Parole et écrit: cultural associations of the Université du Temps Libre (UTL) & LangAge

What is Parole et écrit

The UTL offers courses and lectures for 2600 older, retired adults across France, with 8 participating university institutions. Under the category Lecture, écriture, communication, courses on Animations d’écriture Parole et écrit are offered. 

These courses focus on spontaneous and natural writing, and participants read their work aloud to their co-participants, to promote enjoyment in writing and to improve participants' ability to express themselves. The courses are situated in a long held tradition of ateliers d’écriture in France, a pedagogical concept of teaching adults how to interact with literary texts. 

Why are they relevant to the LangAge corpora? 

At the start of data collection phase for the LangAge project, elderly people on the street in the middle of the shopping area of Orléans were approached and asked whether they would be interested in taking part. One such person mentioned the Parole et écrit courses, and invited the interviewer to visit one session with her. In the recording studio of the UTL, the interviewer met three participants who joined the LangAge study, who then also led to eight further new participants. The interviewer also attended Parole et écrit sessions in a care facility, which in turn led to three further LangAge interviews (64 – 65).

Without the Parole et écrit courses, the LangAge corpora would look very different today, not just because of the participants themselves, but also because those who joined Parole et écrit courses often interacted with langauge differently to other participants in their view of language and culture as well as their linguistic conservatism.

An example poem written and read by LangAge participant Mme Moreau during a Parole et écrit session. 

What happens during a Parole et écrit session? 

Clear pedagogical goals informed the sessions, in particular by the topics introduced by the course leader.  The course acts as an institutionalised form of linguistic instruction focused on written and oral language cultivation, which is highly requested by students at the UTL.

For the LangAge corpora, one session in the UTL studio was recorded. It began with discussion of what associations participants had with the themes of the session (acronyms and the history of the word marotte), after their brief definition by the course leader. Participants then wrote short texts containing either as many acronyms as possible or about someone with a marotte, which were then read aloud in a plenum. Another session in care facility was also visited. This session began with associative activation of memories, discussion of topic (les cloches), also followed by a writing session, with extra support from course leaders. Texts were then read aloud to the group. 

Based on both visits to the course and from discussion with participants, it is clear that Parole et écrit provides participants and course leaders with a means of preserving and maintaining participants’ cognitive abilities while simultaneously documenting generational shared language knowledge.