also in the way he holds words up to the light to examine them closely. This preoccupation is nothing new: in 1994 he wrote a critically acclaimed poetry collection Glasburyon, about vanishing languages. Parts of it have been translated into many languages, some of them spoken by only a few people. Check out this rendition in Jèrrais, the language of Jèrri, one of the islands of the English Channel which I had always called Jersey until I learned better this morning.

Mark is of Welsh descent and I intend to ask him if that has affected his attitude toward language. And, of course, there's that other big question which always sits like the elephant in the drawing room around here: which is the endangered language in Quebc, English or French? As someone who sees my children attached to Francophones, but whose conversation seems always filled with English words, I don't think it's English.

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