AngryFrenchGuy

On Québec’s Segregated Past and One million English Words

with 215 comments

End of the British Empire

So the English language got it’s 1,000,000th word this summer.

This, of course is one of the great achievements of the great English adventurers who travelled the world, befriended the locals with whom they shared the English language while simultaneously incorporating their lands and lexicon into the British Empire.

That story reminded me of a time I visited my grand-mother about 4 or 5 years ago.

Her place was just a short walk from my place.  I was near Place St.Henri where grown men drank Molson Export before noon on weekdays with no shirt on.  Thanks to some family money that will not be coming my way she was the token french lady at the Place Kensington residence for old English people and ate her breakfast two tables away from where the Senator Hartland Molson ate his own breakfast wearing a suit and a tie.

That night my grandma wasn’t seated with her usual gang. Someone had broken their hip and someone else was at a christening or bar mitzva somewhere in the States. We were seated with two other ladies I didn’t know but who seemed nice enough. We exchanged polite greatings, they commended me for being such a great grandson and then when I thought I had done socializing I ignored them and started chatting with my grandmother.

As my grand-mother was giving the waitress a quarter or something so she would bring me a double serving of white fish one of the ladies leaned over to me and asked:

-What was that language you were just speaking? Was that French?

-Yes it was, I said.

I wasn’t surprised by the question. Place Kensington has plenty of American residents who were following their sons up the corporate ladder. They just spent a couple of years in Montreal until the next transfer and rarely ventured beyond Tony’s Shoe Store on Greene Avenue. They knew nothing about Québec’s linguistic situation and they understandably didn’t care if the help spoke French or Spanish or whatever it is Philipnas speak….

-Where are you from, I asked?

-Drummondville, she answered.

Now I was surprised. Drummondville, of course, is the home of the Madrid Bigfoot Diner, the mandatory pit stop on highway 20 for travellers between Montreal and Québec and the owner of the biggest collection of slightly-smaller-than-lifesize plastic dinosaures in the world. It is also a smallish town that, today, is pretty much entirely French-speaking.

Yet here was this lady who had been born in Québec, who had lived her life, not in the sizable English-speaking enclaves of Montreal, but in a tiny rural French-Canadian village that had some farms and two or three factories and she wasn’t able to, nevermind speak, recognize the French language.

English the great language of intercultural meeting and discovery?  Give me a fucking break.

Like the great linguist Alastair Pennycook said: « The notion of English as a great borrowing language also seems to suggest a view of colonial relations in which the British intermingled with colonized people, enriching English as communed with the locals. Such a view, however, is hardly supported by colonial history. »

Even my separatist-fearing grandmother would lose patience with her companions.

-She handed me a napkin! I said « merci » and she had to ask me what I meant! Seigneur! What’s wrong with these people?

This from a woman, I remind you, who spent her summers at the Royal St.Lawrence Yacht Club and read the Montreal Gazette every morning.

There was a distinguished Jewish woman from Argentina who would come over after every meal and chat for a few minutes in impeccable French with my grand-mother. There was also another woman from eastern Europe –there was a rumour she was a hungarian baronnes or countess—who would always cordially say « bonjour ». The staff, of course had been born after the Empire and all spoke French.

But I never heard an Montrealer Anglo resident so much as salute her in French.

Now I am not saying that Place Kensington was representative of today’s enlightened Québec anglophonie. I am absolutely aware that Place Kensington is where the ghost of Montreal’s past goes to die.

But don’t tell me that Québec never existed. I’ve been there.

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Written by angryfrenchguy

July 27, 2009 at 4:06 pm

215 Responses

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  1. I disagree with all of you on the school subject. The present situation is best for Quebec. When was the last time you heard of a Jeunes Patriotes protest at a primary school?

    The Quebecois want to feel confident that their language isn’t threatened and their schools are one of the few places where they can get that assurance.

    It ain’t ideal, but for Quebec, segregation works.

    RoryBellows

    July 29, 2009 at 7:14 pm

  2. But of course that is irrelevant. English is the language of the majority in Canada. What matters is preserving their own culture. And why the heck shouldn’t it? That’s important to them, and as long as they have the power to do so, they should try.

    Edward

    July 29, 2009 at 7:37 pm

  3. It doesn’t exactly make you feel like a freedom fighter or win you points with the media to bang a bunch of pots and pans in front of a primary school.

    Edward

    July 29, 2009 at 7:39 pm

  4. In the short run you may be right, but in the long run it just perpetuates segregation and will one day cause real trouble.

    Separate but equal is never really equal and will lead to resentment.

    Edward

    July 29, 2009 at 7:45 pm

  5. Edward,

    Dialog isn’t about being identical. It’s about trying to understand one another. It’s OK to aggravate somebody else when in an unfamiliar territory. The fact that some old Anglo hag hasn’t bothered learning French isn’t standing in the way of constructive dialog. The fact that one knows what could be standing in the way, but ignores it, is.

    Anglos don’t suck. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

    Pure Laine

    July 29, 2009 at 8:21 pm

  6. Tony,

    Why aren’t you including Anglos in your statement?

    Edward,

    Isn’t preserving your culture important to you? I think it should. Isn’t that what CanCon is doing?

    Pure Laine

    July 29, 2009 at 8:25 pm

  7. Maybe not, but it’s never stopped them before.

    Just try to make every french school population in western Montreal significantly more anglo overnight and I guarantee you Patrick Bourgeois will be standing in the schoolhouse door the next day.

    RoryBellows

    July 29, 2009 at 8:25 pm

  8. Single system, enseignement en français du lundi au jeudi, and English Fridays.

    There, problem solved.

    NArf

    July 29, 2009 at 8:57 pm

  9. Herewith, an ill-informed and facile outsider comment, saying what Pure Laine has said less cluefully. Again, sorry because this is not my fight, but it does fascinate me.

    One of the surprising things to me about the Canadian Franco-Anglo debate is how much it parallels the feminist debate. Women got a voice, and men confronted with a new voice they don’t understand quiz themselves “What do women want?” Parallel: “What does Quebec want?”

    Ditto discussion of the patriarchy: the clueless hegemons either don’t want to be told they’re oppressors, or flagellate themselves about being oppressors, or harrumph that ok, we’re oppressors, can we get on with life now?

    I’m X-chromosome deficient, so I won’t presume to say what the point of feminist critique is — apart from the fact that it’s not all about me. But women’s interest is surely not best served by getting men to say they suck, and it’s not best served by getting men not to be men. It’s served better by getting men to acknowledge they can be assholes, and try not to be assholes as often in the future.

    Anglos have sucked; therefore, be nice to your neighbour, learn some French, and see how it goes. That’s a start. Not: don’t speak English. Not: piss off to Ontario. Not: vote PQ. (OK, that’s my bias.) Not: agree with everything AFG ever says.

    But do listen. Even if you still end up walking away an Ignatieff voter. (Or whatever.) And when someone says something that challenges you in familiar territory, do have an emotive reaction, because you’re not a machine and you’re not a cultural null, and Quebec is not enriched by carbon copies any more than it is by isolationists. But also, count to ten, and try working out where your reaction and the challenger’s is coming from.

    Même chose pour l’autre côte, ça va sans dire—but Canada being Canada, it’s hard for the Francos not to be hearing what the Anglo side is saying.

    Yeah, kumbaya and mung beans, I know.

    Nick Nicholas

    July 29, 2009 at 9:41 pm

  10. Pure Laine:

    Yes, to be consistent I most definitely should include anglos. But since anglos don’t have a Bill 101 or are trying to legislate respect for the majority I didn’t think I had to mention it.

    Tony Kondaks

    July 29, 2009 at 11:36 pm

  11. AFG, how do you feel about Jean-Luc Migue’s observation that (I paraphrase) the best way to preserve and protect French is through economic strength and that is obtained through freedom of choice, e.g. Francophones going to English school and learning English so that they can compete on the global stage.

    Tony Kondaks

    July 29, 2009 at 11:40 pm

  12. Edward writes:

    “Two systems is apartheid.”

    My response to that is:

    1) It is not that two systems is apartheid; it is that one group of Quebecers is denied access to one of the two systems and the other has access to both…and the process for determining access is precisely the same asystem used to determine segregation under the old South African apartheid system: who your parents are, what their classification is, and that this classification is handed down from one generation to the next.

    2) I got in a shit-load of trouble 20 years ago for invoking the term “apartheid” in context of Quebec’s language of education laws. I’m more than happy to see others use it now.

    Tony Kondaks

    July 29, 2009 at 11:46 pm

  13. I’m glad to see that at least people recognize and acknowledge the segregation in the school system.

    Even that word used to be verboten.

    Tony Kondaks

    July 29, 2009 at 11:48 pm

  14. C’est une bien etrange segregation que de vouloir integrer les immigrants en leur offrant l’education gratuite dans la langue de la majorite

    midnightjack

    July 30, 2009 at 2:02 am

  15. I have heard the same sorts of things from Montréal area Anglos, whose situation is perhaps halfway between mine and an Anglo from la campagne.

    littlerob

    July 30, 2009 at 6:24 am

  16. :)

    Pure Laine

    July 30, 2009 at 8:44 am

  17. Yes, no harm in any cultural group — majority or minority — wanting to protect and promote itself.

    But there are rules to do it. And the main rule is NOT to violate human rights.

    Tony Kondaks

    July 30, 2009 at 10:28 am

  18. Tony Kondaks,

    2I’m glad to see that at least people recognize and acknowledge the segregation in the school system”

    Good.

    Where we disagree is how to eliminate segregation. In Quebec, the best way do this is to eliminate publicly funded English schools and services
    and have every Quebecer go to French schools and services.

    Segregation then disappears.

    Antonio

    July 30, 2009 at 10:43 am

  19. I take it, Antonio, that you would be equally open to totally eliminating French schools in Quebec and have everyone go to English schools?

    Segregation then disappears, too.

    Tony Kondaks

    July 30, 2009 at 11:33 am

  20. Tony Kondaks

    “I take it, Antonio, that you would be equally open to totally eliminating French schools in Quebec and have everyone go to English schools?

    Segregation then disappears, too.”

    You know perfectly well my answer to this because we already had a similar discussion in the topic about Eric Amber.

    Antonio

    July 30, 2009 at 12:09 pm

  21. littlerob “I have heard the same sorts of things from Montréal area Anglos, whose situation is perhaps halfway between mine and an Anglo from la campagne.”

    Which probably means that a lot of Montreal anglos NEVER speak in French to the francophones they encounter in everyday life.

    Acajack

    July 30, 2009 at 2:39 pm

  22. How did you arrive at that conclusion? Littlerob says he knows Montreal anglos who don’t understand some of the french they hear the further they get from Montreal and you conclude that’s because they NEVER speak french?

    I’m not aksing you to defend your position, I’m just wondering how you arrived at it based on what Rob said.

    RoryBellows

    July 30, 2009 at 3:34 pm

  23. Sure it disappears, but what is it replaced by? Don’t you think it would create insecurity where at present there is none?

    How would you propose to deal, for example, with the problem of english as an increasingly spoken language in the scholyards? What would be your position on language of communication between the schools and parents? Would schools be forbidden from sending home letters in English to parents who request them?

    RoryBellows

    July 30, 2009 at 3:41 pm

  24. “I got in a shit-load of trouble 20 years ago for invoking the term “apartheid” in context of Quebec’s language of education laws. I’m more than happy to see others use it now.”

    That was actually one of your finer moments, Tony.

    But then you messed it up with your disengenous and incorrect attempts to claim that this was one of the AIMS of the law when it is in fact a result of the segregation imposed in the constitution of 1867 that is the sole basis of your claim to a “right” to English schools.

    One integrated system. Scrap the constution. Done.

    By the way? How’s your “Freedom of choice in education in Arizaon capaign going?”

    angryfrenchguy

    July 30, 2009 at 4:58 pm

  25. Give me my ghetto.

    Let me live in freedom to speak the language of my choice and do business in that language … unilingually.

    I care not whether the capital is in Ottawa or Quebec City.

    I do care whether I can live as a free man.

    All I want is my own little corner where English has always thrived and will continue to thrive if it’s given the chance to do so.

    And you’ll see the wealth we’ll create for ALL Quebecers as a result. Let Quebec West be the breadbasket of an independent Quebec.

    But if you insist upon continuing to repress us, you will never have your own country. You see, you’ve fallen into the trap set you by English Canada: oh, you can have your Bill 101 as a province within Canada. Sure it will fuck up your economy — as it has for the past 30 years and will continue to do so — but at least we’ll maintain the integrity of the borders of Canada. And we’ll continue to send you $8 billion a year in equalization payments, to boot because, you see, we are making you Quebecois completely dependent upon the teat of Canada economically and, as a result, you will always be afraid to separate.

    You’re trapped. Ha-ha-ha.

    Canada has tricked Quebec and Quebecers like Jean Naimard have fallen for it.

    Real nations don’t need artificial support for their culture and language; real countries don’t need welfare payments in order to pretend that their economy is actually working well when it isn’t.

    I offer the only way to get out of the Canadian trap: eliminate Bill 101, give us our English ghetto in an independent Quebec, and in exchange we’ll neutralize our 20% “no” block vote which on two occasions prevented Quebecers from becoming the nation that it claims to be.

    Put up or shut the fuck up.

    Tony Kondaks

    July 30, 2009 at 5:08 pm

  26. I didn’t need to go to english school to learn English. Neither did 75% of English speakers in the world.

    angryfrenchguy

    July 30, 2009 at 5:19 pm

  27. RoryBellows

    “Sure it disappears, but what is it replaced by? Don’t you think it would create insecurity where at present there is none?”

    Having every Quebecer go to the same schools allows everyone to get to know one another which would improve social harmony. No insecurity (what do you mean by that?) would be created from this. Anglophones would get to know francophones and understand their point of views and vice versa. This is a no-brainer.

    “How would you propose to deal, for example, with the problem of english as an increasingly spoken language in the scholyards?”

    The schoolyards are private so what happens there is none of our business. Besides, a single school system in French only for all Quebecers would solve the problem by reinforcing French as the primary language and therefore be used as the common language in the schoolyards as well as in Quebec society as a whole.

    “What would be your position on language of communication between the schools and parents?”

    Official communications, correspondance and documents between schools and parents should be in French only. However, informal or private communications should be none of our business.

    “Would schools be forbidden from sending home letters in English to parents who request them?”

    As stated, informal and private communication is none of our business. However, if parents insist on receiving such communication in English, and the school can’t do that, then the parents should comply with the school’s position.

    Anglophones don’t have to lose their language and culture and don’t have to be assimilated by learning French and participating in Quebec society. Don’t worry about that.

    Antonio

    July 30, 2009 at 5:50 pm

  28. AFG writes:

    “…a result of the segregation imposed in the constitution of 1867”

    The constitution required the setting up of minority religious institutions. There was NO requirement to prevent members of one group from attending the other group’s schools.

    That is, until section 23 of the Canadian Charter and section 73 of Bill 101 came along…

    The segregation was initiated by Quebec and then entrenched in the constitution by Chretien and Trudeau. Big fucking help those two were…

    Tony Kondaks

    July 30, 2009 at 7:05 pm

  29. Antonio,

    “Having every Quebecer go to the same schools allows everyone to get to know one another which would improve social harmony. No insecurity (what do you mean by that?) would be created from this. Anglophones would get to know francophones and understand their point of views and vice versa. This is a no-brainer.”

    Sure, I can agree with you that the kida would benefit in many ways. The insecurity I’m talking about is in the way the Quebecois feel about their language in every area where it is in close contact with English. Wherever you have English competing with French, you have a perceived threat.

    Imagine for a second that every anglo shopkeeper in Montreal was found west of Atwater. Most would serve you in French, but on occasion you’d find one that didn’t. East of that, EVERY commerce served their clientele in French. Nobody was required to speak English to get a job.

    Would you say, knowing what you do now, that we should force francophone shopkeepers to share the whole of the city with anglos in the interest of harmony?

    “The schoolyards are private so what happens there is none of our business”

    Well they are school property as the groups of smoking teenagers standing on the street outside any high school wil tell you, but I get your point. I just hope you’d have the same attitude when your kids start listening to the new 50 Cent album their new friend lent them.

    “Official communications, correspondance and documents between schools and parents should be in French only. However, informal or private communications should be none of our business”

    This sounds reasonable. Having half the parents at every school in western Montreal meeting with the principal in English might look like institutionalized bilingualism to some people (and we know how cool those people are with THAT) but I’d have no problem with it.

    “Anglophones don’t have to lose their language and culture and don’t have to be assimilated by learning French and participating in Quebec society. Don’t worry about that.”

    I’m not worried, but then again I don’t think francophones are in danger of mass assimilation either. And even if they were, my own belief is “oh well, shit happens”. Since 1976 I have had 10 aunts and uncles, a bunch of cousins, two grandparents, two parents and three siblings who were born here leave Quebec. Sure it kinda sucks, but they made a choice and it ain’t up to me to judge. Just as it wouldn’t be my place to judge a relative that decided he prefered another language over English.

    RoryBellows

    July 30, 2009 at 7:13 pm

  30. this humble “English Ghetto” you evoke seems a little ambitious in the real estate it’s eyeing, wouldn’t you say Tony?

    Do I misinterpret your map or does this Sudetenblokeland you sketch out not encompass all of Montréal Island, including Pointe-aux-Trembles and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve whose locals will I’m sure just be wowed by the idea. It’s fun already to think of the heart-warming visits of Premier Tyler and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Grey to the area.

    James

    July 30, 2009 at 8:45 pm


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