Why French is still in danger in Montreal

with 47 comments

Today we learn in La Presse that the Québec government has been sitting on another study on the decline of French in Montreal (or in google English). This time the study is about the language of work in the city. This comes about one week after the revelation that the government was holding back on another study on the demographic weight of Francophones in Montreal.

By and large, English-speaking Montreal was astonished to discover that Francophones still felt that their language and culture was threatened in the city.

Preposterous! More agitation from those darn separatist! All the signs are in French and all the immigrant kids have to go to French school thanks to that bill 101 that English-speakers had reluctantly learned to live with. Nearly everyone in Montreal is bilingual and the income gap between French and English has vanished. How could Francophones conceivably think their language and culture was in danger?

Here’s why, Tim Horton, these trends threaten not only French in Montreal, but even the bilingual character of the city:

The First Generation

In 2008 49 000 new immigrants will arrive in Québec and over 75% of them will head to Montreal.

When he gets here the new immigrant will learn that his engineering and business diplomas are not recognized in Québec and that he’s going to have to work in a factory.

At the factory he will have about a 50/50 chance of working in French (40,1%) or English (38,9%) even though the Charter of the French Language has made French the official language of the workplace 30 years ago.

At work he will quickly understand that immigrants who learn only English earn an average of 27 216$ a year while those who only learn French earn 21 233$ a year. If he is one of the growing number of immigrants who already knows French when they arrive, these numbers will tell him he also has to learn English. If he doesn’t speak French these numbers aren’t telling him he should.

Anyway, it won’t be long before he figures out that even old school Montrealers who don’t speak a word of French earn 34 097$ a year compared to 29 665$ for unilingual Francophones. (CD Howe numbers)

On his way to the better and wealthier life he left his country and family for, the new Montrealer will also learn that although over 80% of Québec’s population is French-speaking, in 1996 they counted for only 35% of the upper management in companies that had more than 1000 employees.

He will also understand that in wealthy neighborhoods like Westmount, 75% of the population is English-speaking.

The Second Generation

For that reason he will prefer that his kids attend English schools. If he can afford it, he will send them to a private school. If not, he will strongly encourage them to go to an English Language CEGEP and University. At this university his kids will develop his more durable social and professional networks.

Although able to speak French and English, this immigrant’s son will live and work in an English environment and feel he is part of Montreal’s English-speaking community. His relations with French-speakers will be cordial, but their preoccupations and culture won’t be his own.

He will not notice the absence of French language services in downtown Montreal because he will be just as likely to speak English in the shops himself. The exodus of Francophones who are increasingly frustrated not to be able to work and shop in French in Montreal will not affect him because his friends and colleagues are Anglophones.

The Third Generation

The girl he will get married is also more likely to be an Anglophone. A cute girl from Regina he will meet at McGill University, perhaps. Because she went to English schools in Canada, they will be able to sent their children to English-language public schools in Montreal.  And these children will grow up to be even less bilingual than their father.

Written by angryfrenchguy

February 7, 2008 at 1:48 pm

47 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. jane,

    agreed. building bridges is better than burning them.

    chapeau, agf


    February 28, 2008 at 9:28 pm

  2. Tu as bien saisi comment fonctionne la dynamique des langues. Mais je suis plutôt d’avis que le coup de grâce au français viendra non des immigrants mais bien des francophones eux-même. Les francos veulent que leurs enfants parlent francais avec eux, mais je suis certain que beaucoup se foutent éperduemment que leur enfant engendre une progéniture anglo…
    Aussi, dans un monde où “moderne” se conjugue en anglais, je crains bien que les jeunes générations se découvrent une fausse appartenance au canada anglais.

    Bon sang, si seulement le ROC était germanophone ou quelque chose du genre…


    March 3, 2008 at 12:53 am

  3. To be honest, I’m just glad we’re talking about this. Everyone’s been upset, insulted, oppressed or the such at one point or another. Ultimately, I think what is lacking is a little bit of compassion and understanding. Like someone mentioned, building bridges, in my mind, is the way to go.

    Now, I love Montréal, I love Québec and I love Canada. As an “anglophone” (whatever that really means…) I think it is a responsability to speak french to people who speak french. It’s just common sense. Moreover, its just polite. But then again, if I could speak Mandarin or Tamil to native speakers I would…

    What is paramount to realize is that we are all biased–we are hopelessly partial. I say this out of love… let’s unite and build a better world! Sure, that may sound cheesy, but in times as turbulent as these, the fact that we are divided will be our ultimate downfall. If we cannot tackle issues of language, then how on earth (remember, this funny little rock we all live on?) are we supposed to conquer AIDS, genocides or mankind’s affect on global warming (presuming you believe its real)?

    Now you may say that I’m going off topic, and that’s fine. However, in the end, we’re all in this together. So I stand by my belief that a little bit of love and respect will go a long way.


    March 13, 2008 at 6:48 pm

  4. I’m an admirer of Canada, and a frequent visitor to Quebec, but I have never lived under the maple leaf flag. I think this allows me to view the issue of separatism more dispassionately; you might think it makes my opinion irrelevant. Well, this is the internet, where relevance has never been a criterion! (And hey, Tony Kondaks lives in Arizona.)

    Some posts seem fairly typical of online “angry anglo” commentary, the kind of thing one sees for example in the comments sections of Canadian newspapers’ websites. The main points might be summed up as: the language laws are “racist”, English-speakers in Quebec are abused, and separatists are ingrates. The tone of the angry anglo is almost always very emotional, sometimes to an absurd degree: some guy who often posts at the Gazette’s page constantly (and obscenely) compares the situation of English speakers in Montreal to the Holocaust.

    Separatists also seem to have a tendency to scale the heights of emotion on this issue as well, although it may have moderated over the last few years. A frequent topic is the string of historical wrongs perpetrated by English-speakers on poor Quebec, stretching from James Wolfe to Pierre Trudeau. This is a stirring line of rhetoric, but it sheds little light on the here-and-now.

    Ultimately, it’s a question of practicality: could Quebec be independent, and would that give Quebeckers a situation that is on the whole better than what they have?

    On the first part, I believe the angry anglos are quite wrong. Contrary to their sometimes-apocalyptic predictions, Quebec could reasonably separate from Canada without the sky falling. There wouldn’t be a war, there wouldn’t be an economic collapse. There would be no need or desire for the other provinces to (horror!) join the United States, as some anglo Doomsday scenarios posit. And although the armchair lawyers often invoke that mysterious beast, “international law”, there aren’t any issues that would realistically bar the door. On its own, Quebec would be a perfectly viable nation-state.

    But on the second part of the question, whether Quebeckers would be better off, the separatists are not making a convincing case– at least if public opinion is the measure. Instead of looking forward to the positives of an independent Quebec, they beat the drum of “injustices” and “threats”. But the sensible Quebecker looks around and doesn’t see a whole lot of “oppression” in today’s rich, pleasant Canada– or at least, they aren’t worked up enough to take a chance on going it alone.

    I am a believer in an independent, sovereign Quebec. Full independence would give Quebec greater space to make decisions about their cultural situation, and might encourage them toward the kind of economic reform (deregulation, debt reduction, growth focus) that will make it an even more wonderful place. Though it sounds paradoxical, separation from Canada may also cause Quebec to be more outward-looking too: once they stand up on the world stage, they will have the responsibility that goes along with visibility.

    But instead of looking forward to a wonderful future, too often sovereigntist rhetoric looks back to a difficult past. If they can change this, they can win the debate.

    In one respect, a sovereign Quebec would be much like the province of today: the great majority will be in favor of promoting the use of French. Sergei, you have a right not to speak French if you don’t want to (a right you are apparently exercising), but your neighbors have a right to think you’re a bit of an ass for moving to a French-speaking place and then expecting them to speak a different language of your choosing. Learning a new language is hard, but come on man, you’ve been there 16 years!


    March 15, 2008 at 11:15 pm

  5. Welcome Well-Wisher!

    Much appreciated comment. Hope to see more of you around here!


    March 16, 2008 at 11:53 am

  6. “Everyday until the last Gaspésien, Haïtien, Jeannois, Abitibien, Libanais and Acadien is buried on Mont-Royal.” angryfrenchguy, February 18, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    I’m just wondering…keeping in mind that canada, quebec included is a country of immigrants, and I mean no disrespect to anyone here….If the quebeckers are relying on immigrants descending from those nations to preserve the status of french in Quebec, are they also expecting that these new immigrants will preserve the quebecois culture as opposed to them maintaining their own culture and beliefs?

    I guess the point I’m trying to make here is: shouldn’t we differentiate between culture and language. Just because the haitians, morroccans and lebanese speak french, doesn’t mean they are going to maintaining the quebecois culture and way of life. By relying on these immigrants you can only succeed in keeping french alive as a means of communication, which I believe is all that language should be about, not more, not less. I’m not sure where culture fits in to this equation.

    Mohamad Ali

    March 30, 2008 at 11:54 am

  7. Of course, Mohamad, you’re absolutely right.

    Québec culture will continue to change, morph and transform itself as vietnamese, lebanese, romanian and Haïtian roots join the French, Italian, Irish and English roots that already feed this culture.

    But one of the traits of this culture, because of it’s peculiar position in North America, is that its members recognize themselves through a common language.

    Québec’s culture that is defined more by sound than geography, religion or race. And I think the Québécois will continue to tolerate great changes in that culture, as long as it continues to live in French.


    March 30, 2008 at 9:49 pm

  8. I am sick of the poor French thing.
    Language issues are screwing the rest of Canada up.
    Get over your superior attitude and
    stop oppressing the majority (English).

    Angry English Guy

    June 17, 2008 at 8:43 pm

  9. I am an American who resides in Boston. I must say that I fully agree with AngryFrenchGuy. Due to globalization, the lingua franca internationally has become English. So it makes sense that if you have a bilingual city which has English as one of its languages, the language of choice by immigrants might weigh more heavily on English. Government policy on many levels must intervene to make French the official language in Montreal to achieve linguistic and thus cultural conservation. Does anyone care about French in Ottawa, a “supposed” bilingual city and incidently the capital of Canada who has as part of its charter regulations enforcing bilingualism. This is only on paper as if a Francophone were to address anyone in the street in French there or in any other city, they would be ignored. Language is the most important element of a culture which means to protect the former is to protect the latter. Due to its history, Quebec is Canada’s special province. It deserves to be treated as such and have as its language French, the only province out of many to have one official language and this includes Montreal. Immigrants must be taught this fact way before they step on Quebecois soil. Today, the Netherlands requires all immigrants overseas before arriving on Dutch soil to learn Dutch and they are tested on that. The same should apply to all immigrants who want to make a new life for themselves in Quebec. Merci pour m’avoir donne l’opportunite de m’exprimer! Vive francais!


    June 20, 2008 at 10:15 am

  10. The aforementioned opinion I gave is based solely on the notion that Quebec does not wish to become independent and separate itself from the rest of Canada. Truth be told, I am a firm advocate of Quebec becoming independent so as to be able to decide her fate and destiny linguistically as well as in other arenas. It should be noted however that once and if she chooses to embark on that route, she will begin to look outwardly and hence will probably want her population to know English as a foreign language as she will be just another participant in the process called globalization. De toute facon le francais regne!


    June 20, 2008 at 10:46 am

  11. The lingua franca of the WORLD is now English. Even in France people are clamoring to learn English.

    If you want to be a citizen of the world, you learn English as a second language. That’s today’s reality.

    Get over it.


    June 24, 2008 at 1:09 am

  12. […] is no way those numbers could go back up again, right?  French-speaking Montrealers are feeling very secure linguistically right now, aren’t they?  And there is no way the 55 000 new immigrants the Québec […]

  13. Is Serge kidding? Really? Let me, an American, go to Russia, insist on speaking Chinese since it’s the most spoken native language of the world and hey, it’s right next door and has a growing economy, and see if anyone talks to me. Now let me stay there for 15 years doing that. Hello?!

    Then we have this old guy in my French class from Greece. He is going to France for a week next summer, so he is studying French ahead of time so he can get by. For a week of needing this, he is devoting a full year of study ahead. He studies a lot of material outside the class also. It’s not enough to be fluent by any means, but I am sure many of the Parisians will be glad to help him out since he is trying.

    When in Rome…

    I also thought that was an interesting bit of history on the New France/English connection in Canada. I never knew that, that Québec was sold to the English in Canada. Kind of interesting how there is not this same linguistic debate going on the in the old Louisiana (USA midwest) territory that the USA bought from Napoleon in 1803. Just an observation. I’d be interested to try and find out why. Was there not as much of a concentration of francophone population living there at the time? Or is it due to the Gold Rush and mass migration of anglophones moving west 40 years later? Combination?


    December 6, 2008 at 9:14 pm

  14. Touriste–there always have been more French speakers in Québec than in Louisiana. Also, the northern part of the state of Louisiana was never settled by French speakers. After the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, English speakers moved in. Thus, northern Louisiana (and the big cities along the Mississippi River) gradually became “anglicisé.” The southwestern part of the state was and is Cajun country (and there are a lot of Cajuns in East Texas, too), although things are now at a point where only a minority of Cajuns still speak French at home. The biggest concentration of French speaking Cajuns is in and around the town of Lafayette. The outlook for Cajun French is poor, although there are people who are trying to keep it up. There was a sizable number of French speakers in Baton Rouge and New Orleans until the first part of the 20th century, but most of the descendants of those people speak English today. Incidentally, relations between the French speaking Creoles in the big cities and the Cajuns in the countryside were always distant.

    So, to answer your question, I think it is fair to say that a combination of factors has–unfortunately, in my opinion–worked against the French language in Louisiana.


    December 7, 2008 at 6:40 pm

  15. If Quebec was independent it would be a different story. Quebec wouldn’t need a lot of immigrants to maintain demographic parity with the rest of Canada. And the cute girl in Regina would be a foreign citizen.


    February 11, 2009 at 12:24 am

  16. Je dirais que c’est facile pour un anglophone de Boston de soutenir le nationalisme Québécois et le mouvement souvairainiste car il n’habite pas au Québec!

    William Holden

    February 20, 2009 at 1:30 am

  17. Pelo menos os falantes da lingua Portuguesa sao afortunados, porque gracas a deus, o idioma Portugues e hoje falado por 280 milhoes de pessoas, em cinco continentes ! Portugues a quinta lingua mais falada do mundo ! Viva a Lusofonia !!


    July 23, 2016 at 5:24 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: