“Fais le give-and-go!”: Reflections on translanguaging in Parc Jarry basketball (by Stephen Davis)

Weaving through a tapestry of pedestrians, pylons, Peugeots, and police officers, I find myself contemplating Montréal’s sisyphèsque construction schedule and wondering whether Camus was properly cited in the city planning documents. Rue Jarry is a zoo at the best of times, but now we’re down to one lane and I’m praying that my rusty bike chain and the crusty driver behind me can make it through the next few minutes without snapping altogether. We approach a red light, so I catch my breath while several young families hustle and bustle into the shops and restaurants that decorate the street. Now it’s green, so on y va, and I swerve into sun-soaked Parc Jarry, the site of some of the best basketball and translanguaging Montréal has to offer.

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When I moved to Montréal two summers ago, my first order of business was finding a cheap bicycle, which would serve as a means of accomplishing my second task: finding an outdoor basketball court. Parc Jarry was perhaps a twenty-minute ride up the Route Verte from my Plateau apartment and presented an opportunity to explore a new area of the city. Situated in the intersection of Parc Extension, Little Italy, and Villeray, Parc Jarry is an international community in its own right, serving as a gathering place for friends and families from all over the world. Furthermore, the sport of basketball is itself a cultural mosaic, played in a myriad of countries and languages, both recreationally and professionally. Additionally, basketball attracts players from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds due in part to its accessibility, as compared to sports like football and hockey where equipment costs may prove prohibitive. Needless to say, Parc Jarry basketball is a fusion of a global sport in a global neighbourhood, and it was in this pick-up plurilingualism that I was first struck by the incredible cultural and linguistic diversity of Montréal. Here, I met basketball players who spoke French, English, Greek, Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic, Kreyòl, Portuguese, and Spanish, as well as a host of languages I can neither speak nor identify. Whereas much of my week is spent studying in English and going to church in French, these basketball games regularly blow up the discourses of official language binary in my head. Indeed, my visits to Parc Jarry serve as constant reminders – with all the grace of a basketball to the face – that the dubious dichotomy of French and English in this city paints a woefully incomplete picture of the exciting, dynamic linguistic landscape that is Montréal.

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Language use on the Parc Jarry basketball courts, while perhaps peripheral for some, is a subject of great interest to me. The concept of belonging is incredibly fluid here, with new players and their languages coming and going at all times. In my experience, the exhilaration of playing basketball generates language production that is unrehearsed, instinctive, and raw, unbridled by polish or policy. In this communicative, natural setting, fluency overrides accuracy as we construct team configurations, argue over rough play, create scoring opportunities, celebrate the wins, and mourn the losses. United under their shared passion for the sport, basketball players translanguage, spontaneously drawing from a rich repertoire of languages and registers for the unique situation of the moment. Whereas interactions often take place in French and English – ostensibly the players’ shared languages – several languages come into play, mixing freely with one another as though in a pick-up game of their own. It is common to hear phrases like, “Fais le give-and-go!” ‘Lance-moi un alley-oop!’ and “Prends ton check!” which underscore the pervasiveness of English basketball terminology in an otherwise plurilingual environment (for more examples, see Parc Jarry: Parler comme un ballophone). Indeed, the language practices in Parc Jarry basketball challenge social and linguistic boundaries that exist elsewhere in players’ lives. There is something sacred about throwing the perfect pass to a teammate on the break, whether she scores in Greek or in Portuguese; something empowering about blocking a taller opponent, whether you stare him down in English or in French; and something universally humbling about getting dunked on, irrespective of the highflyer’s heritage.

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Several games later, it’s time for us to call it a day and return home to mitigate our collective hunger and exhaustion. We say our goodbyes, our saluts, and our hasta mañanas before heading to our bikes, buses, and metro stops. I take one last gulp of water and drink in this beautiful park and community, willing the sun to stay up just a little bit longer, but knowing I’ll be back on the Route Verte before long. Navigating the maze of rigid construction fences that separate basketball players from playground kids, joggers from tennis enthusiasts, and skateboarders from cricket fanatics, I cherish the fluid translanguaging practices of Parc Jarry basketball that serve not to divide us, but to bring us closer together.

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