[lg policy] Canada: Mark Milke: Is it time to reconsider official bilingualism

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 25 16:14:24 UTC 2012

Mark Milke: Is it time to reconsider official

January 23, 2012. 2:36 pm • Section:

Canada’s changing linguistic makeup should provide an impetus to revisit
bilingualism as currently defined by Ottawa.

A new study by Quebec professor François Vaillancourt and three of his
colleagues recently published by the Fraser Institute implicitly raises
questions about current approaches to bilingualism. (For the record, the
authors take no position on whether official bilingualism is good or bad

The authors note bilingualism costs $2.4 billion a year, with $868 million
of that spent by the provinces and rest spent by Ottawa.

Here are some examples of what the Vaillancourt study does not measure:

1) Duel-labelling requirements that increase the price of Canadian goods
and services. That is likely impossible to quantify — one can’t find every
expenditure on bilingualism by every private company and add it up — but
that’s a real economic cost insofar as some company must comply with
federal requirements even where such compliance is silly.

2) Why must a wine importer ensure both English and French alike are pasted
on a bottle of Malbec from Argentina? Does anyone seriously think Quebecois
wouldn’t recognize a Malbec without required French labelling? Or that any
of us couldn’t understand the contents if the only label was in Spanish?

3) Why should a small Quebec business be forced to spend money on bilingual
labels for some product it might only export to francophone communities in
Manitoba and New Brunswick? If a company figured it needed bilingual labels
to gain customers — or avoid losing them — they’d do it voluntarily; that
regulation has always been superfluous.

While some provinces have comparatively larger shares of official
linguistic minorities (French or English), only New Brunswick has a sizable
minority unable to communicate in the dominant provincial language. There,
unilingual French speakers are 10 per cent of the population.

In Quebec, unilingual speakers unable to speak the majority language,
French, constitute just 2.4 per cent of the population. Everywhere else,
unilingual minorities are tiny, just fractions of a per cent.

Beyond the English in Quebec and francophones everywhere else, it’s useful
to consider other “linguistic minorities” to begin an honest discussion
about the future of bilingualism in Canada. British Columbia is a good
place to start. Its numbers illustrate a significant trend: how other
minority languages are swamping French as the top minority language.

 Should Canada's official bilingualism be abolished?

YesNoNon!!!French is fine, but all languages should be equal.
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British Columbia has the smallest percentage of people who list French as
their mother tongue, at just 1.3 per cent. In B.C. (and here I depart from
the study and into 2006 Statistics Canada census data), Chinese dialects
account for 8.4 per cent of the population. Punjabi comes next (3.9 per
cent) and German (2.1 per cent). Minority languages in B.C. that look to
overtake French soon due to immigration patterns are Tagalog and Spanish.
In all, non-official languages already make up almost 27 per cent of B.C.’s

In Alberta, languages listed as one’s mother tongue include Chinese
dialects (3.0 per cent), German (2.6 per cent) and then French (1.9 per

In Ontario, just 25,000 people speak French at home in Toronto, while
almost 1.4 million people speak a non-official language (and 3.5 million
speak English).

Overall, in Canada’s most populous province, French as a mother tongue (at
4.1 per cent of the population) is still second after English. However,
only 6,000 people separate that second-place position from those who
identified a Chinese dialect (4.0 per cent) as their mother tongue.

French is in relative decline even in Quebec, albeit marginally. In 2006,
79 per cent of Quebecers identified French as their first language compared
to 82.5 per cent in 1951.

Here’s the broad overview: People who speak more than one language have
opportunities to interact with others in a manner unilingual speakers do
not; they also have greater career opportunities. Bilingualism is thus
desirable for personal reasons, though that doesn’t necessitate laws,
regulations or even constitutional action. Of course, all of those have
been at play in Canada and constitutional mandates in particular are almost
impossible mechanisms with which to fiddle.

Bilingualism in Canada’s political context has always been interpreted to
be “English and French.” What’s obvious is that apart from Quebec, Canada’s
new bilingual makeup is about English plus some language other than French.

The growth of non-official languages raises two observations. First, the
simple demographic fact of Canada’s linguistic makeup is shifting in a way
that makes official bilingualism policies and at least some of the money
routinely spent dated.

Second, unless one aims for a career in the civil service (federally and in
some provinces) or in federal politics, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and
Spanish might be more helpful to a child’s future career.


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