Janaína Nazzari Gomes, Francophile researcher and immigrant: Language appropriation and language learning

Faculty of Arts
Equity, diversity and inclusion
Students walking by Faculty of Arts on the uOttawa Grande Allée
Arts Without Borders scholarships are a testament to the Faculty of Arts’ commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. Through these scholarships, two up and coming researchers are pursuing their research at the University of Ottawa. We met one of them, Janaína Nazzari Gomes.

Thanks to its closeness to nature and lively downtown, Ottawa welcomes thousands of immigrants each year. The city’s bilingual character also gives francophones the opportunity to settle in a place where their mother tongue is spoken. To what extent does the linguistic landscape influence their experience in their adopted country? That’s what Janaína Nazzari Gomes, recipient of an Arts Without Borders postdoctoral scholarship, is seeking to understand.

Born in Brazil to a francophile mother, Janaína grew up to the sound of vintage French songs at home. Listening closely, without really understanding the words, she felt an interest in the language of Molière awaken in her. “There are nearly 800,000 of us in Brazil who speak French. French has a place in Brazil’s cultural imagination,” she says, adding that it’s the result of an elitist education. “People who’ve had access to school have encountered French.” That’s how she received her first university degree in teaching French.

Nazzari Gomes, whose first language is Portuguese, was worried about the quality of her French. “I felt that I didn’t have the right to be considered a francophone and that my level of French wouldn’t ever be as good as a native francophone’s. I thought that to be a real francophone, I would have to copy a French accent from France.” This insecurity led her to study linguistics. In her work, she deals with the influence of different languages learned on one’s way of speaking French. “For example, when Spanish speakers decide to learn French, the b and the v are very similar in Spanish, but not in French. This influences their way of pronouncing certain words, and ultimately, their way of speaking French,” she says. “When someone learns a language, this learning is a uniquely individual and deeply personal experience, even if we can find common characteristics in it. An appropriation of the language follows, beyond language learning.

Janaína Nazzari Gomes

“In learning a new language, we bring about a new way of seeing the world, of seeing things, of giving voice to the world.”

Janaína Nazzari Gomes

The importance of diversity at the Faculty of Arts is one of the reasons that Nazzari Gomes applied for the Arts Without Borders scholarship. That diversity, expressed in culture, but also in perspectives, theoretical thinking and the scientific method, is an essential element for her.

Nazzari Gomes’s research is rooted in her personal experience as an immigrant. When francophones arrive in Canada, some realize that bilingualism isn’t a reality in every city or every neighbourhood. “Immigrants end up building their way of settling in Canada around French.” This can lead some to limit their daily activities to certain places, knowing that French is spoken and understood there.

After receiving the scholarship, Nazzari Gomes visited the University of Ottawa campus. She was pleased to note that French was alive and well here. “I came to Canada to grow in French. It’s important to me.” Seeing so many students on campus also motivated her, after the long years of the pandemic.  She’s excited to be able to fully dedicate herself to her research and see it progress, believing that her findings, which deal with a practical issue, will no doubt help decision-makers, as well as the entire francophone community.

Listening to Nazzari Gomes, it’s clear that her Canadian French is lightly tinged by Portuguese, with a hint of a French accent from France. This mosaic perfectly represents her language learning, her roots and her love of the francophonie.