NYTimes and every cliché about language

The New York Times writer who covers Montreal loses my credence right away by citing those awful statues on Place d’Armes as a “powerful metaphor” for the language division in this city and proceeds to trot out a bunch of other predictable truisms from Hugh MacLennan’s hijacking of Rilke’s “two solitudes” metaphor* to the Berlin Wall. Why not yin and yang while you’re at it?

Dan Bilefsky lives “on” Plateau Mont-Royal and he recounts totally seriously that Xavier Dolan’s mother was told to “speak white” – an expression never heard by anyone in real life here, as far as I can make out, as discussed earlier on the blog. (I had older relatives who would have bragged about saying that – if anyone ever said it, which I don’t believe they did.†)

And of course the imperishable cliché that “Historically, Francophones lived to the east of St. Laurent while Anglophones lived to the west” which is demonstrably not true – otherwise, how was it that my father went to an English-language school in Hochelaga? I’ve also spent time trawling through documents like the Lovell directories and various old voting lists from 1850 to 1980, give or take, and there are French, English, Irish, Scots names all over the map. St-Henri was always majority French-speaking during that period, too, well west of the Main, even if the Point and Griffintown were not.

Foo, I say.

*”Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.”
† Michèle Lalonde wrote a poem with the title. It would be difficult to definitively prove it was not an expression in common use before that, since it would have been part of the spoken language, not the written.