Friday, December 9, 2011

Language Again?

When I moved to Quebec, I forgot all that I had learned about nationalist politics.  I was so thrilled to be leaving West Texas and so happy to come to McGill that I pretty much had thought via wishful thinking that the language/separatism politics of Quebec would be in its past.  I quickly learned I was wrong.

Even now as the separatist parties are either failing (Bloc) or flailing (Parti Quebecois), the various media outlets are doing their best to trump up the linguistic divisions.  Yes, there are monolingual Anglophones in Montreal, but don't worry, this one is leaving.  Seriously though, Montreal is not losing its French-ness, it is just losing its Quebec-born Francophones who are not moving far away.  They are just escaping the dysfunctional city of Montreal for the somewhat less dysfunctional suburbs with lower taxes and better services.  The reason why the stats of people born in French households is declining is due to the flight of the successful Francophones.  Yep, the economy has shifted over the past thirty-fifty years so that Francophones are doing quite well and then moving to where they can get bigger houses for less money and with lower property taxes.  Replacing them in the city are not huge numbers of anglophone hipsters (nice selection bias/confirmation bias dynamics in the newspapers, talk radio and blogosphere) but actually immigrants who learn French and speak several languages. 

Here's an anecdote that is just as valid as all the silly ones posted about anlophone hipsters--get in a cab.  Chances are it is an immigrant (Haitian? Middle Eastern?) who speaks French.  I have had to give directions en francais each time I take a cab.  I am quite ok with that.  The reality is that all of the past language policy has largely worked--immigrants are learning French, native Quebeckers are competing well in the province's economy, Anglophones are encouraged to leave and are largely politically irrelevant.  There is no crisis but declaring victory in language wars ain't gonna happen because then the folks who make language politics their jobs (politicians, media, etc) would need something else to do. 

The really funny thing is this: the article that spawned my rant du jour seems to consider the current focus on corruption and the economy as a distraction from the core issues here of nationalism and linguistic divisions.  I look at it the other way--that finally folks are focused on what government is or is not doing with one's tax dollars as the fundamental issue of provincial and city governments.  People actually seem to be caring today about the quality of public service, and the parties that would like to yell squirrel and pour distraction sauce over everything are currently in disarray.  If this is disappointing to some (the folks in the article), I dare them to spend heaps of time driving on the Turcot interchange and other bridges that are at significant risk of collapse.  So far, bridge collapses have killed far more Quebeckers over the past decade or three than the use of English by random bankers or academic Americans.  So, what is the real danger?  Where should the attention of Montreal's and Quebec's publics be focused?  Right now, I do think their priorities are straight. 

But then again, I am a semi-uni-lingual Anglophone who can only entertain his students with his crappy French.  And I am leaving town.  Not so much because of the language politics as I can get by with my limited French (much to the frustration of various parties, I guess), but partially because the effects of language politics on the political system--where languages on signs are seen as more important than holes in the streets and in the bridges.

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