This week has seen a re-emergence of the long debated language ‘war’ in Montreal, Quebec.
In Canada, 59.7% of the population speak English, 23.2% French and 17.4% speak both.
Both Canadian English and Canadian French are Canada’s two official languages, having equal status in federal courts, Parliament, and all federal institutions.
But in the province of Quebec, French is the official language through the Charter of the French Language, also known as Bill 101, and it is in Montreal where the language divide is most significant and conflicted.
85% of French-speaking Canadians live in Quebec.
Politically sensitive issue
The re-emergence has come about after the magazine L’actualité produced a special language report in their recent issue. The cover featured a frog holding a sign reading “Ici, on parle English” (We speak English here).
This sparked a return of the language debate into the political agenda.
If the magazine cover was not cause alone to set the debate rolling, a columnist within the issue went on to state that the results of the report indicated that Anglo-Quebecers were not concerned or felt responsible for the future of the French language.
Though this is just the columnist’s interpretation of the results of one of a number of questions put forward to a selection of Anglophones and not the outright conclusion of the report.
Questions raised about the future of French in Montreal
Now politician Pierre Curzi has called for a reform of the original language bill to create a tougher language law, as he believes English is becoming too commonplace in Montreal:
“If we don’t do anything, then we will be in a bilingual Montreal and I don’t think that’s a good thing
for anybody in Quebec.”
Curzi believes that laws should be implemented to limit the spread of English.
Bill 593, a new Charter of the French Language?
Under the proposed language law, children would be forced to attend school in French up until university, even in private schools and employers would be forced to provide an explanation for a job posting requiring knowledge of a language other than French.
As for retail shops, a trade name in English would be tolerated, but a generic French term would be required to be added, for example Canadian Tire would become Les magazines generaux Canadian Tire according to CTV Montreal.
If this bill was imposed (and by the public outrage it has generated it is as yet but a distant dream for Curzi), what will have happened to democracy?
In a democratic country it should not be the case where you are forced to use a language, the bill would not control what language people chose to speak in the home and I certainly hope children would not be punished for speaking their own language on the playground.
Linguistic discrimination and linguistic imperialism through force, is most at home in dictatorships, not in a country which is said to have one of the highest standards of living in the world.
An ideal situation would be not the prevalence of either French or discrimination of English in Montreal but the domination of bilingualism, after all, the rest of Canada exists in bilingualism.