[lg policy] Montreal: Furor over 'hi' describes another low point in Quebec's language wars

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 5 13:57:37 UTC 2012

Macpherson: Furor over 'hi' describes another low point in Quebec's
language wars

By Don Macpherson, Postmedia News June 4, 2012

Retail sales staff in Montreal are reportedly using the French-English
combo greeting 'Bonjour/Hi' to let their customers know they can be
served in either language. To Quebec's language police, this is the
edge of a slippery slope.

The language critic of the Parti Quebecois is "very worried" about the
latest sign that Montreal is being overrun by English.

The head of the government's language watchdog agency, the Office
Quebecois de la langue française, sees it as at least a possible

And the minister of culture in the Liberal government is "concerned."

So what is the problem against which these people have united?


That's it. That's the problem — that informal little English word
"Hi," when it's used to greet customers in downtown Montreal

And not even when it's used instead of "Bonjour."

No, the people who are in charge of Quebec's language policy, or might
soon be, are concerned even when it's used in addition to "Bonjour,"
as in "Bonjour/hi."

That's the greeting that, in Montreal's unique linguistic etiquette,
is intended to let the customer know that he or she can be served in
either French or English.

A new report, one of five published by the OQLF last Friday, shows an
apparent rapid increase in the extending of this courtesy.

The agency hired a private firm to send observers into 398 retail
businesses in downtown Montreal this year, pretending to be ordinary
French-speaking customers. These undercover shoppers, or "mystery
customers" as the report calls them, dutifully noted the languages in
which they were greeted and served as well as those of all the signs,
even the smallest ones. Their observations were then compared to those
made in visits to the same businesses in 2010.

The OQLF reports it received 4,067 complaints last year about alleged
infractions of the language law, an astonishing one-year increase of
46 per cent, mainly about commercial signs. That's one reason its
head, Louise Marchand, said the agency will soon send out its intrepid
inspectors into downtown Montreal to search out infractions "street by
street, business by business."

But such a dramatic increase can be due to the efforts of a few
zealots. For example, in April, three individuals filed a total of 850

Also, the OQLF's report contradicts a widespread impression that the
use of French in downtown Montreal is in decline. It says the
observers found 18 per cent of the businesses they visited to be
breaking the sign rules. But that could mean that all the signs but
one in any given business were legal.

And of the businesses breaking the rules, 63 per cent were violating
an obscure 19-year-old regulation on business names that the OQLF
itself ignored until recently. It requires a business to add a
description in French to its signs if its name is a federally
registered trademark in another language.

Compare the consequences of that relatively small rate of
non-compliance with those of what the government's auto-insurance
corporation says is a majority of Quebec drivers who endanger lives by
exceeding the speed limit.

The OQLF's observers also reported that even in downtown Montreal,
French was available in 95 per cent of the businesses they visited, if
customers requested it (which, another of the OQLF's reports showed,
only 57 per cent of French-speaking consumers did).

There had been a slight increase in the proportion of businesses where
they were greeted in English only, from 10 per cent two years ago to
13 per cent this year.

But — aha! — the proportion where they were greeted in French and
English ("Bonjour/hi") had jumped from a suspiciously low one per cent
only two years ago to 13 per cent this year.

That is, in 87 per cent of businesses in downtown Montreal, customers
were greeted in French. And as the head of the OQLF admits, it's
always been legal under the 35-year-old language law to greet them in
English as well.

But apparently it's preferable that the customer be ignored than
greeted with the courteous "Bonjour/hi" that the head of the OQLF
finds so potentially irritating to French ears.

Because apparently even when it follows respectfully behind "Bonjour,"
the word "Hi" sends the wrong messages.

It says Montreal is becoming "anglicized" — a myth, since the
proportion of Montreal Island residents who most often speak English
at home has remained stable at about 25 per cent.

And it says that it's still okay to use English in public in Quebec —
behaviour that is apparently to be discouraged.

dmacpherson at montrealgazette.com

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Original source article: Macpherson: Furor over 'hi' describes another
low point in Quebec's language wars

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/Macpherson+Furor+over+describes+another+point+Quebec+language+wars/6728893/story.html#ixzz1wvXMtltU

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