Thursday, March 21, 2013

Language shift and propaganda

Language Shift

The process in which a minority language is gradually replace by a dominant language is called language shift. It is a process that has been observed and well documented, most notably in the historical shifts to English by Celtic language speakers of Britain and Ireland. The main factors that cause a people to abandon their language for another are well understood by linguists. Addressing these factors is exactly what Quebec's language laws are about. In terms of linguistics, this is known as "language planning" and the goal is to achieve "language maintenance".

Any country will have a dominant language. This is not a problem when the citizens of this country all naturally speak this language. If, however, this country is the product of imperialism, the dominant language will often be one that dominates minority languages. It can be a forceful domination or an insidious one but the effects are often the same.

In most cases the majority language is numerically stronger as regards numbers of speakers (e.g. English in Wales or Scotland), but in some cases the majority language, spoken by a dominant elite may in fact be the first language of a minority (e.g. the elite status of Russian in Estonia during the Soviet era). In both cases, the balance of power between the different speech communities is rarely - if ever - equal. This power differential may be either perceived or real, with regard to a language group’s access to economic, political, legislative, cultural or educational resources.

A marked mismatch in power relations between these groups may result in language shift, whereby the disfavored language loses ground. Should this process continue, the outcome may be so-called language death. This is the fate that befell two of the Celtic languages, Cornish and Manx, which died out as native languages with the death of the last native speakers in 1777 and 1974, respectively.

Language shift doesn't happen overnight. It's a gradual process. A typical model looks something like this: Using the letter A for the language of the monolingual minority speech community and the letter B for the language of the majority speech community, the process of language shift can be represented as follows:

                                           A > Ab > AB > aB > B

Thus language shift over the space of a few generations begins and ends in monolingualism passing through three stages of bilingualism: Ab, where the bilingual is most competent in the minority language; AB, where the bilingual is a equally competent in both the minority and majority language; and aB, where the bilingual is most competent in the majority language.

This is how it played out in Scotland:

Percentages of Gaelic speakers (mono and bilingual) in Scotland in successive census years, 1891–2001. Red, 75–100% Gaelic speaking; orange, 50–74.9% Gaelic speaking; yellow, 25–49.9% Gaelic speaking; white, less than 25% Gaelic speaking.

According to this model, language maintenance appears to be under threat from the moment a population becomes bilingual. This isn't necessarily the case. If a minority language can maintain itself at the Ab stage, it is still secure as long as the minority language remains necessary in everyday life (i.e. it is not an optional language). In other words, French must be as essential in Quebec as English is in Ontario. Franco-Ontarians can get services in French, if they ask for them, but they understand that English is the common language and they are all bilingual anyway. It is very difficult to function in Ontario without English. The same must be true in Quebec with regards to French if we are to avoid language shift.

The Big Mistake

Probably the single biggest mistake the English made in Canada was simply not sticking to the plan. The Act of Union of 1840 laid it all out, Upper Canada (Ontario) was to be merged with Lower Canada (Quebec) in order to form the Province of Canada. Massive immigration from the British Isles would eventually make Francophones a minority. The French language was banned in the Parliament, Courts and all other governmental bodies of the new united province. An added bonus to all this was that Upper Canada could unload half of its massive debt onto the then-solvent Lower Canada.

Even though the English were given an artificial majority in the new parliament until they actually formed a real majority, the union never really worked out for them. Francophones tended to vote as a block, whereas the English vote was split so nothing could really get done without the consent of the Francophones (The whole idea was to marginalize them). This situation eventually lead to Confederation and the creation of the province of Quebec.

What the English ended up doing was giving us a state in which we were the majority. This would prove essential in resisting language shift. Had we remained a stateless minority, it would have been much harder, if not impossible, to resist the planned assimilation. It is through the government of Quebec that we have had the necessary tools to even begin to address the problem. We must also recognize the important role played by unions who had to fight for the basic right to be able to work in French.

Of course, it must be remembered that Canada did not become officially bilingual until 1969, a year after the Parti Quebecois was formed. French language schools in Ontario were not officially recognized under the provincial Education Act until 1968. In other words, only the fear of an independent Quebec moved Canada to clean up its act. Before that, we had to fight for even minimal recognition of our language like having some French on our stamps and currency. Nothing was ever given to us, it had to be fought for.


Any discussion about language policy in Quebec should be framed within the context of our history and the fact that we are a linguistic minority that faces challenges that the dominant, majority language does not. Unfortunately, our opponents aren't engaging in any kind of discussion. They are waging a very ugly propaganda war and like in any war, the truth is the first casualty.


It all started with someone visiting an Italian restaurant in Montreal called Buona Notte. This person was presented with a menu which was in Italian and English only. Had he asked for a French version, he would have got one but instead he reported the incident to the OQLF.

The OQLF sent an inspector who was presented with the French version of the menu. He should have closed the case but instead he sent a letter to the owner of the restaurant about the headings in the menu (Antipasti, Pasta, Carne, Contorne, Pesce) which he felt should have a French equivalent. As always, he asked the owner to contact him in order the find an acceptable solution (The OQLF will often offer to pay part of the costs of the changes). The owner, however, chose to go to the Anglo media and claimed Quebec wanted to ban the word "pasta", this was repeated ad nauseum and even reached foreign media. He even began selling T-shits commemorating the event.

It's true, some mistakes were made but the way this story was distorted and exploited went well beyond any sense of proportion. Enforcing these types of laws will always be a tricky business. I'm sure if we were to scrutinize the CRTC's enforcement of Canada's Canadian content laws, we would also find some strange cases.

Other examples:

This one isn't even based on a real event. La Charte de la langue française does not regulate art. It regulates commercial signage only. The purpose here is to perpetuate the "language police" myth. The OQLF are endlessly portrayed as some kind of Gestapo that breaks down doors and arrests people.

It's not uncommon to find people in English Canada who actually seem to believe that you can be fined for speaking English in public in Quebec. All of our efforts to survive as a linguistic minority in this country are systematically vilified. It's not honest criticism, it's just slander.

The management and maintenance of the Mercier bridge is shared by the federal crown corporation The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated and the Ministère des Transports du Québec. Why not blame the federal government for the state of this bridge? Why not focus on the $332 million wasted on corruption and federalist propaganda during Canada's sponsorship scandal? No, that's not important. That was a worthy cause. The point here is simply that 1¢ spent on protecting the French language in Quebec is 1¢ too much.

Article 26(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."

If you immigrate to Italy, can you demand that your child be given a publicly-funded education in English? No, of course not. Public education in Italy is in Italian. Public education in Quebec is in French with exceptions made for the traditional Anglophone community and for the Native people. However, these rules don't apply to private schools. Parents do have the right to choose. Quebec is no more in violation of this article than Italy or any other country. What these Anglophones really want is for Quebecers to subsidize the assimilation of their own society by providing English public education to any newcomer to Quebec. Refusing to do so is considered discrimination and a violation of human rights.


What should be apparent to anyone by now is that Canada is not, and never has been, willing to make any serious concessions in order to allow a minority language to survive. When its back is against the wall, Canada will pretend to make concessions, mostly meaningless ones like Trudeau's fantasy about a bilingual Canada. The reality boils down to being able to buy stamps in French or English anywhere in Canada but not much else. Francophones outside of Quebec are still being assimilated at an alarming rate.

Anyone interested in keeping Quebec a place where North American French can survive and thrive long into the future needs to understand that this will only happen in an independent Quebec. Keeping Quebec a province of Canada is keeping us all in a perpetual battlefield and I feel it is battle we may lose in the long run. The real choices are independence or assimilation. If I had my way, that would be the question for the next referendum: Independence or Assimilation?


  1. « Il faut que le Québec soit beaucoup plus francophone qu'anglophone » — Pierre TRUDEAU

    1. Pourquoi venir mettre une citation aussi extrême? Si les anglophones sont un jour majoritaires, ce n'est pas grave, du moment qu'ils respectent la minorité francophone. Le Québec n'appartient à personne, ni aux anglophones, ni aux francophones, ni aux amériendiens. C'est une question de respect.
      Cette citation me renvoit à des idées telles que l'épuration ethnique. C'est pas très enrichissant.

  2. This is an article that presents the language issue in a very clear and unbiased light. The English media has never been shy of dumping their own racist prejudices on the francophones, but ever since the 1995 referendum they are simply caught in a frenzied spin.

  3. I consider Bill 101 simply as affirmative action over language.

  4. Recensement de 2011: le déclin du français se poursuit

    Guillaume Marois, Doctorant en démographie à l'INRS

    Pour la situation du français, les résultats révèlent une tendance sans équivoque: tous les indicateurs sont au rouge.
    Entre 2006 et 2011, le bilinguisme est augmentation uniquement au Québec, mais ce n'est que chez les francophones de langue maternelle que cette hausse s'observe (de 35,8% à 38,3%). Le taux de bilinguismes des anglophones du Québec est quant à lui inférieur à ce qu'il était il y a 5 ans. En tout, 440 000 Québécois ne connaissent pas le français, soit 5,7% de la population. Le bilinguisme dans le reste du Canada est également en chute et est à un plancher jamais atteint depuis 1991 : seulement 9,7% des habitants du reste du Canada et une bonne partie de ceux-ci sont des francophones de l'Acadie et de l'Ontario.

  5. If Quebec separates, then language shift will be inevitable for sure. I can see Quebec becoming sort of like Haiti, where only 5% of the population speaks correct, standard French and dominates everything while maintaining strong ties to the outer francophone world. However, most of the population speaks Haitian French Creole, which is of little use ouside Haiti.

    With Quebec, you get a majority of people outside Montreal who are fluent in "joual" (the heavily-angliczed French dialect of Quebec), but who are not really proficient in either standard French or standard English, for the most part. Finally, many anglophones, allophones and even francophones will leave the province because it's becoming less and less business-friendly, and much of the infrastructure is crumbling (google, "Montreal is crumbling to dust.")

    I'm not an "accent snob". I realize that there are different accents in the French language, and the Quebecois accent is as good as any other. However, I personally dislike "joual", because it is rather amorphous, and it haphazardly borrows English words and English usages for no special reason. As such, it isn't even very good for domestic communication, let alone for international communication.

    In European French, English words are sometimes used for new technological innovations, because a French word is unavailable or hasn't been coined yet. However, even for "le vilebrequin", Quebec joual will simply often use "le crankshaft", even though a perfectly good French term is available.

    1. Jacques, this has got to be your most idiotic post yet...

    2. How is it idiotic? Please explain. You mentioned the 1987 stock market crash as a major reason why Montreal was in such a funk in the early 1990s; well, Toronto, Edmonton or Vancouver didn't have nearly as many empty shops with "For Rent" or "For Sale" signs at that time. And, have you googled that article ("Montreal is crumbling to dust")? It will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to fix Quebec's infrastructure (not just in Montreal, but elsewhere in the province), but the PQ is proposing policies that will make things even less business-friendly int the province.

    3. "If Quebec separates, then language shift will be inevitable for sure."... How's that Jacques? You don't bother to explain that ridiculous statement. You just move on to your next load of garbage: an independent Quebec would be like Haiti!?! Quebec French isn't real French, it's more like Haitian Creole!?! An independent Quebec would be filled with ignorant Quebecers speaking their mongrel version of French, incomprehensible to the outside world, ruled by a small clique of evil tyrants who are able to speak real French and other nonsense... The evidence? "le crankshaft"... In what world is this kind of crap not offensive?

      Ask an anti-Semite to describe the Jews and you'll get a grotesque caricature. Ask a Klansman to draw you a black person and you'll get a hideous sub-human monster. Ask an English Canadian about Quebec and Quebecers and you'll get something pretty similar. Everything negative is exaggerated beyond any reason. There are no redeeming qualities. Quebec's language laws are the worst oppression since Nazi Germany and are that cause of every single problem from crumbling bridges (federal justification) to school shootings...

      And you seriously ask me how your factually challenged ramblings are idiotic? I suggest you find a different venue for your rants, Jacques because I'm going to start deleting this garbage if you persist.

    4. Veritas: what exactly does the term "assimilation" mean to you? You spoke of the word "multiculturalism" being nebulous; I feel much the same way about the word "assimilation."

      Does it mean that francophones in Quebec will speak English just as well as they do French? You clearly have a very strong command of the English language, and it's hard to imagine that your French could be much better; obviously, you have invested a lot of time and effort inarning English, and have practised using it a great deal. "French-English bilingual" would probably be a better way to describe you, than "francophone" or "anglophone". Do you speak a third language as well?

      re: assimilation. Does it mean that Quebecois francophones will all become Protestants and start singing "God Save the Queen" (the traditional one, and not Johnny Rotten's snarling rendition of it), and enjoy tea and scones in lieu of poutine and escargots? OK,I'm being facetious here, but think about it: most of the anglophones in Ontario are Roman Catholic from various backgrounds, and there are plenty of Canadian anglophones (including myself) who would like to see the monarchy abolished in Canada.

      Quebec has many advantages: it has a large community of anglophones and lots of opportunities for francophones to learn and improve their English. Also, the French language is a good foundational base for learning Spanish, Portuguese or Italian. And of course, French is a great language in itself, and puts Quebec in touch with francophones in other nations.

      There is no reason why Quebec cannot retain French, while embracing English and other languages.

    5. Veritas: I'd like to expand a bit on my earlier points. As I noted before, you clearly have a very strong command of the English language. Where did you learn it? It would appear that you didn't go to French-only schools in elementary and secondary school...did you speak English at home (perhaps one of your parents was an anglophone), or did you attend private academies, or grow up in an anglophone section of Montreal, or live for an extended period of time in anglophone Canada, or the U.S., the U.K, or elsewhere in the anglosphere?

      A question: how much of the elementary and secondary education in publically-funded, francophone schools in Quebec consists of either ESL (English Second Language) instruction, or else other school subjects which are taught mostly or entirely in English there (that is, English immersion subjects for francophone students)? It would be instructive to compare system in Quebec with those of say, Denmark or the Netherlands, which have very high competency levels in ESL on average.

  6. Veritas: okay, I was using some hyperbole and I went overboard; my apologies. re: your earlier statment that French must be as necessary in Quebec as English is in Ontario or Alberta, if Quebec is to avoid language shift. I'm afraid that that's not possible unless Quebec wants to sacrifice a lot of money, investment and prosperity. Yes, small countries like Denmark and Finland keep their own languages and prosper; nonetheless, they make some difficult compromises, and find an appropriate balance between Jihad and McWorld (I refer to the book "Jihad Vs. McWorld" by Benjamin Berber, which has several pages on Quebec and Canada incidentally).

  7. To elaborate on my last comment: as a British Columbian, I don't really care if there's a B.C. business, restaurant, etc. with a large-lettered sign in Chinese, Punjabi, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Portuguese, French, Ukrainian or whatever, as long as English is present and clearly visible, even if it's slightly smaller.

    At this stage, I don't even think it's possible for Danish or Finnish to be as necessary in Denmark or Finland as English in in the United Kingdom. English is like a 500-pound gorilla in the world community of languages, while French (currently the 8th most-spoken language in the world) is like an elegant, 200-pound boxer.

  8. Given your examples, propaganda and media have always played a similar role distorting many truths. They exist, not to necessarily tell the truth but, to sell newspapers and to have an audience to which they can charge companies for advertizing. One of the responsibilities of a government in power is to not enter into situations where they can easily be ridiculed without a solid defense or reply. The educated people of Quebec, Canada and the World, have long realized this. It is a two way street. For example, this blog, I find it equally misleading and similar to the level of misdirection as most of the "incorrect" propaganda you are referring to. Yet you are declaring it as "The Truth". It is your point of view. It is not concrete. It seems emotional and not logical. You present only examples that help your point of view. There are truths in everything you mentioned, there are also truths in everything mentioned in the false propaganda you are claiming.
    It is a difficult question... assimilation. History proves that assimilation is the norm. Assimilation can only be retarded and rarely prevented. It is the choice of the people in which direction to go for their personal success and survival... and not the government. Assimilation is the sad by-product of progress. I am not saying I like it, just that it is the truth. History has shown that no government has ever been able to protect a language from assimilation. It has to be the choice of the people to speak it. The strongest movement that the French Quebecois population can do to protect the French language is to speak it, "point finale". This is what will determine the extent or duration of assimilation. I do not have a better solution. On the other hand, if we separate, it may only become more evident that Quebec must become a bilingual country to remain competitive and be involved in regional and international business. Let us not be naive. The world is becoming smaller each and every day. Changes occur at a much faster rate than in the past, mostly due to communications technology and the microchip. To not be bilingual in the North American marketplace, (and continue to be a factor and hold our piece of the pie in International trade globally) is asking Quebec to remain in the stone age figuratively speaking of coarse.

  9. We are a Province based on service, national and international trade, not in manufacturing. Our labor costs are much too high compared to manufacture based countries like China for example. Quebec must be able to speak English.
    Canada has made many serious concessions in order to allow a minority language to survive. I do not know of any other country that has allowed a State, a Province, Territory or a region to define itself as freely as in the case of Quebec in Canada, in the last 50 years, or maybe never. Many foreigners consider Quebec Separatists as traitors. Nice image to have when you want to conduct international affairs.
    The low birthrate in Quebec requires immigration. The economic future of Quebec requires immigrants. Too many individuals belonging to the Separatist movement have not figured this out or accepted yet. I still hear all too often, get rid of the Anglos and the immigrants, we can then be the masters of our own country. Well... start by having 4,5,6 children again to build your economic base. Maybe in 50 to 100 years the French Quebecois can be viable at least on the question of population economic sustainability . You will no longer need the Anglos and the immigrants. Maybe the conditions for Separation will finally be met. Still, this will not solve the question of the assimilation of the French language.
    Your conclusions are flawed. Anyone interested in keeping Quebec a place where North American French can survive and thrive long into the future needs to understand that this will only happen if that individual freely chooses, and the individuals in the population of Quebec freely choose to practice the French language and be proud to speak it. Only the democratic will to speak French can prolong the life of the language, not independence, not government. However, the French Quebecois are just as greedy as any other nationality... and this is normal human behavior. Survival and greed is what gives the power to assimilation... on both sides. That is human nature... there is no argument to that.

    1. Joe: please google the article "Quebec's Self-Defeating Language Fetish" by Len Even, who lived in the Netherlands for over 20 years, and returned home to Quebec not that long ago (I believe the article was published in the National Post in 2010). Basically, Mr.Even argues that even though the Dutch strongly embrace and promote English, the Dutch language and culture continue to thrive, and they enjoy a most "distinct society" within Europe.

      Quebec, on the other hand, seems to have far fewer and less robust services, with increasing problems related to infrastructure, poverty, unemployment and brain drain. This is despite the fact that both the Netherlands and Quebec have very high taxes.

      Are you from Quebec? I have a question: do the French public schools there offer English as a major part of the curriculum, or not? It's my understanding that the Netherlands (as well as Denmark, the Scandinavian countries, and Finland) make English an integral part of their public school (as well as private school) curriculae, and they are really big on English in other spheres (anglophone TV shows and movies are subtitled, and almost never dubbed), plus there are plenty of English-language songs and programmes on the radio broadcasts, etc. Moreover, all the university master's programmes there are taught entirely in English, rather than in Dutch.