AngryFrenchGuy

Camille Laurin’s Bitches

with 54 comments

Who\'s your daddy?

Who says Montreal should be French, anyway?

This is a complaint I’ve been hearing more and more from Anglophones.

Montreal is a bilingual city. Why should French have a special status?

Because if French didn’t have a special status Montreal would have the economic and cultural importance Akron, Ohio.

Bill 101 isn’t about wiping out English From Montreal. It’s about providing a counterweight to the massive power of attraction of English in North America and the world.

Bill 101 created bilingual Montreal.

Before bill 101 there was no bilingual Montreal. It was as Jane Jacobs and many others observed: “An English city containing many French-speaking workers and inhabitants.” About 70% of the inhabitants actually.

Before bill 101 there was no French in the workplace, there was no French in the boardrooms and there was little or no French in the shops downtown. Before Bill 101 the Canadian National Railway and the big banks could have their headquarters in Montreal and not have to hire a single French-speaking person above the second floor.

Before the French Language Charter became law bilingualism was such a valued skill in Montreal that in his book “Sorry I don’t speak French” journalist and new Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser recalls meeting the editor of the Montreal Star, a man who’s position would suppose that he was not only well read but that he also had some very sensitive antennas in all of the city’s communities, and that he did not speak French at all.

Before those darn separatists took power immigrants only learned English because that’s the only language they needed to earn a living. Anglos didn’t need to speak French to get a job. Francophones who wanted to rise above the shop floor had to consider an English education. The market value of bilingualism was sweet fuck all.

By giving the French majority the right to work in French the French Language Charter’s creator Camille Laurin reversed that. All of the sudden Anglos and immigrants needed to learn some French to compete with the bilingual Francophones. The French classes suddenly got more important in English schools and the very idea of immersion programs was invented.

The children and grandchildren of unilingual Anglophones are now proudly bilingual and this proficiency with languages gives them a unique advantage other Anglo-Saxons would pimp their sister for. This ability to speak two or more languages has kept bilingual English Montrealers right at the top of the earnings pyramid in Montreal, Québec and Canada.

It has also given them such a unique access to federal public service jobs that in the West people complain that Canada has been hijacked by Montreal lawyers.

The language laws probably saved Montreal’s economy. Contrary to popular myth, the decline of Montreal as the economic center of Canada was well under way when English was the only language of business. Toronto had already caught up with Montreal by the 1940’s, a good quarter of a century before the Parti québécois came to power.

In those days Montreal was slowly becoming just another English-speaking town on the outer periphery of North America’s economic heartland. A Hartford or a Pittsburgh. By making French a central part of Montreal’s business and commercial life, bill 101 positioned our city as a unique bridge between two of the world’s most vibrant cultural and economic spheres.

A position it holds alone, without the shadow of a challenger, in North America or even the world.

So why should French have a special status?

Because that special status paid for your Lexus, biatch!

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Written by angryfrenchguy

April 19, 2008 at 9:40 pm

54 Responses

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  1. The wording of the final paragraph of my post does not explicitly exclude Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and actually that was precisely what I was alluding to in closing. Guess I should’ve been clearer.

    Acajack

    April 22, 2008 at 10:51 am

  2. Acajack,

    Well, it is by no means only directed at you. Whenever this debate comes up everybody seems to only think of North America in terms of English, French or native.

    In fairness, the argument put forward by anglos is actually premised on the idea that millions of francophones in Quebec do speak only French behind closed doors. But the elites — in this case hypocritical separatist politicians — know the real language of opportunity and make sure their kids learn it while denying the opportunity to others.

    Not taking sides here. I have heard a lot about Lucien Bouchard and English. Yours is the first response I have seen.

    Anonymous

    April 22, 2008 at 11:17 am

  3. Oops…left out my name from the above post.

    Roger

    April 22, 2008 at 11:20 am

  4. Roger:

    The “real language of opportunity” is actually not a language at all, but the rather the skills you acquire through education and the ability to learn new things, including languages.

    I live in the Gatineau area, right next to Ottawa, and I see first-hand every day people from Quebec City, Chicoutimi, Trois-Rivières, Caraquet and wherever thrown into a totally English-dominated working environment that is basically foreign to them. Within a short while (I am talking weeks and months, not years), they’re able to catch up and function.

    I also know lots of people from Gatineau and also francophones from parts of Ottawa like Vanier and Orleans who are professional “bilinguals”. Their bilingualism is often their only true job skill. The lucky ones make $40,000 as secretaries and receptionists in the federal public service, the unluckier ones make $10 an hour as security guards for example, where they know how to say “la salle de bains est à gauche / the washrooms are on the left” in deux official languages.

    Bottom line: I’d rather have my kids first learn to be architects, engineers or doctors in whatever language, with second language training all along, than have them be “professional bilinguals” whose only job-related skill is to move seamlessly between English and French when ordering a double-double at Timmies in Aylmer or Vanier. I’m pretty sure that if they can master engineering or medicine, deciphering a user-friendly language like English (it really is user-friendly, trust me) shouldn’t be too big a challenge.

    Acajack

    April 22, 2008 at 11:43 am

  5. Hmm, this blog is pretty damn interesting.

    So, if I’ve got this right, it looks like QC is drifting into a situation in which the language of the office (though not the workyard) is English and the language of signage / TV / govt fiat is French.

    Question: what is the (nightmare) scenario in which little kids playing hockey on the outdoor skating rink call out to each other in English, cuing the Apocalypse? I mean, is the fear that, by doing most office work in English, francophone professionals will come home and start speaking English to their kids? I don’t see that happening, myself. Of course it must be irritating to have to speak English a lot at the office . . . But I don’t see how you can legislate that away, short of massively investing in anglophone language acquisition.

    Again: what is the *goal* here?

    On the weirdness of furreners speakin’ some dang fool furren tongue in their daily lives, I have to say I am still amazed that young furren babies learn to speak furren. A good friend here in TO is raising her daughter in French, and against all logic it still astonishes me to hear the wee lass say “Mal” instead of “Hurt” when she sees an animal at the zoo. (The daughter, I mean, not my friend.)

    hoo-boy

    April 22, 2008 at 3:13 pm

  6. Hoo boy:

    I don’t think the consensus is that such a drift is inevitable in Quebec. The tone here may suggest otherwise, and there are some signs that this may be happening, but who knows? And Quebec’s current government says “don’t worry, be happy”, French has never been stronger! And Russian dominated the cities of Riga and Tallinn for much of the 20th century, up until 15 years ago in fact, and now local languages Latvian and Estonian are making remarkable comebacks.

    But I must say that English as the main office language in Montreal will almost certainly lead to a decline in French overall, on the streets, socially and eventually in the “bedrooms of the nation”, as PE Trudeau would have said. The reason is simple: if you can work pretty much anywhere in a given city with just English (or just any other language) without knowing the main local language, then you’ll attract a whole bunch of people who’ll never learn the local language because they can’t be bothered and it’s not essential to their socio-economic advancement. Case in point: parts of east end Ottawa that were historically francophone where almost no one who isn’t already francophone speaks French today. If you look at the census stats for these places the number of bilingual people is almost exactly the same as the number of francophones. No one else learns French, in spite of the fact that they’re living at the corner of Avenue des Pères Blancs and Charlevoix in the middle of a place called Vanier. (Can’t recall if Pères Blancs actually meets Charlevoix, but you get my point.) French thus becomes, as someone described here, an “ethnic code”. Reduced to immigrant language status where it is supposed to be “at home”. And another piece of human diversity is relegated to the trash can of history!

    OK, maybe I am being a bit melodramatic, especially since Montreal and Quebec are not there yet. But that’s precisely what’s happened in Vanier and Orleans over the past 20 years. You once said you are originally from Overbrook, so surely you know what I am talking about.

    Acajack

    April 22, 2008 at 3:44 pm

  7. The question: Who says Montreal should be French, anyway?

    Something doesn’t jive in this debate. Consider the following:

    – Montreal was founded by the French in 1642.

    – Since that time, French speakers have constantly been the largest group in Montreal except for a period of about 30 years during the 19th century. During most of the city’s history, French speakers have usually outnumbered English speakers by a two-to-one margin or more.

    – In 2008, French speakers are still by far the largest demographic group in Montreal, and still outnumber English speakers by at least a three-to-one margin (close to four-to-one depending on whether you use mother tongue or language spoken at home).

    – French is the official language of the province of Quebec in which the city of Montreal is located.

    – The provincial Act that created the city of Montreal stipulates that French is the language of the city of Montreal. The municipal administration of the city of Montreal is in total agreement with this.

    – The current set of Quebec language laws that apply to the entire province, including Montreal, have been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.

    – According to Statistics Canada, there are almost three times as many Montrealers who speak only French (532 000) as there are who speak only English (159 000).

    In light of all this, can someone please explain to me why the onus in this discussion is on francophones to prove why French should be the main language in Montreal? Could someone please make a case for the laissez-faire anglicization of Montreal as I have done for the preservation of its Frenchness?

    And if the case an English Montreal can’t be made effectively and convincingly (honestly, I am very eager to hear what people have to say on this), why are francophones constantly on the defensive regarding something that would essentially be a given everywhere else in the world?

    Acajack

    April 22, 2008 at 8:40 pm

  8. Acajack, I’m not willing to make the case that Montreal should be anglicised. In fact I have never even heard of anyone saying that in my lifetime (and well before that).

    The argument for a laissez-faire Montreal (which, as it happens, I don’t support) is that it has been a bilingual city since c. 1780.

    – Period of time between de Maisonneuve and c. 1780 (by which time the population had grown to a few thousand): c. 138 years.

    – Period of time between 1780 and now: 228 years.

    – Difference between the two periods: 90 years.

    – Ratio of bilingual period to pre-1780 period: 1.65:1.

    The fact that French-speakers have almost always outnumbered English-speakers is neither here nor there. This is not winner-take-all Monopoly.

    “Why are francophones constantly on the defensive regarding something that would essentially be a given everywhere else in the world?”

    Historically, it is far from a given that once you hit majority levels you are entitled to dominate the minority. It’s true that after all the ethnic cleansing of the 20th century there are not many metropoleis around the world in which two linguistic communities coexist, but there used to be plenty, before humanity went temporarily crazy and sold out to nationalism. Is Prague a better place now that it only speaks Czech, or Alexandria better now that it only speaks Arabic? Hardly. The Czechs and Egyptians presumed that they could get rid of the (often irritating) minority without losing the cosmopolitan magic. Well, the joke was on them.

    I’m sick and tired of hearing francophone Quebeckers say they want to be a “normal” nation. WTF is a “normal” nation if Quebeckers aren’t one already? What the Québécois need more than anything is to become who they are. If half the energy wasted on paranoia were put into positive, constructive nation-building, none of this would have any relevance.

    hoo-boy

    April 22, 2008 at 10:55 pm

  9. Re: Vanier & Overbrook, btw, 20 years ago there were still plenty of monolingual francophone kids — I played baseball with them. I agree that Vanier is becoming more and more non-francophone (though not so non-francophone as not to be the safest Liberal seat in the country), but my impression is that it’s not that francophones are adopting English as their mother tongue but that the low property values attract immigrants. So Vanier is now half-francophone half-allophone. It’s a shame to lose such a fine bastion of franco-ontarian spirit, but short of requiring internal passports I don’t see how you can stop poor people from buying cheap houses. I suspect it’s the same thing with the lower middle class looking for suburban townhouses in Orleans.

    hoo-boy

    April 22, 2008 at 11:03 pm

  10. Your earlier examples of Talinn and Riga don’t fit the bill, I don’t think. In those cases the Russians essentially suppressed the Baltic languages and encouraged Russian-speakers to move there so as to efface the local language. That is hardly what the government of Canada either can do or would do if it could. The idea that anglophones “dominate” Montreal nowadays is just perverse. Following independence, the Baltic states actively tried to get the Russian-speakers to leave by requiring language tests for citizenship, à la Pauline Marois. Estonian and Latvian have certainly come back with a vengeance as a result, but mainly because the minority was gently told to get the fuck out.

    hoo-boy

    April 22, 2008 at 11:13 pm

  11. First of all, I really enjoy and appreciate your website.

    I would just like to comment on your quote from Jane Jacobs.

    “Before bill 101 there was no bilingual Montreal. It was as Jane Jacobs and many others observed: “An English city containing many French-speaking workers and inhabitants.” About 70% of the inhabitants actually.”

    Your quote is missing the following two sentences, which I think is important. She wrote:

    “Until the late 1960s, Montreal still seemed to be what it had been for almost two centuries; and English city containing many French-speaking workers and inhabitants. But, in fact, by 1960 Montreal had become a French city with many English-speaking inhabitants. By the time people in Montreal, let alone the rest of Canada, recognized what was happening, it had already happened.”

    I found the whole chapter which refers to the movement of people at : http://altavistagoogle.blogspot.com/2006/09/jane-jacobs-montreal-and-toronto.html

    Bleuwaters

    April 23, 2008 at 12:46 am

  12. “Acajack, I’m not willing to make the case that Montreal should be anglicised. In fact I have never even heard of anyone saying that in my lifetime (and well before that). The argument for a laissez-faire Montreal (which, as it happens, I don’t support) is that it has been a bilingual city since c. 1780.”

    Given the historical and geographic context, laissez-faire and anglicization, in the case of Quebec, cannot be separated from one another. It is true that some peoples have been able to retain their identities for centuries in spite of being part of states dominated by other groups, but in the modern world this is increasingly difficult if not impossible. Put Denmark in Germany with a laissez-faire language policy today and eventually Copenhagen will be a German-speaking city. It has nothing to do with how proud the Danes are of being Danish, some things are just outside peoples’ control, no matter how strong their resolve is.

    “(Interesting arguments for laissez-faire put forward by Hoo boy)”
    PLUS
    “The fact that French-speakers have almost always outnumbered English-speakers is neither here nor
    there. This is not winner-take-all Monopoly.”

    You have put forward some interesting arguments here, but it doesn’t appear that they outweigh those for maintaining Montreal’s French character. Note that I never said a French ONLY character. My main concern is that the French character of Montreal not be eviscerated. As we have seen elsewhere in Canada, this can happen quicker than people think.
    Another point is that Montreal (nor Canada for that matter) was never completely laissez-faire and did not just come to have a strong English presence by magical osmosis. Policies were put in place by the British colonial authorities and, for some time, by the Canadian government also, to anglicize the place. The federal government started backing off on these policies around the 50s and 60s. But you can still find people who are alive today (for example, Italians), who were told by Canadian officials that a condition of their admission to Canada was that they adopt English, not French, for their new lives in Montreal. We can’t say for sure how many people acted upon this, but obviously more than a few of them got the message! And as late as the 1960s, the Canadian embassy in Paris required all paperwork in English only for people from France who wanted to emigrate to Montreal. Actually, this was an improvement of sorts over the previous century or so, when it was virtually impossible for someone from France to emigrate to Canada, while at the same time the floodgates were open for people from other nations whose origins made them, according to Canadian officials like Clifford Sifton, more adaptable to Canada (read: tough enough to adapt to a northern climate and easily anglicized).

    “Historically, it is far from a given that once you hit majority levels you are entitled to dominate the minority.”

    Depends on what you mean by dominating. Having the reasonable assurance that you are not going to be reduced to folkloric status in your own city is not dominating others in my opinion. Historically entrenched groups are entitled to have their say in the evolution that their homeland going to take. WASPs in Toronto decided some time ago to relinquish their stranglehold on their city and make it a multicultural metropolis. Good for them. Most francophones in Montreal actually want the same thing, although they want francophone Québécois language and culture to be the glue that holds the place together (because there is always a “glue”, no matter how diverse a place is), rather than it being an “ethnic code” that’s buried somewhere in an anglo-dominated mosaic alongside all of the world’s other languages and cultures that have freely chosen to come here to live.

    Acajack

    April 23, 2008 at 8:48 am

  13. “It’s a shame to lose such a fine bastion of franco-ontarian spirit, but short of requiring internal passports I don’t see how you can stop poor people from buying cheap houses. I suspect it’s the same thing with the lower middle class looking for suburban townhouses in Orleans.”

    That’s why in a non-isolated environment (ie not Iceland), the only solution is that a given language be alloted its own space or “safe zone”, where it is used for work, schooling, public life, etc. This is the way it works in Switzerland, where all three main language groups have their own territory (German, French, Italian). Now before people start saying that Swiss cantons (similar to our provinces) are more homogenous than places like Quebec or others in Canada, consider that the French-only Canton de Genève has a population that is something like 46 or 48% foreign-born. Yet these people don’t go around expecting everything to be in German, that German is better than French, that German is the majority language in Switzerland (which it is by a wide margin actually), that German Swiss are richer than French Swiss (which is also true), so it’s better to speak German, yadda yadda yadda. The Italian part of Switzerland, Ticino, is about one quarter German-speaking, yet Italian-only in law.

    Unfortunately for the Franco-Ontarian community, of which I was a part for much of my life as you know, it does not have the political power, numbers or geographic concentration for such a solution to be applicable to ensure its long-term existence.

    Acajack

    April 23, 2008 at 9:02 am

  14. “Your earlier examples of Talinn and Riga don’t fit the bill, I don’t think. In those cases the Russians essentially suppressed the Baltic languages and encouraged Russian-speakers to move there so as to efface the local language. That is hardly what the government of Canada either can do or would do if it could.”

    OK, so today Canada can’t do, wouldn’t do… but what about “did do”? I think I gave some examples in previous posts that there was a clear willingness to swamp the francophone population in Quebec and in Montreal in particular. This began as soon as the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763 and lasted into the 20th century. I will grant you that it was common practice at the time. You win over a territory in a war and then you settle “your” people all over the new lands to overwhelm the conquered people (when the conquered people aren’t simply deported or exterminated). Nothing new here. Of course, it wasn’t as iron-fisted as what the Soviet Union did because the USSR was a totalitarian régime.

    “The idea that anglophones “dominate” Montreal nowadays is just perverse.”

    I pretty much agree with this, but one can’t deny that there is currently an enthusiasm on the part of many people in this country for bringing back the good old anglo-dominated days. Montreal is considered by a lot of people to be the most desirable big city in all of Canada, and much of Anglo-Canada (and Anglo-Montrealers in particular, no matter where they live today) have never really accepted the fact that control of the city was wrested away from them by francophones over the past 40 years. So they have begun making an attempt at getting that control back, and what AGF and other Montrealers have reported as a marked increase in English-only services in shops, restaurants and other places is probably symptomatic of this.

    “Following independence, the Baltic states actively tried to get the Russian-speakers to leave by requiring language tests for citizenship, à la Pauline Marois. Estonian and Latvian have certainly come back with a vengeance as a result, but mainly because the minority was gently told to get the fuck out.”

    Although a majority of the Russian speakers in the Baltics ended up sticking around. Even if you have to learn a bit of Estonian or Latvian (Egads! What a humiliation for a superior people like the Russians to have to learn the cryptic languages of lesser, barbaric beings like Estonians and Latvians!), life in Riga and Tallinn, now part of the EU, is still a whole lot sweeter than it is in Messrs. Putin and Medvedev’s Russia!

    Acajack

    April 23, 2008 at 9:28 am

  15. “I’m sick and tired of hearing francophone Quebeckers say they want to be a “normal” nation. WTF is a “normal” nation if Quebeckers aren’t one already?”

    I’ve given numerous examples of what seems to be “normal” pretty much everywhere else in the world. Now, I recognize that every country’s situation is unique, but perhaps if Quebec’s situation were a bit more “normal” in the global sense, we wouldn’t have a persistent separatist movement in this province that keeps coming back to the well time and time again.

    Acajack

    April 23, 2008 at 9:47 am

  16. I don’t know where she stood on the issues of language but isn’t it interesting that Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the president of Latvia from 1999 to 2007 was a graduate of McGill who thought psychology at the Université de Montréal from 1965 to 1998?

    angryfrenchguy

    April 23, 2008 at 1:59 pm

  17. quebecois separatiste

    April 23, 2008 at 2:19 pm

  18. In Latvia we have a language that had lost its place in society after 50 years of russification. The language law simply reinstates the rights of the Latvian language as the state language. It doesn’t really go much further than that. It sets up certain requirements for people to use it who otherwise would not.

    It is analogous to Bill 101 that was passed in Quebec in order to restitute the rights of the French language under the overwhelming majority of an English-speaking continent. It worked in Quebec in order to restore the use of French in the public sphere. It’s doing exactly that in Latvia. It’s not a hardship to learn a language. I think it’s an enrichment.

    http://www.president.lv/pk/content/?cat_id=2189&art_id=851&lng=de

    deprenyl

    April 23, 2008 at 4:59 pm

  19. Well hello there! I’m the Weasel from Lachine. I’m an almost trilingual francophone who happens to work as a translator. I’ve spent most of my life in the Greater Montreal area, but I’m moving to the anglo part of Lachine Ssaturday (yikes!). My spouse is a bilingual Anglo. We met on the Internet.

    I think one reason the unemployment rate is going down is the fact that with the baby bust and many boomers retiring, there is beginning to be a shortage of workers — except it’s not as bad as in Alberta. Yet businesses are getting desperate: they have difficulty staffing technical and trades positions. I read somewhere 100,000 such jobs are unfilled.

    Mrs. the President of Latvia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaira_V%C4%AB%C4%B7e-Freiberga is a former University of Montreal professor of psychology; she lived in Canada a long time and she speaks many languages. I think she is someone to be proud of. Maybe that’s in Montreal she learnt about Law 101? By the way, Camille Laurin was a psychiatrist.

    I’ll add you blog to my blogroll. I wrote an entry about “les Anglais” this week-end. BTW, your English is pretty good! I hope mine is too… :oops:

    La Belette lachinoise

    April 28, 2008 at 4:20 pm

  20. […] rester dans l’univers politique, Angry French Guy démontre ici avec brio les avantages économiques et culturels d’avoir bilinguisé Montréal avec la loi […]

  21. I’ve been to the States many times (CA, MO, NY, Maine, Mass…). I’ve also been to the UK. Why is it that the only place I ever got a negative reaction to my speaking English with a slight accent was in Edmonton?

    La Belette lachinoise

    April 29, 2008 at 8:46 pm

  22. Interesting !

    Sorry but my answer will be in french, I don’t think I could explain my point in english.

    Vraiment intéressant comme blogue et comme sujet !

    Comment dire ? Je crois au renforcement de la langue française au Québec en association avec l’anglais et non pas en confrontation.

    Je trouve dommage de voir plusieurs séparatistes renier tout ce qui est anglais simplement pour “prouver” leur “loyauté”…

    Montréal ne sera jamais “français ou anglais”… Mais elle gagnera sûrement à être les deux !

    Je repasserai certainement pratiquer my listening comprehension sur ce blogue !

    Bravo !

    Num

    May 5, 2008 at 8:38 pm

  23. As a Laurin living in the U.S., I’m proud to be related to Camille. I really hate to see the French and French Canadian culture die out.

    A U.S. Laurin

    October 22, 2008 at 7:57 pm

  24. I second the comment by Roger.

    xpat

    July 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm


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