We’re Finally Having a Language Debate… And I’m Overjoyed

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Last August, a week before her election victory, Mme Marois tipped the sacred cow by declaring that, as part of her plans for Quebec’s language laws, knowledge of French should be a requirement for basic citizenship rights like running for office and petitioning the government.  She recanted a day later, but like it or not, she’d set the stage – under the PQ, Québec’s language identity was going to be on the menu… as front and center as pasta at an Italian restaurant.

The government’s proposed modifications to Québec’s language laws, which have already been skillfully elaborated elsewhere, are now providing a catalyst for protest and discussion.  In other words, we’re finally having the debate we’ve been putting off for so long.  We’re going to settle, once more, what the relationship is between the French language and the Québécois identity for the next generation.  And I’m overjoyed.

It’s not just that we’re long overdue.  Sure, a decade of Liberal governments (and ADQ oppositions) have staunchly refused to split their base on the issue, while the PQ spent nearly twice that much time trying to recover from the racist overtones of its “money and the ethnic vote” debacle following the 1995 referendum – so everyone in power has had good reason to sweep the issue under the carpet for almost 20 years.  Québec has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.  It’s high time, for our own sake, that this debate be had again before it really starts to fester.  But that’s not the only reason I’m so glad we’re finally airing out this question again.

Mostly, I’m glad because, so far, we’re doing it right.  When faced with such a thorny, contentious issue, it’s easy to fall into our baser tribal instincts and vilify our opponents.  Lord knows the ammunition to do so isn’t lacking.  No doubt some of us will eventually lose their better senses and slip into this vulgar rhetoric, but so far we’ve managed to remain civilized about it.  Discussion and debate is being held in good faith.  All sides are listening to each other.  If we’re going to get anywhere, this must continue throughout our collective discussion.  For what little it’s worth, I call out to everyone, on every side of this question, to check their passions, argue from reason, and remain civil with their opponents in the weeks to come.  Remember we’re all in this together, we need each other, and we are a culture that values civil respect and reason over irrational fear and anger.

Québec’s culture cannot continue to exist without a thriving French language.  On that, I do not disagree.  However, proponents of Bill 14 insist that other languages must be further suppressed if French is to thrive.  On that, many of us disagree.

So… let’s talk.

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About the author:

Farnell MorissetFarnell Morisset is passionate about discussing (among other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québécois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québécois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image.

He is also alarmed by what seems to be an invasive and aggressive polarization of complex social issues for which there are no black-and-white answers. This eventual identity crisis, he feels, will only be solved through good faith in, and honest communication with, all sides pulling on our ever dwindling “pure laine” blanket.

It is with this in mind that he contributes to LifeinQuebec.com as a valued member of our in-house writing team.

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10 Responses

  1. Frankly Farnell I’m personally fed up with all this talk about Language in Quebec. There are so many other things that Quebec is good at, but all we hear year after year is the promotion and or protection of the French language. And it all comes down to “playing Politics”; that’s all it is and ever will be. May I remind you the french spoken in Quebec should be identified as a dialect, because it isn’t exactly French just as American English is not really English. Indeed I hear quite often recently, people referring to Quebec french as “Quebecois”, and rightly so. Imagine if you can, Ontario suddenly deciding to impose a law that “French” could only be 1/3 the size of English and not visible outside not forgetting there are as many francophones in Ontario as there are Anglophones in Quebec. (Proportionally) Quebec has an outstanding film industry, winning Oscars and Cesars, we have affordable daycares, we have the “Cirque du Soleil” we have bands and singers making headlines around the world in the likes of Celine, Bryan Adams, Arcade Fire etc. And our Olympic Athletes? It just seems that when the PQ is in power everything becomes “negative” when there are so many positve things going on. Someone wrote to the Gazette last week saying they had no problem with their neighbors (French & English) or storekeepers, just the Gov”t.
    I’m off to the slopes today to go skiing 20 minutes away from my home, and I may need a little “Quebecois” to communicate but hey, where else can people do that in Canada?

  2. Job,

    I understand your position, but respectfully, your examples are taken from the results of the last serious language debate that happened over 20 years ago (French signage laws, comparisons to Ontario). The issue has evolved dramatically since then. Back then, the language debate was starkly French/English. This isn’t the case anymore – the next one coming will be, I feel, French/Identity – languages like Italian, Arabic, and Chinese are likely to be just as involved as English in the question of the position French has regarding our Québécois identity.

    What can’t be done, though, is the continued “let’s not talk about it” policy of the last decade. The split within the separatist movement is a sure sign of that – each one proposing a different idea of the core of a French-speaking Québécois identity.

    You’re right though, that that there are many positive things going on. I certainly wouldn’t accuse the PQ of being “negative” about language. On the contrary, despite her setbacks, Mme Marois is the first PQ leader ever to actively address English questions with English answers, the first PQ leader ever to include English in her victory speech, and despite a deranged anglophone trying to gun her down during that same victory speech, she has stayed the course with insisting English-speaking Québécois are still decidedly Québécois – something dramatically different from the PQ’s position 20 years ago. The PQ has repeatedly backed down from its more hard-line Francopphone-promoting laws when faced with reasoned opposition. It does show they’re at least willing to listen equally to all sides of the issue.

  3. I remember at the time of the last referendum the franco-Quebecois nationalists could not disentangle their nationalism from a purely ethnic-based one (the source of the racist Parizeau comment that independence extremely broadly defined was defeated because of me – ethnics and anglos + $ ). At the time I lived in San Francisco and called the Canadian consulate in Los Angeles to complain about Parizeau and hopefully added to the pressure against him. I was glad he resigned, I cheered in fact.

    So, have the francophone nationalists decided if their nationalism is based on ethnicity or citizenship yet? We’re still waiting on that answer. Meanwhile, Vietnamese who speak French, Haitians, etc.. do not feel welcome into the Quebecois nation. Now, it is actually true that among Anglos you really aren’t considered fully Canadian unless you were born on the territory, so the french nationalists in Quebec are not really that different. However, as someone born at the Royal Victoria Hospital I am endlessly insulted by francophones asking me, ‘d’ou tu viens?’ without asking my name first or introducing themselves, as if I am some object of curiosity. When I reply “from Montreal” I get, ‘but no, really, where are you from?’. All I can think to say is, “F%^& Off”. Sorry if my Spanish looks from my mother confuses you – thank you for making me feel like an alien in the place of my birth.

    I also look at comments from various articles on Reddit and I am shocked by the anti-Quebec animosity. I am called a Pequiste for defending French, for reminding others that French colonization spared Canada from slavery and First Nation genocide the way the British-turned-Americans soiled the southern half of the continent. The French actually set Canada on the path to greater valuation of human life and a political emphasis on compassion. They were a disaster in the Caribbean, Africa and IndoChina, but in Canada they were comparatively noble (especially compared to the Spanish, Portuguese or British).

    Seems to me the problem comes from both sides. On the one hand, the ROC needs to understand the history of Canada and the impact the French have had on our collective consciousness and sense of identity. On the other, the french Quebec nationalists need to examine how they alienate others and actually work against their interests by upsetting their neighbors – the people who chose to live with them because they really like them (in terms of the people in Quebec). Both ROC and Que need to look at the alternatives for contrast. Would either group prefer to be in a country with vicious Hillbillies? nosy Yankees? racist Southern slave lords and disgusting hypocrites who fetishize the white race? People in the past understood the choices better, and decided they were better off with each other than with the other settlers of North America who actually did not value life as highly as the Canadians.

  4. mtl2nyc,

    If you’re a Redditor, try /r/Quebec every once in a while. It’s just as… enlightening.

    That being said, the article makes no mention of Canada, for good reason. I don’t feel this is an issue the ROC has any say or involvement in anymore. This is a Quebec issue. This also is no longer a French/English debate, like I said earlier. It’s a French/Identity debate. It’s no longer about asking if French is Quebec’s only official language or not – it’s about asking exactly what that means.

    I hear you regarding the assumption that you’re an alien simply because you’re not white. This is a core component of our upcoming debate. It was touched on, but never really settled, by the Bouchard-Taylor commission. Most progressively-minded Québécois extoll that race has nothing to do with Quebec identity, but then turn around and wonder why “Nguyen” is one of the family names focused on by the “Des Noms de Chez Nous” campaign. We may accept it intellectually, but it’s not something we’ve yet to accept in our collective gut.

  5. Last I checked I was white – I suppose. I am Jewish and Spanish. Jews became ‘white’ in Canada by the 1980′s (1970′s in the USA – before that we were Christ killers and sub-human); as for Spanish, they were always considered European in Canada – if not in the USA. You might say that I am ‘beige’, but that is still “white” in Canadian terms as I am not black, or Asian. Or, is part of the new Quebec identity politics to adopt American categories?

    Quebec identity is still a Canadian issue. As an Anglo-Quebecker I empathize with Franco-Ontariens and other french minority populations in other provinces. Have they been abandoned in favor of a geographically truncated french North American identity within the province of Quebec? Wasn’t Ontario the other part of the French colony called ‘Canada’? Is not that where the Franco-Ontariens come from? Or, did they come from somewhere else, maybe Brazil?

    For me the bottom line has always been, do franco-Quebeckers want a nationalism based on ethnicity or legal status? Anglo North America adopts the British view of nationalism based on legal status – I am a part of the nation because I am a citizen. Quebecois – pur-laine nationalism never really asked that question in the past but defaulted to an ethnic-based nationalism and alienated many other citizens of Quebec in the process. Has that now changed? Should others believe it? Is that a clear topic of discussion within nationalist circles? Has everyone in Canada, francophone and anglophone, now abandoned the history of the country prior to 1867?

  6. The past only matters insofar as it shapes the present and future. Any further study is merely academic – an honorable, noble pursuit, to be sure, but the past should never be the core tenant of the present. I’d rather we think of who we will be in 2067, rather than who we were in 1867.

  7. Debate ? What debate ? What we have here is linguistic genocide 2.0 and the proof is Bill 14 and the stepped up inspections of the language police as demonstrated in the past weeks .
    Bill 14 the intent being to take away the bilingual status of a municipality shows the contempt that the PQ has towards the rights of these citizens to equality and quality of life which is found in any modern society .
    This Bill will surely be voted down in parliament but the mere fact of the matter is the very existence of this proposed Bill demonstrates the machiavellian mandate of the PQ .
    Another show of linguistic absurdity is the language police who are making a mockery of democratic and individual rights of business owners by actually correcting the language used on restaurant and bar menus .
    It will be only a question of time before Pauline will set her sights on private enterprise who offer courses to the private citizen who wish’s to aquire English as a second language .
    The Anglophone as persistently depicted by the Pur Laine Quebecois does not exist , what you have is a citizen of Quebec who’s mother tongue is English but has the working knowledge of French which in my book makes he or she a success in his or her own right .
    Since the arrival of the World Wide Web we have become a Gloal Village and the antics of Ma Tante Folle and the concentrated effort of dumbing down the populace for the asinine eventuality of a misguided self determination in the form of a nation in order to protect it’s culture all the while denying it’s citizens their freedom , authenticates the true intent of the PQ that any language debate is mere window dressing .
    As you mentioned , we are in it together , however the question is to see to it that we do not become the Ghetto in the Global Village .

  8. Peter:

    Genocide? Really?

    - Farnell

  9. Genocide : ” The deliberate and systematic extermination of a national , racial , political, or cultural group . ”

    Systematic : ” Having , showing , or involving a system , method , or plan . ”

    As a witness to the need to protect the language of one of the founding peoples of Canada , I whole heartily agree . However the method the PQ has chosen to go about this question and the actions taken every time this political party is in the role of governance with it’s ultimate goal of sovereignty
    does not nor should deny the rights of the citizens of this province to excercise the ultimate liberty of communicating in both official language of their choosing .
    As mentioned , Bill 14 poses a clear and present danger to this freedom and points the way to a linguistic genocide .

  10. I perfectly agree with Peter on everything he says.

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