Québec has no Colour TV

with 143 comments


Québec’s TV industry is huge.  For a country it’s size, with a potential public of only a a few million viewers, most of whom understand English and are perfectly able to tune in to the American TV networks that make up at least half of the channels of any cable subscription, the vitality of Québec’s TV is simply astonishing.

Québec’s television is also very high quality television with well-written dramas like Les Invincibles, sitcoms like Tout sur moi innovative talk-shows like 3600 Secondes d’Extase.   Québec’s TV rarely feels small-time and production values are often world-class.  Star Académie, Québec’s weekly reality/talent show, is an extravaganza of massive production numbers featuring American and French guest stars that makes American Idol look like community television.   Seriously.

There is only one major problem with Québec’s television.  It’s not in colour yet.

This week AngryFrenchGuy talked to Frédérick Isaya, a young community activist and budding actor about this time bomb that is just waiting to blow up in Québec’s face.

Who are you Fred?

I am a community activist on Montreal’s South shore with a 12 to 17 year olds, an actor and the father of two kids.  I’ve been a member of Québec’s Union des artistes for three or four  years. I’ve been acting since my teens, but never as a full time occupation.  It’s something I do, but not something I gave up everything for.

You wrote a memoir for last year’s Bouchard-Taylor Commission in which you said that Québec’s TV does not represent Québec’s identity properly.  What do you mean?

When you look at TV today, the socio-cultural image you see is anachronistic.  It is the image of a Québec that is gone.  Long gone, I should say.  At some point we have to come to terms with that because we are creating many different little parallel societies that don’t include each other.  The mass media is the spearhead, of the cornerstone of the collective imaginary.  It has to look like us or else we are creating division and people will watch their TV somewhere else and not take part in Québec society.  It’s not healthy for anyone.

The consequence of this is that people who don’t live in Montreal have no idea what Montreal looks  like.  If they only see black people on TV who are up to no good, or Chinese people who are in the Asian mafia, or Arabs preparing a terrorist coup…  If that’s the only images they have of cultural communities because they don’t know them in any other way, you can’t unify Québec.  We have to change this and change it right now.  We can’t wait.  The clock is ticking.

Why is it like this?

I really don’t know.  I’d rather think it’s a form of indifference or of negligence rather than think it’s deliberate, because if it is deliberate it scares me.

How does it work with casting calls?  Can you show up for any role or are you only expected to come if it specifically says: Black guy?

We often face closed-minded people who make pretty restrictive casting calls, but, fortunately, it’s more  and more common to see some « all ethnicities welcome » castings.  There’s a role for a police officer, a mason or a doctor, and the police officer, the mason and the doctor can be anybody.  Every time I see that, I’m reassured.  But all to often, right after that I see another breakdown that specifically reads « White man » or « White woman », and when you read the role you just can’t figure out why.

You know, if they’re looking for an actress to play the wife of (union leader Michel) Chartrand during the second world war, I can understand they don’t want a black or a Chinese woman!  But when there is no reason…  if it’s only because the person in front of you imagined a white woman, I think we are getting awfully close to racism.

What are you going to do about it?

I decided if I didn’t get involved, I was going to be responsible for my own failure.  I went to the annual assembly of the UDA (Union des Artistes) and brought up the issue.  I think I got things started.  A committee was formed to look into all groups excluded from television.  You should see things starting to move in 2009.  Maybe not on television, just yet, but you will hear about people starting to get involved.

Last year you ran in both the federal and provincial elections as a Bloc québécois and a Parti québécois candidate. Many English-speaking people in Canada still associate sovereigntists with exclusion.  What do you have to say about that?

I don’t understand why people associate sovereignty with exclusion.  Maybe Parizeau’s message has something to do with it, but it’s been 13 years…

You can’t forget that M. René Lévesque is the instigator of visible immigration in Québec. Before 1976 mass immigration in Québec was essentially an immigration of Caucasian people.  M. Lévesque did not hesitate to encourage immigration from French-speaking Africa and Haiti because he felt we needed French-speaking immigrants to solidify the sovereignty project.

There are many people in the Parti québécois think integration is a good thing, but there have not been many concrete acts by the governments of the last 30 years.  Including the Parti québécois governments.  I would be a hypocrite to say anything else.

Maybe that’s why people associate integration difficulties with the sovereigntists.  Even though there have been many federalist governments in the last 30 years, in Québec we are having difficulties with integration of cultural communities, and so, by extension, as a kind of doubtful extrapolation, people associate that with the Parti québécois and the sovereigntist movement.  But it’s not about a political party.  It’s about everyone.

Written by angryfrenchguy

February 24, 2009 at 4:27 pm

143 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. You mean like E-Talk Daily has ?…


    February 26, 2009 at 8:06 pm

  2. Tu devrais contacter le realisateur pour qu’il nous explique pourquoi..


    February 26, 2009 at 8:12 pm

  3. Aussi, je me demande quel est le pourcentage d’etudiants
    issu de l’immigration a l’ecole nationale de theatre et au conservatoire… faut commencer quelquepart et si les portes des ecoles ne leur sont pas ouvertes, on aura jamais le juste reflet du quebec d’aujourd’hui sur nos ecrans..


    February 26, 2009 at 8:15 pm

  4. You of course meaning the silly humor of “toud de monad en parle…I watch it regulariy although I dont undersand alll le lagne.. well about 90$ or so… Good program but its for the most part leftist…

    What else would one expect from Quebec…et nous radio canada…

    At least they serve wine on the program….but then again.. is this appropriate for our young to wittness the consumption of alochold on publc televsion…..:):)




    February 26, 2009 at 10:40 pm

  5. He AGF..

    Why all the french on this site…I thought you started it to give light to anglos in Canada about the french canadians.. If this keeps up you will have a blog for the anglos all in french….doesn’t matter to me as it is your space… Obviously, they want the french…je ne sais pas.

    For me …je ne parle pas la francais…alors je n comprendre ses dits…desole..Une pauvre anlgo,, Que je suis…:)

    So with all the french and our engish site..Seems to be serving no purpose to educate us poor anglso in the plight of quebec….Encore, je ne parle pas le francais alors pour quoi es ils a ici.



    February 26, 2009 at 10:53 pm

  6. There’s nothing bad to drink a glass of wine at nine o’clock sunday night


    February 26, 2009 at 10:54 pm

  7. Fon: “The language barrier tends to be a pretty good reason to ignore the “other”, but all I am saying is that many people who are not of English extraction bristle at being called “English”.”

    Yeah, I know they do feel that way. But it’s mostly a question of semantics (or hair-splitting) especially if they’re on the other hand OK with “English-speaking Canada”.

    I tend to find this negation of the existence of an English or English-speaking Canada to often be accompanied by a gross exaggeration of the actual impact on the ground of the multicultural reality (which is real of course). It’s also often used to minimize the francophone component in Canada.

    Truth is, there isn’t anywhere in Canada where the cops talk on the radio in Chinese. Nobody designs buildings in Hindi in this country. There are no public schools that teach in Tagalog.

    Sure, there are lots of languages spoken in Canada, including in Quebec. But there are only two “societal” languages, and they are English and French. (Perhaps there legitimately should be others – I am thinking of aboriginal languages here – but unfortunately that is not the case). But pretending that English and French aren’t the main societal languages with true “staying power” by challenging them (well, usually it’s just French that’s challenged) with bogus references to Chinese, Hindi, Tagalog, Ukrainian or whatever, is not particularly helpful (or even honest).

    Finally, one last point. And Fon, I am not implying that you deny the existence of an English(-speaking) Canada, but since I am on the topic here, I would just like to say also to those who deny its existence that anglophone Canada isn’t any different from nations that occupy large territories like the Australian one, the Mexican one, or a host of others around the world. Just because there is diversity (even profound) within a nation does not mean that it doesn’t exist.


    February 26, 2009 at 10:59 pm

  8. Better to see a few people sipping wine than seeing someone getting their head blown off by a .357 Magnum at 7 pm, which seems to be standard acceptable fare on a lot of networks that are quite popular in English-speaking North America!

    Sorry folks, couldn’t resist…


    February 26, 2009 at 11:03 pm

  9. I’d say that a CBC version of Tout le Monde en Parle in English is probably the wet dream of many Mother Corp types, but the truth is it will remain just that: a wet dream.

    Why? Because virtually all of the most interesting and well-known Anglo-Canadian equivalents to people like Patrick Huard, Pascale Bussières, Marc Labrèche, Roy Dupuis, Karine Vanasse, etc. are not living in Toronto but in L.A. or New York.

    There are tons of people from the ROC who have star status, but bringing enough of them together for a weekly talk show in Toronto is virtually impossible because people like Keanu Reeves, Kiefer Sutherland, Mike Myers, etc. are up to their eyeballs in commitments stateside. It`s not the same with Quebec stars because most of their work is in Montreal, which makes it easy for them to pop in to the studios for talk shows.

    That`s also why American talk shows are based either in L.A. or New York, and not in Omaha or Minneapolis.

    English Canadian talk shows have almost always been flops principally because of the lack of a consistent pool of available celebrities that would attract viewers.


    February 26, 2009 at 11:11 pm

  10. I forgot to mention another comment I had about your excellent post Fon. Quebec is actually trying to embrace diversity in ”fast-forward” mode, and accomplish in a very, very short period of time what other societies (the ROC and the U.S. for example) have had much, much more time to achieve (and have yet to perfect even, to be quite frank).

    So given this fact, I guess it`s probably normal to expect some blips and hiccups as we continue on this adventure.


    February 26, 2009 at 11:20 pm

  11. Likly before your time.. it was politicans from Quebec ( M.landonde et le merde PET)..who enacted the NEP…which cost Albertans a lot of hardship…lost house, bankrupty and more,. Alberta for the most part distusts anything of Quebec as does the rest of Western Canada…. Quebec is not to be trusted and is only a freind when they are receiving gifts.

    When did Quebec ever give anything to the ROC in a real fiscal sense. Other than some cheap potatoes and gravy avec le fromage.



    February 26, 2009 at 11:22 pm

  12. He..ACJ..

    I like 24…



    February 26, 2009 at 11:25 pm

  13. Ok by me.


    February 26, 2009 at 11:34 pm

  14. Interesting point on multiculturalism. I think its one of the defining myths of anglo-Canada and it’s obviously flawed, but it has its appeal. However, even within the confines of the myth no one expects cops to speak to each other in Chinese. It’s more folksy multiculuralism (see Bisoondath).

    I use the term myth, because we create these archetypes to define our identities as individuals or groups and create diffrent ones to define the “other”. When I studied Canadian history at university so much of Canadian historiography is based on Canada being this “other” — a foil of the United States, bilingualism and multiculturalism are certainly centrepieces to that when compared to the unilingual and assimilationist United States (whose myth of the melting pot is also flawed, but also interesting).

    Anyway, I think many franco-Quebecers often create a myth of anglo-Canada that most anglo-Canadians would not recognize themselves in and has very little to do with how anglo-Canadians define themselves. The multicultural myth itself implies a diversity. Although it is largely a myth it still shapes a discourse in which difference is valued.

    As for whether or not Canada is a nation, in the ethnic sense it is absolutely not. Mexico probably is. The US and Brazil (a fascinating example) have been remarkably successfu, however, at forging civic nationalism. From immigration and diversity US has created an abstract ideal of identity and Brazil a syncretic ideal of identity. Canada ostensibly has no singular identity around which civic nationalism can easily coalesce, implicit in its national identity is the idea of plurality.

    But we all know it’s a vertical mosaic ethnically and racially speaking. I posit, however, that’s it’s also a vertical mosaic in terms of which opinions get valued more. Obviously this has to be the case to a certain extent as certain opinions would undermine the structure itself.


    February 26, 2009 at 11:39 pm

  15. You are really annoying and your English is quite poor. It’s perfectly acceptable that you haven’t learned French. It’s your right to be unilingual (that’s what administrative bilingualism means), but you sound like an idiot when you complain about it.

    If I go into a physics lecture and ask everyone else to stop using calculus, because I decided not to learn advanced math….

    Let me put it another way. There are people in this world who are more comfortable in French than in English, just as you (to an extreme extent) are more comfortable in English than in French. There are a number of factors that determine what language people may speak to each other in, but this is one of them. So, there’s French on this site, because people want to get their point across more easily or people want to respond to people who are more at ease in French.

    Plus, it’s a blog, which means “web log”. Like an open diary. AngryFrenchGuy can write in Hebrew if he wants and Israelis might still respond in French if they want. Ze tov?


    February 26, 2009 at 11:47 pm

  16. Ok, ok. C’est bon d’admettre que le racisme existe au Québec. Toutes les sociétés aux Amériques font face à ce problème. Cela ne devrait pas choquer. Le sexisme est partout aussi. Je ne juge pas le Québec pour le racisme qui y existe. Le Québec n’est pas un lieu du racisme extrémiste ou insupportable. Dans une société progressiste où des problèmes persistent, on ne devrait pas la juger pour ces problèmes, mais plutôt sa capacité de résoudre ces questions.


    February 26, 2009 at 11:59 pm

  17. Dans l’article M. Villeneuve a précisé qu’il a choisi les meilleurs interprètes possible pour les rôles. Dommage qu’il n’y avait pas deux comédiens d’origine arabe qui peut jouer ces personnages. Je respecte son point de vue, mais c’est nécessaire aussi de s’assurer que les québécois d’origine arabe ne se sentent pas exclus de leurs propres histoires. Ça serait problématique.


    February 27, 2009 at 12:04 am

  18. Very interesting post, Fon. (If my message isn’t placed correctly in the thread, I’m referring to your post of 26 Feb 11:39 pm.) Yes, I agree that many francophone Quebecers view the rest of Canada in such a way that other Canadians wouldn’t recognize themselves in, and that doesn’t represent what Canada really is. But how anglophone Canadians view their society, or how they would like to think it is, isn’t how it actually is either.

    Yes, the multicultural myth implies diversity. But I think many Canadians believe that this diversity myth should be enough to satisfy Quebec’s national ambitions, while the fact of the matter is, it isn’t. It’s enough to recognize the francophone fact outside Quebec, but not Quebec society as it exists, which may feed the confusion of anglophone Canadians, for whom, oftentimes, a French-Canadian is a French-Canadian regardless of where they live.

    You call the Canadian brand of multiculturalism “folksy multiculturalism”. Edward on this blog used the term “show-and-tell multiculturalism”. Both phrases indicate what this is all about: Canada likes to recognize the presence in its borders of many ethnic cultures who enrich us with their language, art, food, traditional ways, etc. This isn’t nothing, it’s actually quite powerful. It’s powerful enough to recognize francophones outside Quebec’s right to schools in their language — even though some people would disagree — since their language, and their ways as French-Canadians, enrich Canada. But it’s not powerful enough to really recognize the existence of a parallel world in Quebec, that exists apart from the common culture of Canada and that’s relatively impermeable to it. And I think this is where many of our problems as a country arise.

    We can add to this Acajack’s point about the multicultural reality of Canada being used to reduce the francophone part of this country to a mere ethnic subculture instead of a founding nation. This might actually have been partly the intent of the shapers of Canadian multiculturalism.


    February 27, 2009 at 1:53 am

  19. “Ok, ok. C’est bon d’admettre que le racisme existe au Québec. Toutes les societés aux Ameriques font face a ce probleme.”

    I have for some time thought much the same sort of thing; my sense is that the level of intolerance/racism/whatever that exists in Québec is not different from that which prevails in the rest of North America (I am not familiar enough with South America to want to venture an opinion on it).


    February 27, 2009 at 4:21 am

  20. Good points, but you’re confusing multiculturalism with language policy. Multiculturalism grew out of a desire to satisfy the demands of non-French, non-British Canadians or more specifically Ukrainian-Canadians (like Paul Yuzyk and Jaroslav Rudnyckyj). A bicultural or binational model would ostensibly seem to better accommodate Quebec nationalist ambitions, but the “other” — the anglo-Canadian sides lacks the symmetry in that there were many non-English or non-British anglo-Canadians who did not wish to to be lumped into what they considered a false dichotomy.

    I don’t think multiculturalism is particularly impressive except in its democratization of discourse. It implies that various ethnic groups share a stake and a voice in the society. That is something that is at once powerful and obscure.

    The idea that Canadian policy would only change to react to Quebec’s needs is spot on. Politics is NOT about foresight. Since this topic started about racial diversity, I’ll point out that it took race riots for France and Australia to admit they had a problem. Same goes for the United States in the 60s. Canada as a whole and Quebec are both in serious denial mode, Canada due to «jusq’a ici, tout va bien» multiculturalism; and Quebec with its absurd compromise between ethnic and civic nationalism.

    Bilingualism, is however, brilliant. Compare the Swiss, Finish, Indian, Belgian (boo!), Singaporean or South African models of language policy and Canada’s stands out as quite remarkable. However, I think it is much too complicated a policy for most people (even many politicians, bureaucrats and administrators) to understand. So it ends up being like a nuclear power plant. We all benefit from it, no one likes it, and almost no one understands how or why it works.


    February 27, 2009 at 8:46 am

  21. Forget all the fancy analysis and intellectual mumbo-jumbo. If I may, I’d like to speak from the heart (and that’s largely what’s at stake here: people’s feelings and peoples’ feelings).

    My dad is black. He speaks English because the English thought it was ok to enslave blacks, strip them of their language, culture and religion and ship them across the ocean. I speak English for this same reason. I have nothing against the English as a nation or ethnicity, but I am not English.

    Even though I am not English nor am I French, I want to be able to have an equal voice and consideration in Canadian society.

    Multiculturalism was not made to infuriate, annoy, assuage, satisfy or upset white francophone Quebecers. It was made so that people like me could say “I have a place here. This is my home too.”

    I know this sounds corny, but I think it reflects how some people might feel.


    February 27, 2009 at 8:57 am

  22. Without doing a survey, it would be hard to say if it’s less or more, but it’s different. The Quebec cultural model tends to be centralizing, which makes it difficult more minorities to express their misgivings, but Quebec is also an intrinsically progressive society which means that the minorities will usually be well treated here.

    So, I think it’s a question of engaging in a Quebec-based strategy to combat racism in Quebec. That said, we as Quebecers can and should look elsewhere for cues on how to do this.


    February 27, 2009 at 9:05 am

  23. “Forget all the fancy analysis and intellectual mumbo-jumbo. If I may, I’d like to speak from the heart (and that’s largely what’s at stake here: people’s feelings and peoples’ feelings).
    My dad is black. He speaks English because the English thought it was ok to enslave blacks, strip them of their language, culture and religion and ship them across the ocean. I speak English for this same reason. I have nothing against the English as a nation or ethnicity, but I am not English.
    Even though I am not English nor am I French, I want to be able to have an equal voice and consideration in Canadian society.
    Multiculturalism was not made to infuriate, annoy, assuage, satisfy or upset white francophone Quebecers. It was made so that people like me could say “I have a place here. This is my home too.”
    I know this sounds corny, but I think it reflects how some people might feel.”

    Perhaps that was not the original intent (and that is a whole other debate), but as a francophone living outside Quebec for almost 30 years and living in Quebec for another 15-odd years, I can tell you that the number of times I have heard multiculturalism used in order to dismiss pretty much everything related to the francophone side of things in this country is truly staggering. I’ve heard it countless times, from professors in university lecture halls, politicians at all levels, journalists to redneck Don Cherry-types.

    Whether or not this was the original intent may be debatable, but for the sake of this post let’s say it wasn’t. But one can’t honestly say that it hasn’t left a lasting impressing on how the non-francophone population of Canada views its francophone component.


    February 27, 2009 at 10:08 am

  24. Fon,

    I would argue that of Canada’s two social engineering policies, multiculturalism is undoubtedly the more successful of the two, far greater than bilingualism which is, as Stephen Harper once said (though he probably regrets it) “the God that failed”.

    I really liked Neil Bissoondath’s take on multicult in Selling Illusions, and agree with most of his arguments. I read it some time ago, but I seem to recall that he was quite pessimistic about where this would all lead. On this particular point only, I have to disagree with him in that I don’t think that situation on the ground that Canadian multicult will leave us with is that bad. In fact, it puts Canada in a quite enviable position. Even though the cultural strings that attach immigrants to Canada are quite weak and could be stronger (as he argues), immigrant youth *are* being integrated, quite well in fact. If anything, they are so well integrated into Canadian society that they share the disdain that a lot of old stock WASP Canadians have for a lot of Canadiana, be it the CBC, the CFL or Canadian films.

    Is there anything more Canadian than proudly and loudly proclaiming one’s preference for the NFL over the CFL, NCAA over CIS, CSI vs. Da Vinci’s Inquest, or Hollywood schlock vs. Passchendaele(sp)?

    So your average young Indo-Canadian in Surrey or Chinese-Canadian in Markham fits right in with the descendants of founding anglo families like the MacKenzies or Robsons, I’d say.

    Bilingualism, on the other hand, is largely a disaster. It has satisfied no one, with most anglos thinking it’s too pro-French in their stomping grounds and most francos thinking it’s too pro-English in Quebec. Two referendums (including one with a near-victory for the Oui) and the persistent political presence of the PQ and the BQ speak volumes about how unsuccessful it has been.

    Some of the countries you have cited as examples of worse linguistic situations than ours actually do far better than us. Switzerland is miles ahead of Canada when it comes to linguistic harmony. Belgium for the most part is actually OK except in the places where it has allowed one group to encroach on the other’s turf (e.g. special services called “facilities” for French in the Brussels suburbs that are legally part of the Flemish-speaking zone). Finland, on the other hand, actually gives us insight into what the language policies of an independent Quebec might be. So Finland is not really applicable to today’s Canadian context, but interesting just the same.


    February 27, 2009 at 10:29 am

  25. Merci pour votre perspective personnelle. Quelque part dans mon séjour académique je suis devenu très déçu avec la froideur de l’intellectualisme pur… ce qui est souvent à la base une rationalisation élaborée des émotions. Alors, c’est très intéressant pour moi de lire votre témoignage personnel et je ne peux qu’admettre sa véracité complète.


    February 27, 2009 at 10:34 am

  26. Finland has zones of swedophone unilingualism to accomadate 5% of the population that speaks the language of a larger neighbour that was also a former colonizer. I don’t expect Quebec to accord this status to English and I don’t think it would be helpful. Swiss language policy is incredibly rigid. You leave your linguistic region and you cede your linguistic rights. it doesn’t make sense in a country populated by highly mobile immigrants and shifting demographics. Belgium! I met a francophone from Brussels who grudgingly conceded that Flemish might have to be a required subject in francophone schools. In Brussels!!! Like holy fucknuggets! Yeah, get a time machine and do that 50 years ago!

    The point of multilingualism is not (merely) national cohesion. By this measure Canadian bilingualism is not so successful, but that’s not it’s point. Its much more functional than that. I often hear westerners say, “well, the PM shouldn’t have to be bilingual… I don’t care what language the PM speaks as long as he’s good at his job.” Sometimes this goes as far as advocating that a PM could be a unilingual sinophone. This is ridiculous for two major reasons: 1. communication is a significant part of “being good at the job” (which implies communicating with the vast majority of the citizenry) and 2. if an otherwise talented PM was unilingual, then she or he would need a coterie of translators. This coterie of translators is effectively a bilingual civil service.

    The goal of administrative bilingual should be to protect your right to be unilingual and guarantee your opportunity to become bilingual. In effect then, bill 101 and Canadian bilingualism are complementary legislation.

    Let’s look at Singapore to see why. Singapore is in effect an English language state with facilities for 3 other languages. English, however maintains a privileged status as the intermediary language. As such, everyone learns English. Now, what’s the concrete functional purpose of learning a complementary national language? None. It’s just a nice gesture. Since everyone speaks English, there’s no reason to learn another language. Symmetric multilingualism only works if the presence of unilinguals necessitates it absent of mutual lingua franca. So, Canada needs unilingual francophones (and anglophones, but they aren’t in short supply) in order for symmetric bilingualism to work. Of course it also needs a bilingual population to translate, but if only one side of the population is bilingual then the symmetry disappears and you get a Singapore/India/South Africa type situation.

    It’s just about effective communication in a democratic government. As much as people sovereigntists may hate federalist politicians or bureaucrats they understand what they are saying. As much as western agnryphones may dislike Quebec federal bureaucrats, they too make themselves understood.


    February 27, 2009 at 10:57 am

  27. Merci, mais dans bien des cas mes commentaires seraient balayés du revers de la main parce que trop “anecdotiques”.

    Peut-être que la clef de la vraie compréhension d’un sujet (en sciences humaines en tout cas) serait un heureux mélange d’étude intellectuelle rigoureuse et d’anecdotes provenant de sources fiablesa?


    February 27, 2009 at 11:12 am

  28. Can somebody explain me about equalization money (8, 5 billion dollars) for Quebec? Is this humiliation for Quebecers or their victory over English Canadians after the Abraham plains lost?


    February 27, 2009 at 1:19 pm

  29. Good stuff as usual Fon.

    Just to challenge you a bit, I’d argue that places like Switzerland without Canadian-style bilingualism are highly linguistically functional as well. More so than Canada? Not sure, but in any event I am pretty sure that people in Geneva never come across public officials or servants who cannot speak French. All the more so because most stuff in Switzerland is highly devolved to the cantonal level, both politically and service-wise. If stuff were more devolved to the provincial level in Canada, people in Quebec would probably never, ever stumble upon someone who can’t speak French, and Albertans would pretty much never have to deal with French accents or gallicisms à la “close the lights” (fermer les lumières) nstead of “turn off the lights” or “I am representing the federal here” (je représente le fédéral ici) instead of “the federal *government”…

    Regarding English in Singapore, well the main difference between it and most places where there is a language conflict is that there isn’t really a large native anglophone group there that can draw socio-economic and political advantage from English’s status as a lingua franca. In a sense, everyone is on a level playing field because they have to learn a language other than their own for interethnic communication. The situation of English in India is not dissimilar from this.

    In most places in the world where two or more languages are jostling for position, there is always the native language of one fairly large (though not always a majority as we know) and established segment of the population that is more dominant (usually the language of the group that was historically thought to be “superior” socio-economically and politically, and even racially in some cases). The speakers of this language usually won’t learn any other tongues but their native one, whereas the onus is on the so-called lesser peoples to learn the so-called superior language. Hence the language conflicts.


    February 27, 2009 at 2:53 pm

  30. Acajack–Wow, Passchendaele spelled correctly. I’m impressed.

    I’m not sure I agree with your assessment that the language situation in Belgium is for the most part OK. There are a lot of Flemings who want out of the Belgian state for many reasons, most of which have to do with language and money. Sound familiar?

    If you go to, you’ll find a cartoon of a piggy bank on the first page with the caption “Vlaams Geld in Vlaamse Handen.” I’m sure you’ll pick this up even if you don’t know Dutch.

    The grass is always greener on the other side. Every modern state with two or more large language groups has its language-related woes. I’m sure that there are plenty of Belgians out there who are thinking, “Boy, we’ve really screwed things up here. Why can’t we be more like Canada?”


    February 27, 2009 at 5:11 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 )

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: