[Chronique de Jean-François Lisée] French, the Gruyere language

A group of employees from Lachine launches an attack on the multinational Amazon. They want to make the local warehouse the second Amazon octopus union organization on the continent. We applaud their determination and courage with both hands, knowing the ruthlessness with which Jeff Bezos and his henchmen fight against attempts at labor organization.

The struggle of Lachine’s union members is all the more exemplary because it was started by a dozen recent immigrants, supported by the CSN. Warehouse workers mainly have an immigrant and cultural background. A person involved in this movement tells us that the language dynamics there are special: “When the bosses want to talk to each other and are not understood by the employees, they speak French. †

oh good? “Yes, the executives are 28-year-old francophone whites who have just completed their administration training, but the working language on the floor is English, because sociologically many employees do not master French,” this source describes to us, baffled by this reversal of the linguist situation. Quebec journalist Dominique Cambron-Goulet, who worked in the company in 2020, tells us that English is even the language of communication for recent Latin American immigrants, who are nevertheless Francotropes.

Nearly half a century after the adoption of the Charter of the French Language, people remain amazed at the difficulty of making French the common language in Quebec. Not a week goes by without an anecdote bringing an unpleasant truth into the public sphere: a more or less supposed, more or less militant refusal of French.

The message comes from above – from the President of Air Canada, from the board of directors of CN, from the choice of the Governor General of Canada -; it comes from below, too — from Tim Hortons’ waitresses for the TNM refusing Serge Denoncourt a cup of coffee in his own language, from the health staff at Montreal’s Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital who only offer services in English to someone close to the member for Rosemont.

The militant association MEDAC tried to convince the shareholders’ meetings of major Quebec companies to indicate in their statutes and regulations that French was their official and common language. At National Bank and Laurentian, Metro and CGI advised all CAs to vote against the proposal. In any case, the Caisse depot et placement has put its weight in the No camp.

Even the director-general of the First Nations Education Council, Denis Gros-Louis, who in News Quebec’s “colonial approach” to young Aborigines who have English as a second language by sending them “the message that they must assimilate if they want to succeed”. Why ? Because like their classmates, they will have to pass French lessons. In Québec. In 2022. Shame!

What does the government do? We know what the man sitting in Ottawa is doing: he massively increases the number of temporary immigration permits, which are beyond Quebec’s control, and the selection is done with software that, oddly enough, blocks 80% of visa applications from French-speaking Africans. students. The combination of Quebec’s linguistic inaction and Ottawa’s linguistic action on immigration brought 63,000 monolingual Anglophones to Montreal before the pandemic.

Before becoming prime minister, François Legault complained that too much emphasis was placed on knowledge of French in the selection of immigrants. Has he finally seen the light? Minister Jean Boulet waited until the end of his mandate to open up to this reality: “If we want to protect French and ensure its survival, it is essential that we have French-speaking immigration. He ordered a report.

Ensuring that newcomers and members of linguistic minorities know French would certainly be a good start. We recently learned that we had all made a mistake in believing that the education offered to Anglophones made them bilingual by the end of high school. Nuance, they are legally considered bilingual. An overrated reputation, as 35% of the best, who have become CEGEP students, fail to take a French course. Also note that once you have passed the secondary diploma, no one will ask an English speaking health professional to prove that they can treat someone in French. A void that Bill 96 claims to fill.

I asked Statistics Canada to tell me about the non-bilinguality rate among young Franco-Ontarians in Toronto, ages 20 to 34. Only 5% of them do not speak the majority language. Ditto for young French speakers in Moncton. So why can’t 20% of young Anglo-Montrealers of the same age speak French? Mystery.

But even among those who hear French, there is evidence that they use it so sparingly that the principle of common language resembles a Gruyere with holes bigger than cheese. The latest data from the Office québécois de la langue française, dating from 2014, tells us that of the Anglo-Quebec population, 74% do not read French-language newspapers, 82% do not tune into French-language radio stations, 86% do not listen to French songs or read French books or magazines. In addition, 90% do not watch our TV and 93% do not watch our movies.

It is better among Quebecers of immigrant descent. Two-thirds of them say they speak French. Among them we still find a third of those who read neither books nor magazines in French, 40% who avoid French-language television and cinema, 50% who do not read newspapers and 53% who do not listen to French songs.

There are ways to truly make French the common language and to more widely share the richness of Quebec’s culture. They don’t ignore the CAQ’s invocations in terms of immigration and education, nor the linguistic joviality we see signs of in the gazettes. Time is not on our side. Neither does Ottawa.

jflisee@ledevoir.com; blog: jflisee.org

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