To end it – even more! – with the demise of the French language

While members of the National Assembly are still studying how to reform Quebec’s language laws, I am most concerned that this debate is being reduced to an ethnicization approach. In practice, this translates into the almost systematic use of the criterion of mother tongue or that of the home language.

In a linguistically complex environment like Quebec, and in particular like Montreal, the way we usually assess the linguistic situation evacuates several essential data, explains Jean-Pierre Corbeil, a sociology professor at Laval University who specializes in delinguistics, who linguistic situation in Canada for a quarter of a century. “You have to go beyond criteria such as mother tongue or the home language. This is not enough. These criteria are nevertheless the only two taken into account in traditional analyzes that conclude that only half of allophones adopt French. And it is these analyzes that serve as justification for the current reform of the language laws.

However, the sociolinguist Calvin Veltman, of the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM), has shown that it is enough to consider the second home language to find that three quarters of allophones are oriented to French, because newcomers must be able to communicate quickly in French at their workplace, at their children’s school and wherever they wish to obtain services. “In the census, respondents are asked to name the ‘official languages ​​spoken at work’. This is an interesting criterion, showing how immigrants orient themselves. And that is in favor of the French. Even though it is true that different allophony families keep their original language for one, two or three generations.

“If we think the legislative approach can solve a misunderstood problem, we’re in magical thinking,” said Jean-Pierre Corbeil, who advocates a more complete analysis of the situation by taking into account other factors, such as language at work. , training or service.

Old perceptions to change

Quebec has 14% allophones (who mainly speak their language of origin at home). Their languages ​​are not very present in the workplace, at less than 1%. In Quebec, 48.1% mainly use French at work, compared to 27% for English. “But what is remarkable, between the 2006 and 2016 polls, is a sharp increase in the use of French at home,” adds Jean-Pierre Corbeil.

And of Quebec’s 8% Anglophones, a third speak primarily French at work. ” With the Hello hi, we have argued a lot for bilingualism at the reception, but the OQLF has surveyed the service language in 3,000 companies and you can be served in French 95% of the time. If you want to be served in French, then you will,” said Jean-Pierre Corbeil, who is organizing a symposium on the choice of indicators when measuring the ACFAS congress scheduled for early May 2022. evolution of the linguistic situation in Quebec in which I will participate as a speaker.

The fact that the statistics are based on place of residence also skews Montreal’s linguistic portrait. “Before the pandemic, 300,000 people left the predominantly French-speaking suburbs to work in the center. In a city with a million inhabitants, such a movement inevitably affects the language situation. A linguistic portrait based on the place of residence does not take it into account if it is important. In other words, Montreal is much more French speaking during office hours than you might think!

As for the working language, the sociologist believes that we persist in analyzing the situation as if Quebec’s economy were the same as it was in 1977. However, the situation has completely changed. “Quebec represents 40% of Canada’s service exports. It is a success in itself, but it means that English will necessarily be more required as a recruitment criterion. And indeed, the statistics show that fewer people work only in French. But also fewer people work only in English. And that might be normal in the context of a Quebec being a locomotive in the export of services to Canada. †

Discover the real problems

What also stands in the way is that we use rigid definitions: who is French-speaking, Anglophone, Allophone? – investigate a very fluid dynamic situation. Comparing the different questions of the 2016 census, Calvin Veltman calculates that 480,000 people, or 27% of the island’s population, are bilingual or trilingual. But by common definitions, an “English-speaker” can’t be quite so “French-speaker” even if he speaks primarily French at work, like many of his peers. Traditional demographers, who have the ear of the government, conclude that the number of “francophones” is decreasing because there are more allophones. “The Quebec area, and in particular Montreal, is multilingual, but it is a multilingualism that does not cause English monolingualism,” says Jean-Pierre Corbeil, referring to the fact that most allophones are focused on French. We have to get out of here. †

Jean-Pierre Corbeil argues that if we looked more closely at the dynamics present, we could also look at the real problems, because they are there. “We need to find out who is the 6% of Quebecers who don’t speak French. There are 360,000 English speakers who still do not speak French. It’s not acceptable. †

According to him, we need to better examine certain factors that delay language integration, such as the tendency of part of the Quebec population to exclude immigrants from representations of Quebec society or from certain positions in the public service. “The message they get is that they are not French speakers, even though they speak French. If they are told throughout their lives that they are outside of Quebec society, what do you want them to integrate into? It discourages some. To what extent? We ignore it. †

The Post-Secondary False Problem

Jean-Pierre Corbeil is stern about the current discourse on the situation of French in Quebec. Assessing the effectiveness of Bill 101 on the basis of mother tongue and primary home language, as is currently the case, is tantamount to embezzlement. Because the purpose of Bill 101 was rather to make French the public language. “Well, what do we do? We start from the statistics on the mother tongue and the home language to conclude that French is doing poorly as a public language, while all indications are that French is doing well as a public language and that this influences the trend as a home language. †

As for post-secondary education in English, which generates enthusiasm, Jean-Pierre Corbeil wonders if we are not creating a problem where there is none.

“The logic behind this whole debate is that a post-secondary education in English marginalizes French and promotes assimilation into English,” he says.

Jean-Pierre Corbeil explains that when we cross data from the Post-Secondary Student Information System (PSIS) with census data, a very different picture emerges. For example, of the 6,000 native French students who graduated from McGill University between 2010 and 2015, 80% say they speak French most often at home, and 14% say they speak French as well as English. We are not in assimilation.

The question deserves to be studied in depth, as a recent survey by Statistics Canada has shown that having studied in English in Quebec (or French elsewhere in Canada) does indeed influence the working language of those who have completed these studies – 23% of French-speaking graduates and 46% of allophone graduates mainly use English at work. But the research also nuances its conclusions by stating that only 5% of French speakers and 33% of allophones in Quebec had obtained their last diploma from an Anglophone institution. If we consider that allophones make up 14% of the population of Quebec, we are still talking about 5% of the population. And it is within these two relatively small segments that the research in question focuses.

Jean-Pierre Corbeil argues that the debate on compulsory French in CEGEP is a useless and even illogical cabal. “Supposing one imagines that Bill 101 is a failure (which it is not) and the school fails to francise immigrants (which it does), how can one conclude that two years of CEGEP in French would solve the problem? to resolve? The reasoning doesn’t hold. †

“In reality, the opposite is happening. Allophones are largely focused on French because Bill 101 made French the public language. The school works, the law works, and two years of cégeps in English doesn’t make much difference to the linguistic orientation, which is resolutely focused on French. †


The original version of this text was modified on April 28, 2022 to indicate that the symposium in which our collaborator Jean-Benoit Nadeau will participate is not part of the program of the Acfas Congress.

Leave a Comment