French language predominance in Québec

Written by  //  October 12, 2012  //  Justice & Law, Québec  //  No comments

Opinion: French predominance, bilingualism should be goals

By Julius H. Grey, Special to the Gazette October 12, 2012

MONTREAL — The very interesting debate between Jack Jedwab (“Lisée will need to empathize,” Gazette, Sept. 29) and Jean-François Lisée (“My language plan: shoe sharing,” Gazette, Oct. 2) shows that both gentlemen missed the point, in large part. The issue is not between English and French; it is, rather, the acceptance (or not) of the Canadian notion of multiculturalism.

Mr. Lisée is clearly right when he states that Quebec cannot possibly accept bilingualism or equality between English and French. This would lead to a gradual but fairly rapid disappearance of French.

Mr. Lisée is right again to insist that Montreal must remain mostly French, because of the city’s central position in both the economic and the cultural life of the province. He is correct, too, when he states that mere knowledge of French does not suffice; it must be the language of use for most Montrealers for its survival to be assured.

However, the language of use does not mean exclusive language of use. With a very high level of proficiency in both languages, someone can legitimately be considered both an anglophone and a francophone, even if, subjectively, he or she feels a strong identity one way or the other.

Mr. Lisée cites himself as an example: does his excellent English make him an anglophone? He thinks not. However, the opposite position is compelling. Francophones with the level of proficiency in English that Mr. Lisée has might readily enjoy English cultural services, could become students in English-language universities, and could become clients of English health services in bilingual institutions. The same applies to someone whose first language is English but who has acquired an equivalent facility in French. There is no clear divide between anglophones and francophones.

In short, although French is the common and official language of Quebec, both languages have a place in our province and both are part of the common heritage of Quebecers. Personal bilingualism is something to be encouraged, not only for an elite and not only for use in business, but for all Quebecers in their personal, social, economic and cultural endeavours.

Mr. Jedwab is right in objecting to plans to limit access to English-language CEGEPs and to increase linguistic bureaucracy and inspections with respect to small businesses. Most reasonable people accept the present version of Bill 101, yet it would be a grave mistake to go farther. There is no evidence that the measures proposed by the Parti Québécois government are in any way necessary to preserve the balance between the two languages in the Montreal area, and indeed they could worsen matters by destroying a fragile equilibrium with which most were content.

Mr. Lisée was correct in noting that originally the English-speakers reacted negatively to all language legislation, but this has changed drastically. Most accept the law. However, we cannot have a society in which strengthening Bill 101 becomes a populist slogan in every election. If that happened, English would have no place left after four or five campaigns.

The real debate is not the amorphous division between “anglophones” and “francophones” who have mixed, inter-married and accepted both languages, but between the followers of English-Canadian multiculturalism and the majority of Quebecers who cannot accept it.

As a nation, Quebec is very different from English Canada and the U.S., where there is a very strong political allegiance and civic citizenship but no ideology of common culture. Quebec is much more like a European state — Portugal, Denmark or Poland, for example, where there is a clear notion of cultural identity.

The common culture is not incompatible with the presence of historic minorities or with equal rights for those who refuse to be part of it. However, it is a strong bond beyond mere political loyalty and citizenship.

Quebec’s common culture contains both English and French, with marked predominance by French. It is tolerant toward outsiders; the notion of interculturalism shows that Quebec welcomes the integration of people from other traditions. Every wave of immigrants enriches the common heritage of Quebecers. However, we dream of a unified society. Former prime minister Joe Clark called Canada a “community of communities.” This is precisely the opposite of Quebec’s view of integration, which wants new arrivals to join and to bring their values to the common pot.

The real task facing Quebecers is the integration of all citizens into a society that maintains the predominance of French and permits everyone to become personally bilingual. It is helpful that many citizens cannot readily be classified as French or English.

One way of escaping the past linguistic battles would be to look for new solutions, such as a Montreal-based network of high schools functioning 80 per cent in French and 20 per cent in English and open to all. This could not only help achieve the linguistic goals of French predominance and personal bilingualism, but also help bring both groups of citizens back to the city core. It is unfortunate that instead of looking for new solutions we are still debating details of Bill 101.

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