[lg policy] Celine Cooper: What can the U.S. really learn from Canada on language policy?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Jan 5 20:12:56 UTC 2015

 Celine Cooper: What can the U.S. really learn from Canada on
language policy?
 [image: Celine Cooper] Celine Cooper, Special to Montreal Gazette More
from Celine Cooper, Special to Montreal Gazette
 Published on: January 5, 2015Last Updated: January 5, 2015 11:37 AM EST
 [image: Chrystia Freeland poses for a photograph near Dundas Square in
Toronto on Thursday, September 12, 2013.]

Chrystia Freeland poses for a photograph near Dundas Square in Toronto on
Thursday, September 12, 2013.
Matthew Sherwood / Matthew Sherwood for National Po


Is the United States headed toward a future of linguistic tension à la
Canada? If so, are we in any kind of position to offer advice?

A recent opinion piece in the New York Times by Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland
(Toronto Centre) got me thinking. Entitled “Bilingual Nationhood,
Canadian-Style,” Freeland reflects on the upcoming immigration debates in
the U.S. which she suggests will be partly defined by the fear that
“English-speaking Americans will be culturally and linguistically
overwhelmed by newcomers, many of them Spanish-speaking.”

Relating the American conversation to her experiences as an anglophone
Canadian working in the House of Commons and striving to master the French
language, she writes that “We (Canadians) are far from perfect … but when
it comes to living in a multilingual, multicultural world, we get a lot

True enough. But I’m curious: if American policy-makers are being
encouraged to look North, what lessons could they draw from our
experiences? Certainly, as the global economy, migration and new
information technologies continue to redefine both Canada and Canadians,
bilingualism and multiculturalism are as much a topic of national public
debate today as they’ve ever been.

It makes for an interesting comparison. In both countries, English remains
the dominant language. But unlike in Canada where French-speaking
populations are not increasing at significant rates, in the U.S. the size
and influence of Spanish-speaking communities are growing. According to the
U.S. Census Bureau, there are roughly 54 million Hispanics living in the
United States, making up 17 per cent of the total U.S. population
<http://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2014/cb14-ff22.html>. By
2060, Hispanics are estimated to grow to around 31 per cent of the entire
U.S. population. This will have an impact on how language and national
unity in America are managed. But how?

York University professor Eve Haque has studied this. Her research suggests
that the creation of Canadian multiculturalism within a bilingual framework
in the late 1960s and early 1970s was always about developing a blueprint
for national unity that set up a system of social organization in which
there were French and English founding cultures and other immigrants. At
the time, the increasing number of immigrants from non-European countries
was seen as a threat to national unity. Canada was re-working its
immigration policy to move away from overtly racial preferences to
preferences expressed in terms of language and culture.

Difficult as it is to admit, bilingualism and multiculturalism have never
been universally accepted by all Canadians. Some of the most strident
criticism came from within the federal Reform Party of Canada during the
1990s, while in many Quebec political and intellectual circles,
bilingualism and multiculturalism have always been roundly rejected. Throw
in the fact that Quebec — the only majority French province — has control
over its own language and immigration policies (a concession in part to
manage federal anxieties over separatism) and our Americans friends might
wonder what they are supposed to take from this.

One of the examples Freeland offers as a sign of things to come in the U.S.
is the spat between Telemundo anchor and MSNBC host José Díaz-Balart and
talk radio host Laura Ingraham, who was irritated by Díaz-Balart’s proper
pronunciation of a Hispanic name. What it immediately brought to mind for
me was that row back in February of 2014 when Sun News host Brian Lilley
apologized after criticizing the way bilingual CBC anchors pronounced the
names of French-Canadian Olympic athletes in English, but with a French

The point is that even with our official policies, these kinds of things
happen. You learn to roll with it. That’s bilingual nationhood,

Given the massive demographic shifts ahead, linguistic and cultural
politics will occupy much more space in American political debate,
particularly in the upcoming immigration debates. On these issues, Canada
has experiences to share. Just don’t expect us to have all the answers, too.

celine_cooper at yahoo.com


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