LINGUIST List 2.183

Wednesday, 1 May 1991

Disc: Language in Quebec (Part 2)

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Language in Quebec.
  2. , Re: Language in Quebec
  3. , Quebec

Message 1: Language in Quebec.

Date: Sun, 28 Apr 91 12:24:20 EDT
From: <jdbobaljATHENA.MIT.EDU>
Subject: Language in Quebec.
I suppose I'll start this by noting my inherent bias: My (maother's)
family moved to Montreal in the early 1800's from Boston. They've 
been there ever since, but my sister and I are the first two to make
any stab at learning even conversational French (outside of required
courses at school). That said...

Bill 178 came into effect in 1988 banning any language other than 
French on outdoors signs. Within its first year, hundreds of stores
were charged and fined under the law. Some refused to pay, and there
were isolated incidents of rocks thrown through windows, etc.... 
As the Montreal Gazette noted in (I believe) the summer of 1989,,
all the stores charged under the law had English signs. No fines
were laid in Chinatown (where most of the signs are still in Chinese),
the Portugese neighbourhood still has Portugese signs. The 
Ukrainsko-Kanadska Narodna Banka still retains its Cyrrilic sign.
The english bookstore accross the street from McGill (an English
university) now has only one sign outside "Paragraphe -
 Livres anglais". Advertising new books in its window is a bit
of a problem...

Like many other people I know in Montreal (both anglo- and franco-)
I would be perfectly satisfied with a law requiring all outdoors
signs to bear French or even be predominantly in French. But a ban
on other languages is a frightening form of 1984-style censorship. 
And worse yet, it is claimed not to be a direct attack on the English
language, but as I said above, *only* English language signs are 
being charged under the law.... I can't really see any more direct
form of attack on the English language.

2- As for the discussion about whether or not "European French" and 
Quebecois are distinct languages or just dialects, I am frankly 
surprised to find the issue taken up on the LINGUIST list. In order
to make any sense of the argument, we would have to agree on some 
fixed criteria for "language-hood", something which doesn't appear
to have any consensus anywhere. Are French and Italian merely 
dialects of Romance, or are they seperate languages ? What about
the "dialects of French" spoken near the Italian border and the
"dialects of Italian" spoken near the French border, which are 
linguistically more similar to each other than to the "languages"
of their respective capitals ? The question to me seems to be
a priori unanswerable at best, if not completely meaningless. 
Certainly there is the question of mutual intelligibility, but
between whom ? I spent time in highschool in a town of 4500
people on Quebec's "North Shore", and have a hard time understanding
spoken French in Paris. But someone from say, Quebec city, would 
have less trouble in Paris, but would run into trouble in any random
small town in, say SE France. And what about the islanders odf 
St Pierre and Miquelon (islands which are technically part of
France, but are in the Gulf of St Lawrence off the coast of 
Newfoundland)? Which French do they count as speaking ? I think the
question is really undebatable...

Just my humble opinions.
Jonathan Bobaljik
(L'tete carre a Boston) 
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re: Language in Quebec

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 91 12:45:23 EDT
From: <>
Subject: Re: Language in Quebec
In reply to Mark Seidenberg's posting on the language situation in
Quebec, I am distressed by the general American habit of blaming behavior
we don't approve of on cultural differences, often with a disclaimer that
we are dealing with difference not inferiority but with a clear implication
"what else can you expect from these foreigners." Through the last two
major American military interventions (Iraq and Viet Nam) mass bombing of
civilians sites was accompanied by explanations that "they" don't have
the same respect for life that we do.
Now Seidenberg explains the language laws in Quebec with the phrase "The
language laws seem oppressive to Americans brought up on the first
amendment, but there are vast political and cultural differences between ...
Quebec and America that shouldn't be underestimated. In Quebec there is a
very explicit distinction between individual rights and collective rights.
The language laws are seen as preserving the greater good of the society
as a whole..." I find this statement attributing the Quebec language laws
to the French lesser attention to individual rights odd coming from a
nation which has repeatedly passed English Only laws (many intended to be
at least as Draconian as Quebec's).
In fact, if we look at language policy making units in which a single
prestige language is spoken by 80% or more of the population, they are
overwhelmingly legally monolingual in that language. The situation in
Quebec only strikes us as unusual because Quebec is a French speaking
island in a larger predominately English speaking nation. This fact
accounts for some of the added vehemance with which French is defended
in Quebec as well as greater feelings by the anglophone population that
they are entitled to greater rights. I would add that it is quite
practical in Quebec to finish your education entirely in a minority
language in state supported schools. This is not possible in the state
of New York.
In rereading the above I should probably add that I do not hold Mark
Seidenberg responsible for either the Iraqi or Viet Namese conflicts.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Quebec

Date: Tue, 30 Apr 91 22:01:37 CST
Subject: Quebec
For a very good overview of Montreal history and the language
question, I recommend Marc Levine's _The Reconquest of Montreal_
which came out last year. He's an urban historian, not a linguist, so
the perspective is somewhat different - and it is very well done.
His conclusions include the point that as francophone Montreal
becomes more economically successful and therefore competitive,
there is a new pressure to learn and use English to enter world
(and especially American) markets.

 Margaret Winters
 Southern Illinois University -

[End Linguist List, Vol. 2, No. 183]
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue