Featured Article: “‘What Rhymes With Purell?’ Franglais Rappers Push Language Boundaries in Quebec” by Dan Bilefsky
Rappers in Montreal, Quebec are playing with the use of language in the music they are creating; however, bilingual wordplay is not embraced by all people in Quebec. Some Quebecois think it is more important to preserve the French language and fear that Franglais, or “Frenglish,” could threaten that.
In this lesson, you will learn about the debates in Montreal around language and hip-hop. Then, you will either analyze multiple perspectives from the article, or study a bilingual song in a language you know or are learning.
Is there an official language in your country? If not, such as in the United States, what are the dominant languages in your neighborhood or community? Do you ever hear people around you, or the government, talk about the importance of preserving language?
Watch this video of teens talking about their experiences growing up multilingual in Quebec. The video references Quebec’s Bill 101, which officially made French the language of the government, business and the courts, throughout the province.
What did you find interesting or surprising in what the teenagers in the video shared?
Do you relate to any of their experiences with preserving a language at home, or learning a new language at school?
The featured article focuses on rap, but it also connects more broadly to the importance of French language preservation in Quebec. As you read the article, keep these teenagers’ experiences in mind and see if anything they talked about resonates with themes discussed in the article.
Questions for Writing and Discussion
Read the article, then answer the following questions.
1. What are the layers of culture that young Quebec hip-hop artists, like Dead Obies, are playing with and exploring in their music?
2. Why are some in Quebec critical of the music that the Dead Obies, and other younger artists, are creating? What is your reaction to what Mathieu Bock-Côté, a sociologist and columnist, said about Franglais: “Without French, Montreal would be Pittsburgh”? Do you believe the preservation of language is “fragile,” as Mr. Bock-Coté said?
3. The author of the article, Dan Bilefsky, highlighted some of Quebec’s history and recent language-related incidents. How does that information change or enhance your understanding of the dynamics around language that are discussed throughout the article?
4. How does Gregory Beaudin, a member of the Dead Obies, describe his process of using both French and English in the songs he writes? How does he talk about identity and discrimination in relation to music and some of the criticism that he and the Dead Obies have faced?
5. What have the financial implications been of the Dead Obies rapping in Franglais?
Option 1: Analyze Multiple Points of View
The featured article presented the opinions and perspectives of artists, journalists and everyday people. Choose four of those perspectives to analyze using this Multiple Points of View worksheet.
If you have more time, you can write in greater detail about the different perspectives in the article, and then share your own. What is your opinion about bilingual songs, such as the ones featured in the article? Should the focus of art in Quebec be on preserving the French language, or should there be space for multilingual lyrics and creations? Respond to some of the perspectives from the article as you make your point.
Option 2: Analyze a Bilingual Song
What is your experience with multilingual music? Do you listen to any artists who sing or rap in more than one language? How important is it that you are able to understand both languages?
If you are in a class in which you are learning a new language, choose a bilingual song that features either two languages you know, or one language you know well and a second that you are learning.
For example, if you are learning French, you could choose to listen to any of the artists mentioned in the article, such as the Dead Obies, Loud and FouKi, or you could listen to Christine and the Queens. If you’re looking for a song in Spanish and English, you could choose “I Like It” by Cardi B, Bad Bunny & J Balvin or “Mi Gente” by J Balvin, Willy William featuring Beyoncé. The artist Manu Chao writes songs in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and many more languages.
Once you have selected a song, listen three times and follow these instructions to guide your listening experience:
1. As you listen for the first time, appreciate the song as a whole. What do you notice about the rhythm, tempo and lyrics? Are there any words, lyrics or parts of the song that stand out to you?
2. The second time you listen, check for comprehension and pause the song when you do not understand a word. If you need assistance, you can see if the lyrics are available online, or you can sound out the word to the best of your ability.
3. After your third listen, reflect on the overall structure and meaning of the song. Think specifically about the role that language played in the song. Were you distracted by the multiple languages that were used in the song? What was added to the song by there being a second language? Did you feel that the second language took away from the meaning or value of the song in anyway? How might it feel to hear the song if you only spoke one of the two languages?