- Voices in the Media: Performing French Linguistic Otherness by Gaëlle Planchenault
Planchenault's book is a timely discussion of French and French accents (or "accents") and how they are used in the media. Certainly "otherness" remains a question in the twenty-first century, whether for sociolinguists, anthropologists, historians, literary scholars, or everyday citizens. Planchenault explores this question through the lens of "performing" French in a variety of media.
The introduction and first chapter set out a framework for the sociolinguistic study of voices and performances in the media, which is subsequently carried out in the following six chapters. Chapters 2 and 4 address "non-standard" (chapter 2) and "ethnic" (chapter 4) voices in French media. Both chapters explore what it means to "be French" and how that is represented in film. Chapter 2 focuses mainly on non-Parisian accents, while chapter 4 looks at "second-generation immigrant" voices in French cinema. In both chapters Planchenault delves into the "otherness" perceived in certain varieties of French and how that otherness is used in a number of French films.
Chapter 3 investigates use of language in electronic media to achieve femininity among male-to-female transvestites on a website for transvestites. Planchenault demonstrates how femininity is "performed," not solely through the use of feminine adjectives in French but also in the lack of aggressive language associated with males online.
Chapters 5 and 6 focus on French-accented English in Hollywood, and how "being French" is performed by actors of various L1 backgrounds playing an array of characters (including Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, who is known to be French but speaks with the posh British English of his portrayer, Patrick Stewart). Planchenault cites heavily from the Pink Panther films as examples of "doing French" in English language films. She gives a detailed phonological analysis of how French is "done" in English language films, [End Page 254] and in chapter 6 she focuses specifically on Agatha Christie's detective Hercule Poirot.
The final chapter departs from spoken French to examine French restaurant menus in the city of Vancouver, a majority-anglophone city in a bilingual country. I greatly appreciated her inclusion of menus among the media she studied; the image a restaurant seeks to project is heavily represented in a menu. Restaurants, like advertisers, often have to present what their customers perceive as "French" (in this particular case), and a review of Vancouver French restaurants is an important glimpse into how "French" is perceived in that city.
In every chapter, in fact, Planchenault explores how "Frenchness" is perceived, or specifically how communicators in various media feel they need to express "Frenchness." In this work, she examines this concept of "Frenchness" when French is the "other," when the "other" is French but not "French," and when the "other" is one's own true self. Through this exploration, she illuminates how "Frenchness" is seen by American culture in particular and by anglophone culture in general. Admirably, she illustrates her ideas while never being judgmental about the artistic choices made by the directors and performers who "do Frenchness" in the media she cites.
This book could serve as a solid basis for a sociolinguistics course focusing on media, or as supplemental material for a course on French cinema or other aspects of French language or culture. In the vein of "World Englishes," this book could serve as a text for a course on "World Frenches." Finally, while Planchenault makes a convincing and thorough argument about the use of "Frenchness" in the media, her work could serve as a springboard for further investigation into the topic, and in fact she suggests several follow-up research projects for interested scholars. [End Page 255]