An old tradition in a new space : a critical discourse analysis of YouTubers' metalinguistic commentary on Quebec French




Mayne, Elizabeth Anne

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Quebec French (QF) has a long history of language commentary in the form of newspaper columns and letters to the editor, particularly coming from within its own community, and directed toward its speakers. This has been fueled by QF speakers’ history of linguistic insecurity. YouTube is a new space where metalinguistic commentary comparing QF and French spoken in France (FF) is taking place. This study presents a qualitative critical discourse analysis of 10 YouTube videos comparing QF and FF, examining how YouTubers use language to discuss QF vs. FF. Methods from Systemic Functional Linguistics were used to analyze these videos at three levels of analysis: discourse, genre, and style. Results show that although some YouTubers engage in language “activism” and draw on a reporting style similar to traditional journalistic genres, others focus their talk on actions in and related to the videos, and in engaging with the audience. YouTubers participating in language activism largely framed QF as new information for the audience. Thus, although some YouTubers engaged in language commentary that continues in the vein of older forms via new media, the audience is imagined to be unfamiliar with QF, rather than the QF-speaking community as a “call to arms” to protect their language. That some YouTubers focus their talk more on the actions in and surrounding the video and engagement with the audience suggests that language commentary serves more as a “vehicle” for their channel, to create content, collaborate with another YouTuber, and potentially expand their audience. Therefore, metalinguistic commentary on QF has been recontextualized and repurposed in this new venue. YouTubers draw both on orders of discourse associated with traditional mass media forms of language commentary, and those associated with the new practices and expectations of the YouTube community. This dissertation shows that a multitiered analysis, accounting for choices made at the levels of discourse, genre, and style, is crucial for understanding what discourses are represented in a metalinguistic text, and why discourses which are represented and expected in metalinguistic commentary in some spaces are excluded from others.


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