What happened to the Guadeloupean accent?


Will the Guadeloupean accent disappear? This accent that, as soon as we heard it, we knew we were dealing with a Guadeloupean… For some time now, the Guadeloupean accent has become increasingly rare, not in our countryside where it still survives fortunately, but in our media, our public administrations, our companies, for example.

When we turn our radio to listen to the news programme, it’s like listening to a radio station broadcasting from France. The people who talk to us are sometimes from France, sometimes they are Guadeloupeans born or having lived in France and sometimes they are Guadeloupeans who have taken on the Parisian accent because they have to fit into the mold so they “roll like American pianos” and sometimes they also “explode” because the Creole accent that was chased away comes back at a gallop, not to mention errors in French…

Sometimes, we see that some journalists with a Parisian accent only interview people with this same Parisian accent and then we think that it becomes serious…

Regarding news, it is true that since journalism school, students are taught to speak neutral French or French with a Parisian accent or they understand they have to do it. But, until now, our audiovisual media in the French Overseas and especially in Guadeloupe had not been subject to this linguistic standardization or “parisianization”. This trend has accelerated lately because most young local journalists have studied in journalism schools in France where they have been molded…

Listeners and viewers have become accustomed to hearing the Parisian accent – where the “r” is very pronounced while Creole erases it – in the local media and sometimes they prefer ; this is the case of this inhabitant of Les Abymes, Gilberte, who told me about a local private radio station : “yo ka palé byen!” (they speak well!). In other words, the Parisian French accent is better than the Guadeloupean French accent…


A loss of our identity

This positive comment, which may seem innocuous, shows that in reality we are losing an important part of our Guadeloupean identity and that we unconsciously accept it. The word “accent” comes from the Latin “accentum” or “ad cantum” and etymologically means “for singing”. The accent is the particular pronunciation of a language in a region or social environment. It is part of us.

When we listen to some local radio stations, something could remind us that we are really in Guadeloupe : advertising. However, it must be noted that, in this field too, the Guadeloupean accent has also disappeared and almost all radio commercials are made in Parisian French.

There is, for example, this ad where a mother gives her child an “ice cream” made here (local product!) but with a very Parisian accent ; there is this other ad for a bookstore which talks about Guadeloupean culture and it is made with two voices: one speaking a Creole which is a bit “disguised” or “aristocratic” as if it were a shame to speak Guadeloupean Creole normally and the other speaking frankly French with a Parisian accent.

But there is another advertisement that attracts our attention : it asks us to visit the Guadeloupean archipelago – because of Covid-19, travel to foreign countries is limited – but the voice used speaks Parisian French! How could they choose an accent from elsewhere to sell Guadeloupe to the Guadeloupean people? And more broadly, how can they talk about Guadeloupean products, of the terroir when the voice or the accent of the voice that sells them to us is not from here? There’s a huge contradiction.

By searching carefully, advertising agencies would probably find people with the “French Guadeloupean” accent who would agree to record radio and TV commercials on “serious” topics… As for the rare commercials in Creole, they are often made to make people laugh, even if the Creole language is taught today at the University… This problem concerning the regional accent in advertising is similar to the problem of skin colour, which I investigated several years ago for a magazine.


A domination of the Parisian accent

Moreover, this takeover of the Parisian accent in Guadeloupe can also be observed in the family. Indeed, more and more, we meet children who already have this accent while they have never left the archipelago and their parents speak French with the Guadeloupean accent. This trend may be explained by the fact that they watch a lot of French cartoons or films and they have adopted this accent. In addition, there is a plethora of television channels, platforms on the Net and DVDs available to this young audience.

We tend to say that children’s brains are like a sponge : they absorb. In fact, some language schools claim that, unlike adults, children (especially under age 12) have a “predisposition” to imitate and integrate the “right” accent ; their articulatory apparatus is not yet fixed, so they assimilate the sounds and intonation of a new language by imitating. This is why these language schools for children offer courses with foreign teachers…

The Guadeloupean accent could be more threatened because, according to statistics, many of our young people leave the archipelago after the baccalaureate and do not return. Those who return years later have already adopted a different accent…

However, the issue of the disappearance of the regional accent is not unique to Guadeloupe. This problem also arises in France. In the media, many journalists and hosts have been forced to shelve their accent. As in administrations, companies or education, a regional accent, especially if it is strong, is not welcome. It is associated with the suburbs, the province, remote and uncivilized places ; here in Guadeloupe, we would say “la chyen ka japé pa ké” (where dogs bark with their tails).

So, we French in the Caribbean, we must not be sensitive about our accent because France is a land covered with accents.


An alien in Matignon

A politician recently came to reopen this debate on regional accents, his name is Jean Castex. When he has been appointed Prime Minister of France on July 3, the first comment heard on a French 24-hour news channel :“he has an accent”.

Since then, the new Head of Government, who is from the Gers department, has been mocked and criticized through the media and social networks because of his South-west accent. The tenant of Matignon is seen as an alien because, since the Second World War, it is said, no important politician had kept his regional accent.

Things may change because, in December 2019, Christophe Euzet, deputy for Hérault (LREM) has initiated a bill “to promote the accents of France” because, on the French territory, in addition to the Parisian accent, there is the Northern accent, the Southern accent and the Lyon accent (influenced by all the regional languages, some of which are no longer spoken) but also the Overseas Territories accents.

The Member of Parliament begins his explanatory statement as follows : “The present bill aims to promote diversity in the pronunciation of the French language by prohibiting “discrimination by accent”, which is factually observed in functions involving, in particular, public expression : the text intends to change mentalities over time by amending the law in force (…)”. The deputy’s idea is to combat glottophobia (discrimination by accent) by making it an offence punishable by three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 45,000 euros (Criminal Code).