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(McCann, Pierre)
(McCann, Pierre)

LYSIANE GAGNON

Montreal's language war gets personal Add to ...

The cover of the latest issue of the Quebec magazine L’actualité is so incendiary that it could be seen as a call to war – a language war, that is.

It shows a frog carrying a sign reading, “Ici, on parle English” (Here, we speak English), with two displays of text: “French Montreal? It’s over! say 77 per cent of young anglos,” and “Unilingual English bosses? Get used to it! say 74 per cent of young anglos.”

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The topic is about a CROP survey that presents Quebec’s anglophones as indifferent and even hostile to the future of French, although the magazine acknowledges their high level of bilingualism. Quebec’s anglos are no longer guilty of ignoring French; they’re now guilty of not embracing the fight for the supremacy of French.

There’s been countless wildly alarmist reports in the Quebec media about the “threat” of English, but L’actualité’s article is a first of its kind: Whereas the “enemy” used to be the English language, now the “enemies” are the anglophones themselves, even if they speak French fluently. This is the implicit conclusion drawn from an unusually small sample of 560 people, interviewed on the Internet, who were asked to respond to a series of statements to which they had to agree or disagree.

The “young anglos” referred to on the magazine’s cover amount to 129 people, including recent immigrants and foreign students.

Needless to say, the Parti Québécois enthusiastically leaped on these “findings” to proclaim that, once again, French is being mortally threatened in Montreal and that the situation calls for a strengthening of the language law. The L’actualité article reinforced the PQ’s current strategy of playing on visceral nationalism and linguistic insecurity – a sure, albeit questionable, way to attract francophone voters.

Interestingly, the article’s author, who also collaborated with CROP in formulating the questions, is Jean-François Lisée, a well-known writer and journalist who served during the past 20 years as an adviser to most PQ leaders, including the current one, Pauline Marois. He also worked as a speechwriter for Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard.

For some years, he has been pressing Ms. Marois to take a harder line on identity politics. Mr. Lisée also sits on a committee set up by the PQ to devise a winning strategy for a referendum on sovereignty. Readers of L’actualité, however, were not told of Mr. Lisée’s political affiliations.

According to the CROP survey, a majority of “anglos” don’t believe that “the predominant position of French is the key component of Montreal’s originality” or that it’s their “duty” to ensure that “French remains the most important language here.” Half of them never had a “meaningful conversation with a francophone,” whatever “meaningful” means.

The only disturbing finding of this so-called survey is that 63 per cent of respondents agree with the damning statement that “large corporations should be allowed to hire unilingual anglophones as managers, even if it means that French-speaking employees have to work in English.”

Never mind that 83 per cent want their children to be fluent in French – this is not enough. They’re even chided by L’actualité for not listening to francophone pop singer Marie-Mai. (I confess I don’t, either. What does that make me?)

Nowhere in L’actualité’s issue on “the future of French” is there a word about the main reason of the (relative) decline of French in Montreal: the fact that the French-speaking middle class is leaving the city in droves to settle in the nearby suburbs.

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