LINGUIST List 2.185

Wednesday, 1 May 1991

Disc: Language in Quebec: What stand should linguists take?

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Vicki Fromkin, Re: Language in Quebec
  2. , Language in Quebec (Part 2)
  3. , Language in Quebec (Part 2)

Message 1: Re: Language in Quebec

Date: Wed, 01 May 91 11:12 PDT
From: Vicki Fromkin <>
Subject: Re: Language in Quebec
Many thanks to Auger for helping to clarify the situation. I have been
deeply disturbed by some of the discussion since the political history
as well as the current situation has been too sparce even though this is not
a linguistic problem but a political one. While I strongly am opposed to
any censorship of a language or anything else, it is interesting that
the fight against the use of English is one of the few cases where
language usage has become a 'weapon' of an oppressed group rather than of
the dominant group. One need not defend certain practices (such as the
fining of merchants with English signs but not other non-French signs) if
this has taken place, but it is important to understand the reasons and the
anger on the part of the Quebecois. The movement for the use of French in
Quebec is similar to the movement for the use of Breton in Brittany and
for Languedoc in l'Occitanie, and to the many struggles of people who have been
dominated by another group whose language has been forced upon them. 

Although the French are numerically dominant in Quebec, doesn't their
minority status in Canada as a whole have social and political and economic
repercussions which raise their need to struggle for 'independence'? This
is a real question, not a rhetorical one. I am so ashamedly ignorant of
the situation that I certainly am not supporting or not-supporting any partic-
ular political position regarding independence nor do I know whether the
Canadian English majority has ever used English as a means of maintaining its
power, and would welcome any information in addition to that provided by Auger
on these issues. My qualms about the tenor of the discussion arise because
of the historical role of the use of English and the English speaking nations
and people in destroying the languages and cultures of so many peoples. VAF
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Message 2: Language in Quebec (Part 2)

Date: 1 May 91 15:11 EST
From: <>
Subject: Language in Quebec (Part 2)
In reply to Frank Anshen (and some others):

The point is not what the general populace or their elected
representatives do and don't do -- you're certainly right that the
U.S. nationally can't throw stones at Quebec for pushing for a
monolingual public policy. The issue is rather the role of linguists
in the debate. As far as I know, the opposition of linguists to
legislatively imposed monolingualism in the U.S. has been essentially
unanimous. My understanding from the postings which have appeared
here so far, though, is that our Quebecois colleagues support their
government's linguistic policy. I am having a hard time understanding
how this can be. Julie Auger has made a valiant attempt to explain
it, for which she deserves thanks, but she fails to be convincing; all
of her arguments can be taken over, mutatis mutandis, by the U.S.
English crowd in this country, or indeed by the anglophone provinces
of Canada, to justify local linguistic oppression.

Is there a diversity of opinion among (native) French-speaking
linguists in Quebec on the policy? Can we hear from some more of
them? Can we hear from anyone who agrees with the U.S. linguists'
opposition to U.S. English, and agrees with the Quebec language
policy, and can offer a principled defense of such a stance?

I am as open to cultural relativism as the next person, but I simply
can't see any legitimate justification for taking the side of
linguistic diversity in the U.S. and opposing it, or making allowances
for those who oppose it, a few hundred miles away.

Disclaimer -- these views are entirely my own, and do not reflect
official positions of the National Science Foundation or the U. S.

Paul Chapin
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Message 3: Language in Quebec (Part 2)

Date: 1 May 13:08 CST
From: <>
Subject: Language in Quebec (Part 2)
I admit to some fascination and disturbance at the support 
by Quebec linguists--and some in the USA too--for the linguistic
policies of the Quebec government. There seems to be an 
extraordinary assumption that the French speakers in Quebec
are in some sense an oppressed minority, and are therefore immune 
from criticism. We've also ~?seen people talk of the historical setting 
of Quebec, as if this excuses the acts of the francophone majority.

Now, the problems with these assumptions seem fairly obvious to me,
and come from a number of directions. First, in Quebec it is the
majority--not the minority--which the oppressor. The fact 
that they are a minority in Canada is surely irrelevant. In 
Quebec they are the powers-that-be.

Second, how long are we going to use history as an excuse for 
fresh oppression? I should think that we ought to have learned our
lesson in Eastern Europe. For years the fundamental fascism 
of communist societies was excused as an understandable
result of a set of historical circumstances and inevitablities. 
Now finally we can see what it really was: simply left-wing fascism.

Third, the whole issue of whether it is a minority or a
majority which is doing the oppression seems utterly
irrelevant. Most dictatorships have been by minorities, not
majorities. ~?Only in very recent years has majority rule
become a source of dictatorship. If once we start asserting 
that oppressive acts are somehow less oppressive when carried 
out by minorities, we no longer have any moral ground for opposing 
them at all. 

As linguists we have two choices: take a firm stand against
linguistic fascism wherever it appears and no matter what
the group which perpetrates it, or say that politics has 
no place in our discipline. I would be comfortable with
either position. But the relativism which has
become so fashionable seems to me morally indefensible.

John Ruskiller

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