Monday, June 22, 2009

Language Politics: A Contintuing Theme

While I was away in France and Germany, it was time for the semi-annual language controversy in Montreal. Apparently, there was a non-francophone band that was invited and then uninvited and then re-invited for the St. Jean de Bapiste Day celebrations. This day is THE Quebec National holiday, celebrating the Quebec nation and is largely, although not entirely, associated with Quebec separatism, ahem, make that sovereignty.

So, it is only appropriate that in today's Gazette there is a story about a poll about the different perceptions of French in Quebec. The Anglophones and the Allophones (whose first language is neither French nor English) don't think that the French language is threatened in Montreal, while Francophones overwhelmingly do think French is threatened. Since I just spent a week in Paris where a country historically known for the assertion of its identity and language seemed remarkably chill about these topics (including four or five langauges on the emergency explanation in the Metro), I found this extremely interesting.

I am going to track down the survey because it seems like it might have a huge bias. That is, the Anglophones and Allophones largely reside in Montreal, and the question seemed to be phrased as "Is French in danger in Montreal?" So, who were the Francophones who responded? If Montrealers, then I would consider their opinion to be a serious concern, as they are experiencing daily life and if they feel their language is in danger, well, that is serious. But if it is somewhat or largely folks elsewhere, then it is a largely a matter of politics and not of threat.

The reality is that the defenders of French have largely won their battles. They control the commanding heights of the political, economic and social systems of Quebec and even of Montreal. They have passed legislation and enforced it that makes French more prominent, that makes the immigrants (except for those stubborn few who send their kids to private schools--so that only half of their K-6th education is in French) send their kids to French immersion programs. This idea that French is threatened in Montreal largely resides on old beliefs about how things used to be.

There really is only one last thing that Quebec could do--it could eliminate or significantly reduce English from the air waves. Right now, telelecommunications is regulated by the federal government, but that could be grabbed by Quebec. However, that would be of limited impact since those who want their English programs on radio or TV could simply get gray market satellite programming and/or rely more on the internet. In a globalized world (as much as globalization is overplayed) and located next to the US, there is actually very little the Quebec or Canadian governments can do to limit English telecommunications products. Even banning English movies would not work since people would just see them online, legally or illegally.

But, these surveys are always good for feeding the beast--the newspapers and other media in this town who want to focus on the language dynamics rather than the lousy public services....

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