linganth listserv topic

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Oct 10 18:38:05 UTC 2006


lgpolicy-listserv members may be interested in an ongoing discussion about
stable bilingualism on the linganth listserv.  You can access the archive
by going to LISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG. and scrolling down to "linganth"
(linguistic anthropology).  There are a number of messages, some of which
might benefit from some of the expertise on our list.

The most recent message was this one:

From:         Alexandre Enkerli <[log in to unmask]>
Subject:      Stable Bilingualism and Multilingualism in Canada (was:
              Endangered languages)

Glad to see such an interesting discussion about language diversity.
My two (Canadian) cents, to keep the ball rolling. (I'm sending those
comments as a French-speaking linguistic anthropologist from Montreal
who is *not* a specialist of Canada.)

Bilingualism in Canada is quite specific. Unless otherwise specified,
the term "bilingual" refers to *individuals* who are fluent in both
French and English. There is a perceived imbalance in the degree of
"bilingualism" among French- and English-speakers. Bilingualism in
other languages tends to be treated separately. Fluency is evaluated
using many criteria, including "accent" and even eloquence.
English and French are the (only) two official languages in Canada.
Official status for both languages has important consequences in
federal politics and administration. Given the official status of both
languages, bilingualism often implies advantages in professional
placement. New Brunswick is the only province to be officially
bilingual (it has the largest French-speaking population outside of
Quebec); Quebec is officially French-speaking (with important
political consequences); other provinces are officially
English-speaking; territories follow federal regulations, though
Inuktitut/Inuinnaqtun has official status in Nunavut (not sure on the
Functional bilingualism can be said to be fairly stable in some
specific regions. However, the situation in most French-speaking
communities outside of Quebec is usually perceived as a potential
switch from French to English: children of "inter-marriages" are
likely to only speak English. This switch is perceived, in
French-speaking communities, as tantamount to language loss. Language
insecurity is at rather high levels in many French-speaking
communities outside of Quebec.
In Quebec, the perceived likelihood that French would disappear has
decreased dramatically over the past several years. In such a
situation, bilingualism is infrequently perceived as a threat.
French-speaking Quebeckers appear quite secure in their (our) language
use and they (we) will often use English in multi-lingual situations,
without any fear of language, status, or identity loss. Perhaps
because of French language ideology, English-speakers fluent in French
tend not to speak French with native speakers of the language (outside
of formal contexts in which bilingualism might be expected).
In short, the general model is one of monolingual communities (either
French- or English-speaking) with bilingual individuals.

Multilingualism is often seen as a completely separate issue. Apart
from the status of the French language here, multilingualism in Canada
seems fairly comparable to multilingualism in the U.S., despite
significant differences in policies and in perceptions. A simplistic
explanation of differences: for a relatively long time, Canadian
policies have tended to emphasize the right for immigrant groups to
"maintain their cultural identities," including their native languages
(the "mosaic" model instead of the "melting pot"); several languages
besides English and Spanish are involved in social and political
issues; multilingualism is probably more of an urban phenomenon
throughout Canada (most of the Canadian population is concentrated in
a relatively small number of cities); languages of First
Nations/aboriginal/Native/autochtonous groups are the object of some
concern but relatively little attention is paid to those issues by the
general population.
Regardless of these issues, the three-generation pattern is perceived
as the dominant one throughout Canada, with relatively few exceptions.
Stable bilingualism in, say, Punjabi and English or Italian and French
is usually limited to specific neighborhoods in one of Canada's
largest cities.

To briefly go back to the original article which sparked this
discussion, language diversity in Canada is probably increasing but
the notion that this diversity might threaten English is rather
uncommon. One of the reasons might be that functional bilingualism is
perceived favourably by many people.

H. Schiffman

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