[lg policy] Ignore the alarmists, there is no language crisis in Quebec, economists say
haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Jun 25 11:07:01 EDT 2018
Ignore the alarmists, there is no language crisis in Quebec, economists say
Analyzing the supply and demand of English and French over the 40 years
since Bill 101 was introduced, a study finds the law and other measures
have done their job
Updated: June 24, 2018
Pro-Bill 101 protestors chanting "Montreal Francaise," march along St.
Laurent Boulevard in Chinatown, Montreal, Sunday April 11, 2010. THE
MONTREAL GAZETTE/Phil Carpenter
MONTREAL — Quebec’s June 24 Fête nationale is a celebration rooted in an
impulse for preservation. Behind the parades, concerts and bonfires across
the province this weekend lays a reminder of the ever-present need to
defend the French language.
It is a message regularly reinforced by the media and politicians, from reports
highlighting a decline
in the proportion of Quebecers with French as their mother tongue to dismay
over Montreal merchants embracing English with a ‘Bonjour-Hi’ greeting
In fact, it is hard to imagine a Quebec without a serious language issue.
But according to the author of a new economic study for a Montreal think
tank, that Quebec already exists.
Analyzing the supply and demand of English and French in Quebec over the 40
years since the language law known as Bill 101 was introduced, the study by
Université de Montréal economics professor François Vaillancourt finds the
law and other measures have done their job.
Knowledge of French has increased despite a drop in the share of French
mother-tongue speakers. Francophone employers dominate the Quebec economy.
And speaking only French is no longer a brake on earning power.
“Quebec language policy will always face challenges, since Quebec is
surrounded by anglophones,” the study for the CIRANO research group
concludes. “But considering the picture presented in this paper, we must
set aside language policies that regard English as the language of conquest
and not the language of international openness.”
He is an economist, but Vaillancourt is intimately familiar with Quebec
language law. In 1977 he was recruited to work as a consultant to Parti
Québécois cultural development minister Camille Laurin in the drafting of
Forty years later, he decided it was time to assess the impact, and his
paper published last month is the result.
Quebec Premier Rene Levesque tries to hush supporters at a Parti Quebecois
rally in Montreal, Nov.15, 1976, following his party’s victory in the
provincial election. The PQ victory led to the landmark Charter of the
French Language, more commonly known as Bill 101, which became law on Aug.
26, 1977. THE CANADIAN PRESS
“Essentially, we are told two things,” Vaillancourt says in an interview.
“There are fewer Quebecers with French as a mother tongue, and at the same
time Montreal is becoming more English. That is true, but it is not the
whole story. There are other things going on.”
For one thing, the percentage of the Quebec population able to speak French
rose to 94.5 per cent in 2016 from 88.5 per cent in 1971, before Bill 101
was adopted. Because of the province’s selection criteria, more than half
of immigrants to Quebec today already speak French, and Bill 101’s
requirement that their children attend French school has ensured future
generations become fluent.
To an economist’s eye, this is an increase in the supply of French
speakers, and it has coincided with an increased demand, as francophones
took control of the Quebec economy and workplaces became more French.
Quebec language policy will always face challenges, since Quebec is
surrounded by anglophones
Vaillancourt has found that French is more common in the workplace when the
ownership is francophone, and he notes that between 1961 and 2003 — the
last year for which data is available — francophone-owned companies went
from employing 47 per cent of workers to 67 per cent.
Using census data, Vaillancourt documents a steady increase in the income
of unilingual francophones in comparison to their unilingual anglophone
counterparts. For example, in 1970, a unilingual anglophone man earned on
average 10 per cent more than a unilingual francophone man with comparable
education. By 2010, the advantage had flipped to the unilingual
francophone, who was earning 10 per cent more than a unilingual anglophone
— and eight per cent more than a bilingual anglophone.
Economists Vincent Geloso and Alex Arsenault Morin have also written a paper
the commonly held view that French is in decline in Quebec.
The reality, they say, is that language-usage patterns have become much
more complex as a result of immigration and “inter-linguistic
marriages.” Their 2016 paper says that while census data shows a slight
decline between 2001 and 2011 in the proportion of people speaking French
at home, it is compensated for by an increase in those using French at work.
Norma O’Donnell holds up a sign calling for anglo rights in Quebec as she
attends an “I am Canadian Rally” in Montreal, Sunday, June 30, 2013. Graham
Hughes/THE MONTREAL GAZETTE
“In other words, 88 per cent of the population of Quebec have French as
their most often used language at home, at work or in both spaces. The
apparent decline of French in Quebec is then a consequence of a rise in
multilingualism,” they write.
Statisticians struggle to keep up with evolving behavior that muddies once
reliable measures such as mother tongue and language spoken at home.
“Before, if you were a French speaker, you married a French speaker, you
worked in a French job and that was it,” Geloso, an assistant professor at
Bates College in Maine, says in an interview.
“Now you may be a French speaker who marries an English person and works a
French job. … It’s not because somebody uses English 30 per cent of his
life instead of zero per cent that French is in a crisis, especially if
some English speakers in the process start speaking more French on a daily
Vaillancourt says language has practically become a matter of faith in
Quebec, with people worshipping at the altar of Bill 101 instead of the
Catholic Church. But he thinks it is time to challenge the language-law
I don't think having a common language necessarily implies depriving
ourselves of understanding another language
He notes that the majority of people affected by Bill 101’s schooling
restrictions are francophones, because they are prevented from sending
their children to English school.
“That’s fine, but I don’t think having a common language necessarily
implies depriving ourselves of understanding another language,” he says.
In 2011, just 38 per cent of Quebec francophones were bilingual, according
to census results, compared with 61 per cent of Quebec anglophones.
Vaillancourt proposes a mandatory one-year English immersion program for
all students in French schools. He acknowledges there could be an increased
“risk of assimilation” but says Quebecers’ economic potential would grow.
In parallel, with a view to ensuring all employees are able to provide
service in French, he recommends that anglophones should be obliged to have
part of their schooling in French, either in an immersion program or in
Quebec should draw inspiration from the Netherlands, where 90 per cent of
the population speaks English, 71 per cent speaks German, and no one
worries about he disappearance of the Dutch language, Vaillancourt says.
And if ever a widespread knowledge of English in Quebec led to the
disappearance of francophone Quebec hundreds of years from now, “it would
have to be understood that this is the result of the choice of francophones
themselves and not a forced assimilation,” he concludes.
Harold F. Schiffman
Professor Emeritus of
Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305
Phone: (215) 898-7475
Fax: (215) 573-2138
Email: haroldfs at gmail.com
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