A fair number of you are aware by now that my stage name, Troisnyx, is pronounced the French way (literally, as trois-nyx). You may also know that I have written French lyrics to songs, covers and originals alike, and that, for as long as I've sung online, I have sought to use the French language in my music where the stresses fit said language.
My relationship with the French language is complex, and it has become even more complicated in recent months. For, you see, I started learning French in 2004, when I was still in secondary school in my birth country and I took lessons outside of the school system. I had gotten so used to pointed comments asking about my accent over the years, that never in my nearly 20 years of speaking French would I have thought that these comments could have been a dig at me. Until now.
Context, intentions, and nuance are always important when discussing language, because language is tied to culture and history, and there are entire references to events and stories of the distant past that only specific cultures and specific languages would have. With that in mind, I want to tell my story. I would have written this post in French, but I would like as many people in my follower list as possible to be able to parse this article without the aid of Google Translate, so you're getting this post in English instead. And I also want to add that I was scared of putting this post out, because time and time again before today, I've had these experiences and events dismissed by people around me. Just to be sure I wasn't talking out of my rear, I made sure to have this post read and re-read for context by multiple people -- linguistic scholars, neurodiverse people, people of colour, among them.
CW: child abuse, state-sanctioned abuse, racism, xenophobia, suggestive themes.
The year was 2006. I was a year away from finishing my secondary school education. I studied the sciences because most of the subjects on offer were in English, and therefore much easier for me to understand and articulate myself with. But, more importantly, I was studying the sciences at the time because I wanted to become a doctor. Specifically, I wanted to be a pediatric doctor. At the time, at least, my birth country did not have any kind of social services, and children's rights were ill understood, and often dismissed. Horror stories about children receiving physical, verbal, and emotional abuse were plentiful around me, and while these were under-reported in the newspapers of the time (only the most extreme forms of deprivation were ever given coverage in the newspapers), many of my schoolmates told me about things their parents did to them that they vowed never to do to their children.
I wanted to help these children, and the children past my generation. People around me were more inclined to believe the elders than they were to believe children, and authority figures were among the first to be believed after the parents. These authority figures often included teachers and doctors. I felt that, if I were a doctor, I might be able to help a suffering child in a way others might not. Also, given that in my blog here on this site, I previously mentioned having suffered abuse in the hands of my parents, I didn't want what happened to me to happen to another child if I could help it. So, medicine it was, or so I thought.
It didn't help that people around me insisted that the only way to even gain any modicum of respect was to score a typical townie job, from a small pool of selected fields -- law, medicine, architecture, business, insurance, accountancy, the forces, or retail. Any other profession was typically shunned or ignored, and so, the elders around me processed my childlike desire to help people by coaxing me into medicine. And that's where my preparations to study medicine abroad would come in: I had already been learning French for two years by that point, and I was fluent enough in it to carry out an intermediate conversation.
My goal with all of this? I wanted to go to France. I wanted to learn the language and what I could about the culture, I wanted to study medicine at Sciences Po, and I was encouraged by my French tutor that there were indeed people who looked like me who lived in France, or who were French, or who worked in France and had a strong grasp of the language. This filled me with confidence; if they could do it, so could I, even if our circumstances might be dramatically different.
However, that same year, I was given a harsh reality check: I was (and still am) squeamish. I reel at the sight of blood. In emergency situations I would need to be strong and not faint at the sight of blood when needing to help a patient in need. Realising that I would faint in such situations, I realised that I wasn't cut out to help people in this way. My dreams of becoming a doctor were dashed. This threw into question my study of the French language, as well as my dreams of going to France or another francophone country.
But, I thought to myself, I've come so far with my study of French. I will find a use for it somehow. And so I did, in my music. It was one of few avenues I had left.
While I was studying French, I was encouraged to listen to French music, as well as watch films and play games in French. I set my PlayStation 2 to French, and many games in my possession immediately switched to French dubs or text, which aided my learning process -- notably, Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly, Jak II and Jak 3. To this day, I remember the French dialogues of Jak II and 3 by heart, but not the English ones. As far as music was concerned, I developed a fondness for the silky smooth vocal timbre of Alizée, the lyrical wizardry of Zazie, the musical simplicity of Johnny Hallyday, and the stage theatrics and lyricism of Mylène Farmer. Of these, Alizée and Mylène Farmer would become my strongest influences. To the best of my ability, I've included links to videos of theirs that have been subbed in English so that their material becomes more accessible to you.
But I also loved the odd musical; Roméo et Juliette : de la haine à l'amour was my favourite. I loved the lyrics, I loved the theatrics, I loved the harmonies and the emotional energy that coursed through the entire musical. Just to share with you my love for Roméo et Juliette, below is the song that served as the gateway into that musical, subtitled in English.
My affection for the seemingly more tonal, much fuller-sounding French pop grew to the point that I no longer felt I could belong with the people around me, because they loved other things. Huge swathes of people my age loved Katy Perry, who had just gotten popular around the time, and a smaller subsection of people loved J- and K-pop. I stood alone in my appreciation of French music and culture, and if ever an opportunity arose for me to share one of the songs I liked and to explain what was behind it, I took that opportunity. But the operative phrase of that paragraph is "I stood alone." Most people would not bother to translate it, at least not in those days, and that would have a practical use in the foreseeable future.
In the years to follow, I would make my first attempts at writing songs in French. Few people around me understood French -- the second language widely spoken in my birth country is English, after all -- and so, this was a way for me to keep my thoughts and intentions hidden in plain sight (where I would have otherwise been browbeaten into submission if my song lyrics were discovered.) I did the same for journal entries when I was conscripted in my birth country in 2009; I wrote in French so that I could write freely about matters that were going on in my stint. One of my very first attempts at French lyrics still exists on my YouTube channel to this day; I wrote the song during my conscription. The language in this song feels unwieldy in parts because I unwittingly literally translated from another language that I had to learn in school.
This song became my song in desperately dark times, but even then I remember being reminded about my petit accent, that nonnative accent that I have when speaking and singing in French. I am inclined to take the comments of those days as done with good intentions; no malice was intended. It must've been a curiosity for actual French-speakers to hear me singing with the accent I picked up from my birth country. Because, unlike my English accent, which is an amalgamation of accents that I've picked up over the years, my French accent is that of my birth country. While people were impressed that I was speaking fluently without yet having visited a francophone country, there were still comments about the way I spoke or sang.
However, the more that happened, the more I became self-conscious and scared. I was an asylum seeker for eight years, as some of you are aware by now, and I had no means of leaving the UK, let alone going anywhere abroad on holiday between 2013 and 2021. I still wrote songs in French; sometimes, my thoughts were easier to process in that language. As the years passed I started to hope that the comments about my accent would perhaps lessen in number, but instead, they grew in number. And some of them became more pointed. On the first video I linked, I was asked something along the lines of "why write in French when you can write in English?"
Why write in French when you can write in English, what a dig. Almost as if I, a nonnative speaker, am somehow proscribed from using the language, and that no matter how much I sing and overpronounce my words, I am never going to find acceptance, my enunciation is always going to be deemed insufficient, my pronunciation lazy, and my accent a thing to be browbeaten out of me. You know, like how my home, the UK, has done this to the peoples of the various colonies with thicker accents.
Remarks like these gave me the heebie-jeebies, because "enunciation" being used as a cudgel against thicker, harsher, nonnative accents is relatively recent memory for me. My grandparents' generation were talking about it. Many recounted their English classes at school, with varying degrees of fondness or disdain. There was even a joke made to soften the blow of what they were going through, where in an English class where people's attempts at Received Pronunciation were being complimented, a teacher made a gaffe of a remark saying "I like your 'below'" -- meaning, the student's pronunciation of the word 'below,' but it could easily be taken another way entirely.
(Side note, but a very important note nonetheless: the BBC in decades past did this with its insistence on Received Pronunciation, for "enunciation" purposes. Many rightfully saw it as an attack on regional accents, a further entrenchment of class lines... These days, we only need to watch Match of the Day, or more recently, Eurovision in Liverpool, to know that the BBC has moved on from that attitude. It's not just a problem faced by the former colonies; within this country we have known it to be a problem. Even now the bias against northern accents still plagues us, and I am a member of a server whose members are based in Northeast England, who to this day have reported problems they have faced for having a northern accent in the games industry. Accent discrimination and erasure in the name of "enunciation" has happened far too often.
Remarks on enunciation CANNOT be taken on face value when time and time again they have been used to mask even more insidious things. In theory, accent discrimination is separate from people being asked to enunciate. But let's not forget that people were forced into speaking in Received Pronunciation instead of their own voice in the name of speaking clearly, when we know this wasn't the case. For a number of us who have been through this exact problem regardless of language, being asked to "enunciate" can be a class-related or ethnicity-related dogwhistle.)
And after all the hardship and the intentions behind my study of French language and culture, my efforts and journey into the language were being taken the piss out of, just like that. I'll admit, remarks like the ones I received have made me want to reevaluate my relationship with the language. Even for my later releases, I have become scared of singing in French because my relationship with the language would then be ripe to be picked apart again and again and again.
And then, I remember that I wrote and arranged things like this, things that many of the people making digs at me have not written, have not dared write, and probably may not dare write. Notably, this cover of the Face Shrine theme from The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening:
One of my friends in the game audio scene recently gave me encouragement with my use of the French language. They told me to "use my voice."
They remarked on how, in English, there is a plethora of accents, some more difficult to follow than others. But we do our best to be understood. That's the purpose of language, at the end of the day. And quite frankly, I appreciate someone doing their best far more than someone weaponising the language against people who are doing their best. This goes for any language, I might add. Intention always, always, ALWAYS matters.
Following my friend's advice, I ended up taking a bit more of a middle ground with my most recent release to streaming services, MÉTÉORE (which I spoke of a bit in my previous post). By the time they gave me advice, I had already recorded the verses; I was already overcompensating for my pronunciation -- I was overenunciating the consonants on the off chance that there'd be that odd comment about my accent that would put me on edge. But I took them up on what they told me, and recorded the choruses in my own accent instead.
I believe nobody's journey into understanding a language and the culture behind it should be invalidated. I also believe that that journey can be used by individuals as a means of making the language, and its expression, their very own, without invalidating every other expression of said language that came before. Again, intention always matters: we're not talking about instances of someone trying to mock a language and its expression. We're talking about people learning and speaking and using their voices.
So why am I, a video game composer, talking about language and linguistic discrimination? Because this is part of my work. I use words; I write lyrics, I express the meanings behind these lyrics in words. I have sung in existing and constructed languages before today. Music and rhythm are deeply intertwined with the flow of language. I write lyrical looping themes sometimes, in addition to standalone songs and instrumental themes. The literal last thing I want, for myself or for anyone else in this field, is for some wingnut to tell me that I don't have the right to use my voice the way I feel necessary to express what needs to be expressed.