Monday, February 11, 2013

Can the French language survive in Québec?

Bonjour mes chers lecteurs, greetings dear readers.  This blog posting comes to you from a Tim Hortons in the north end of Quebec City, one with wifi access.  I ordered myself a grande café with un crème and un edulcorant, I also had a beigne.  For those scratching their heads, that's a large coffee with one cream and one sweetener, and a doughnut.

French in this part of Quebec is very much la langue de la rue, the language of the street.  Oh I still would have gotten my coffee and doughnut if I'd ordered them in English, but it would have been difficult, and I probably would have sugar instead of a substitute in my coffee, but I'm not diabetic so it wouldn't threaten my health.  

For the here and now, the French language is a alive and well in Quebec.  But will it last?

You may have come across recent news about Québec's PQ government looking to strip some municipalities of their bilingual status.  Having that status allows local governments to provide services and things like newsletters in both English and French. Removal of bilingual status would leave uni-lingual anglophones constantly in consultation with their French - English dictionaries.

Is this needed?  As with many things, it depends on your perspective.

French has been spoken in Québec for over 400 years, although I doubt Samuel de Champlain would recognize the variety I hear on a daily basis.  Comment vas-tu 'la' Sam?  French has evolved and adapted to our changing world, as it must.  But as we travel further and further into the hyper connected information age I can't help but thinking that the French language is doomed in North America.  I'm not talking in my lifetime, or even the in the lifetimes of my children,  but maybe in another one hundred or so years.

I don't think it can be stopped, but it can be slowed.  Initiatives like the removal of bilingual status from some jurisdictions, or limiting access to English schools, that will slow the erosion of the French language certainly.  But stop it?  I don't think that's possible.

The Québecois of today are different from their ancestors. Quebecers aren't satisfied with being citizens of Québec, they aspire to be citizens of the world.  And given the provinces geographic position on the planet, its a 'nation' surrounded by the English language, and people are adapting.  

I've spoken to many parents who are worried about being able to enroll their children in an English school.  Like parents everywhere Quebecers want to give their children all the advantages possible in our increasingly competitive world.  And with the planet shrinking every day, parents realize that the door to opportunity opens easier with the language of Shakespeare than with that of Voltaire.

A candidate who speaks, reads and writes English perfectly will have a decided advantage over his French only competitor, although right now French is still essential in most of Quebec outside of Montreal.  

That's not to say that there isn't a value to bilingualism, it is a huge benefit.  Especially considering that French is going to be a fact in Quebec and in Canada for many years to come.

In this blogger's opinion the PQ is fighting the good fight, but its a battle ultimately doomed to failure.   




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