Québec and Language

Quebec in Canada

© Kacnepcku-Cp6uja / Creative Commons

The on-going provincial election in Québec has renewed the old separatist notion that “only through independence” can they preserve and protect their language and culture.

Here, on the ever-spring-like west coast, both of my children went from kindergarten through high-school in French-immersion programs. Every summer for years we all went to “French Camp.” Why? Because a second language is good for them: good for their intellectual development, and good for expanding their horizons and their opportunities in life. In this English-language province, these thousands of kilometers from Québec, both are fluently bilingual.

I, too, though I lack claim to any fluency, have struggled to learn the language. I listen to French-language radio, watch French-language TV, and even, sometimes, slog through a French-language novel from the library. It’s a work in progress! But it is important to note that there are, in fact, French-language radio and TV stations, French-language novels in the library, and French-immersion programs available, even here, these thousands of kilometers from Québec.

This is really not about Québec. Yet, Québec in confederation, and federal policies and support of bilingualism even in this non-francophone province, make this possible and practical.

Upon separation, however, the backlash would be swift and sweeping, and would with a broad brush annihilate French-language support across the country. Official bilingualism and all that flows from it, now offering a national buffer to the stresses and strains upon the unique Québec experience, would vanish, leaving Québec truly alone and adrift in a vast sea of English; if separatists imagine there is pressure on the language and culture now, if they feel isolated now — brace yourselves, mes amis!

In truth, the pressures everywhere on the French language and culture are similar to the pressures on English, and indeed all living languages and cultures. Times change and so do they, as they must, particularly the ones people actually live, the more people move around and the more they talk to each other across their many differences.

My point is this: for this, and many other reasons, it is better for Canada, and for all of its far flung citizens, for Québec to remain a proud and participating partner in confederation, just as it is better for Québec itself to do so. Québec in Canada is a bonus for all and together we are more than the sum of our parts; separately, both are sadly diminished.

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