BYE-Lingualism: A Linguistic Conundrum

Photo by  Adrien Olichon  on  Unsplash

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

On November 20th, 2017, Québec’s National Assembly passed a motion requesting store clerks to greet clients with a simple “bonjour” instead of the commonly heard hybrid “bonjour, hi”. Recognizing that 94 % of Quebecers understand it and urged “all merchants and their employees who have contact with local and international clients to warmly greet them with the word “Bonjour.” Not “Bonjour, hi.” Just “Bonjour.”

Parti Québécois (PQ) Leader, Jean Francois Lisée, called it an “irritant and example of galloping bilingualism.” Sociologist Mathieu Bock-Côté tweeted, “From one stage to the next, French fades away. And with that, the Québécois fade away.”

Research shows that French usage in the workplace has declined by approximately 4 per cent. In addition, the ongoing dialogue on Québec’s costly “francisation” program for new immigrants, which mandates them to enrol students in French learning programs, continues to be a wasted expense. 

Given this backdrop, we see at the provincial the provincial level, the Parti Québécois is still desperately casting about for a path back to power in the next provincial election, slated for fall  2018. The Liberals are trying to burnish their soft nationalist credentials as they continue to trail the Coalition Avenir Québec in the polls. On the federal level, the Bloc Québécois is looking for its own reason to exist, with polls showing that 47 percent of Quebecers support the Liberals. Language politics is for sure impacting politics in the province, but what does it tell us about bilingualism in Canada?

This spotlight on Québec’s unanimous stance on bilingualism opens up a new can of worms for bilingualism that Canada’s future will have to tackle; At what point do we draw the line? What percentage of one’s speech will help us define if they’re “anglophone” or “francophone”? When they use words like “cool”, or “la job”, or refer to the Students’ Society of McGill University as “SSMU” instead of “AÉUM”, then are they also acting in favour of Canada’s anti- Québec agenda?

In 2016, the census displayed results that Canadian bilingualism is at its peak; 45 percent of Quebecers surveyed declared that they speak both official languages in 2016, a steady increase from 42.5 percent in 2011.

For non-native francophones, English–French bilingualism was most common amongst the youth. The rise in bilingualism among non-Francophones outside Québec since the 1960s is mainly due to higher enrollment in French-as-a-second-language (FRSL) programs such as French immersion. For example, during the 2011–2012 school year, 356,500 elementary and secondary school students were enrolled in French immersion programs outside Québec.

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On one hand, Québec is holding onto French like a middle-aged mom holding onto her pre-teen daughter who just got asked out for the school dance. Meanwhile, Canada prides itself on bilingualism, and to an extent, so does Québec, like the sense of pride felt by the pre-teen’s family on her bright future. . 

The issue to many, looks as if there’s only two sides; French or English (disguised as bilingualism). But with the growing usage of “Franglais”, and collective national sentiment to somehow hold onto something that can differentiate us Canadians from our neighbours down south, maybe we can now have something more tangible to latch onto. 

So, who are the winners and the losers? Or just the losers? Everyone else.The ordinary Quebecers, living their 9-5 lives, trudging through the snow. Exiling “Bonjour, hi” isn’t about saving the French language. It’s about scoring cheap political points.

The whole issue opens many debates, from Canada’s  national identity entailing bilingualism, to the anti-French agenda imposed by the outweighing majority of anglophone Canadians, to the future of Canadian linguistics and the amalgamation of languages. At the end of the day, regardless of its cause; whether it be political, social, patriotic, sovereign, or any other root, it’s hard to forget and see past the bickering politicians between “English” vs. “le français”, everyone seems to agree that two languages are better than one.