[lg policy] Fwd: [LINGANTH] Gentrifiers, Hipsters, and Languages in Montreal

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 17 19:00:57 UTC 2013

From:  LINGANTH at listserv.linguistlist.org


Have some of you been working on language issues related to either
gentrification or hipsters? If so, there might be some interesting things
going on, here in Montreal.

Went to a screening/debate on gentrification through  Shannon Walsh’s
“St-Henri, the 26th of August”.
Now in the midst of a gentrification process, Saint-Henri used to be a
French-speaking working-class/industrial neighbourhood in the Southwest
portion of Montreal.
Walsh’s film is partly a tribute to the 1962 cinéma-vérité doc «À
Saint-Henri le cinq septembre» about that same part of town.
(The latter movie is available for streaming at no cost.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, language use struck me, as a dimension of Walsh’s
movie. Neat stuff in there, from the English-speaking Mohawk hipsters to
the codeswitching East Asian cornerstore owner and from unusual English
loanwords used by French-speakers (presumably to an Anglophone
filmographer) to a Togolese salon owner talking in “the language spoken in
[her] country”. It wasn’t a movie about language, but someone could
probably use it in a LingAnth course.

Tried asking a language-related question in the Q&A period, but that didn’t
work out so well. Basically, I’m interested in language negotiation
happening through processes associated with gentrification. People
understood it to be about “language demographics”. I really meant it to be
about sociolinguistics. Code-mixing, accommodation, language ideology…

Thing is, I live on the edge of another neighbourhood which is currently
being gentrified. This neighbourhood, Marconi-Alexandra, is at the junction
of four boroughs. It’s officially part of the (predominantly Francophone
but linguistically-diverse) Rosemont-La Petite Patrie borough, but it’s
squeezed in between the Mile-End and Parc-Extension neighbourhoods (with a
couple of blocks along Outremont). Parc-Ex is known as a “multicultural
community”, with a significant South Asian community. The Mile-End is a
trendy Anglophone neighbourhood, known for its artistic community (Leonard
Cohen used to live there). Outremont is a wealthy Francophone community
with a significant Hassidic population. Because of its location between
Mile-End and Parc-Ex, Marconi-Alexandra got is called “Mile-Ex” by locals.

One thing I notice about Mile-Ex is that trendy spots are associated with
(Anglophone) Mile-Enders who have been “crossing over”. As this is
happening, they end up doing a fair amount of “language work”.
My “key consultant”, here, could be Nicole Turcotte, the public-facing
co-owner of Dinette Triple Crown (where they serve food inspired by
different parts of the US South). An Anglophone from British Columbia,
Nicole has studied in French and seamlessly switches between Canada’s two
official languages. Though, by law, a French menu has to be available, some
words on the regular menu are in English (“meat and threes”, “big nasty”…).
Translating the daily specials is a tricky thing and some interesting
conversations happen around that (for instance, about “grits” being like
Similar things happen elsewhere in this part of town yet  the
sociolinguistics dynamics rarely become a matter for discussion. For
instance, before I discussed this with her, Nicole may not have realized
that several of the trendiest spots in the neighbourhood are owned by
Anglophones from other parts of Canada.

“Trends” are a fairly big part of this, I think. Specifically, the trend
connected to the “Hipster” label. The Mile-End probably has the highest
proportion of self-described “hipsters” in the city and features associated
with Hipsterdom fit quite well with the Mile-End. As Mile-Enders take over
Mile-Ex, this neighbourhood takes on something of a hipster character.
While there are some Francophones who may readily associate themselves with
Hipsters, most of the Hipster trend is associated with Anglophones.

Clearly, gentrification is accompanied by other social changes. One,
happening in Saint-Henr and mentioned after the screening, is an increase
in income disparities. It’s associated with both an influx of affluent
residents (buying expensive condos) and with a rise in unemployment (as
factories close down). Fascinating stuff, to be sure.
But I find other, non-economic aspects of social change even more
interesting. This Includes the negotiation of identity along linguistic,
cultural, and social lines.
The trend might be for young artists from the Anglophone “Rest of Canada”
to set up shop in some specific parts of town which were typically not
associated with Anglophones or with young artists. As they do so, these
restaurant, café, and bar owners end up having to negotiate several things
from language use to cultural significance, and from communicative norms to
drinking behaviour.

Doesn’t sound like people working on either gentrification or hipsters are
that interested in talking about language issues, though. Doesn’t mean
there isn’t something to talk about.

So I’m wondering if there are LingAnthers who are working (or know of work
being done) on related issues. It’s mostly a matter of curiosity, for me,
but it could lead to interesting connections.


Alex Enkerli
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Concordia University, Montreal


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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