“Ici on parle English” – “Quel avenir pour le français à Montréal?” – “Montréal français? It’s over!” – “Des unilingues anglais comme patrons? Get used to it!”
Kind of hard to imagine words that could infuriate language activists more. I won’t call it sensationalist, but when a magazine puts a picture of a frog on its front cover and tells a people sensitive about their language that their battle is essentially lost, I can’t really find a better word.
Last Thursday, L’actualité released results of a survey they did (with CHMP 98.5FM) of Quebec anglophones in which they asked them questions about language issues in Quebec. (The full results – with actual questions – are here in this PDF file)
The questions and answers were rather interesting, and I’ll summarize them here. Of Quebec’s anglophones:
- 81% know enough French to carry on a conversation
- 59% believe it’s possible to live one’s entire life in Quebec without having a single significant conversation in French
- 63% believe companies should have the right to hire unilingual anglophones as managers, even if that means communicating with them at work would have to be done in English
- 59% are “at peace” with the fact that Montreal will become predominantly English while the rest of the province maintains its French “charm”
- 54% believe that because of globalization, most economic activity in Montreal will eventually be in English
- 37% believe that the predominance of French is the key ingredient in Montreal’s originality and that without it the city would lose its soul
- In the week before they were surveyed, about half used French in conversation for about an hour or less, the other half a few hours or more
- 21% agree that as a Quebec resident, it’s their duty to help ensure that French remains the most important language here
- 83% believe it’s important that their children grow up to be bilingual
The results appear in last Friday’s issue of L’actualité (or is it l’Actualité? Or L’Actualité? Even francophones have issue with capitalization of proper names), along with two stories analyzing them. One is by Jean-François Lisée, a former PQ adviser who hammers the panic button. The other is by Jack Jedwab of the Association for Canadian Studies (or, more accurately, it’s a reporter’s Q&A with Jedwab), who highlights how things have improved. There were also some sidebars, including an interview with Sherwin Tjia, the unilingual anglophone whose appearance on Daybreak a few weeks back ignited a whole controversy because he dared say he’s okay being unilingual.
The magazine also asked Gazette columnist Josh Freed to blog for them, giving an anglo’s perspective (with his usual dose of humour).
Reaction to the poll and accompanying pieces seems to have fallen in one of three categories:
- franco hard-liners outraged at how anglos see Quebec, as Jean-François Lisée is on his blog and as the PQ reacted by sounding the panic alarm (and possibly Pierre Curzi as well, proposing a new law strengthening the French language charter)
- anglophones going on the defensive and saying the polls actually show lots of good things about Quebec anglophones’ attitudes toward French, as Freed and Jedwab did in their pieces (Freed also expanded on it in his Gazette column) and The Gazette’s Don Macpherson and Lesley Chesterman did on Twitter, helping spark the #BadAnglo meme that got aggregated by Global Montreal, OpenFile and L’actualité, and some even translated by Lisée (this defensiveness caused Lisée himself to be defensive and express his love for anglophones). Some also went on the attack, like The Gazette’s Henry Aubin and the National Post’s Graeme Hamilton.
- being confused because there seems to be so much contradiction, as Lisée stressed when interviewed on the radio by Benoit Dutrizac with token anglo Martin Patriquin and reiterated in an opinion piece for The Gazette
And there is a lot of contradiction. Apparently about half of anglo Quebecers have never had a significant conversation in French. But 80% of them are bilingual. This begs the question: How do this 30% know they’re bilingual if they’ve never spoken French?
One of the more surprising results is that for most of these questions, it’s the younger anglophones who seem to take the more anti-French stance. More young anglos think it’s okay to live life as a unilingual anglophone, despite the stereotype one imagines of the old West Island angryphone who grew up in the 50s being the most anti-French.
I wonder how much of that is more due to inexperience than a generational difference. I suspect many of these views might change as these people get older, become more familiar with francophone Quebec and try to make careers for themselves in this province.
I could go after the methodology. It was an online poll, which has issues in terms of accuracy. Some of the questions seemed a bit pushy. And some were based on false premises (the proportion of people on the island of Montreal whose first language is English is diminishing, not increasing, and there’s no risk of anglophones outnumbering francophones in Montreal or Quebec any time soon).
But one thing we can all seem to agree on is that more research is needed. These are complex issues and I suspect the answers given have complex reasoning behind them.
Of course, people who are paid to drum up controversy to fill column inches won’t be satisfied with waiting for more research.
L’actualité’s survey also tested Quebec celebrity recall. Among anglophones:
- 26% don’t know who Ginette Reno is (this one was very age-specific, with most older anglophones knowing her and most younger ones not)
- 44% don’t know who Gregory Charles is
- 56% don’t know who Julie Snyder is
- 57% don’t know who Véronique Cloutier is
- 61% don’t know who Normand Brathwaite is
- 74% don’t know who Marie-Mai is
- 85% don’t know who Régis Labeaume is
- 86% don’t know who Janette Bertrand is (I’d link to her English Wikipedia article, but it doesn’t exist)
It shouldn’t be particularly surprising that anglophone Quebecers don’t get much news from Quebec City, don’t watch much of Radio-Canada and TVA, and don’t listen to French-language radio.
Just like it’s not a surprise that francophones have little to no interest in English Canadian culture (what little of it there is). On a recent episode of Tout le monde en parle, Guy A. Lepage interviewed Jian Ghomeshi, and at the end he cited Jack Layton, saying once that English Canada doesn’t know Lepage and French Canada doesn’t know Ghomeshi.
This is a problem, and one I think we need the help of both sides to solve. (When was the last time Julie Snyder, Véronique Cloutier or Régis Labeaume reached out to the anglophone community in any significant way?)
There are all sorts of places to lay blame here. We could blame the CRTC, which requires broadcasters to have their programming in English or French but never both. We could blame French-language media, who consider anglos a community not worth trying to target. We could blame English-language media for not connecting its audiences with francophone culture. Or we could blame the two solitudes themselves for sticking to their ghettos and ignoring the other side.
Fortunately, simple demographics might be helping change this. Anglophones in Montreal are mostly bilingual, and many of them are in relationships with francophones. To some this might be assimilation (particularly since most of these couples choose English as their common language), but I like to hope that this assimilation goes both ways.
And there are people trying to do their part using new media. One blogger offering English summaries of Tout le monde en parle to try to get anglos to care about this important show.
With a bit of patience, a bit of tolerance, and a bit of effort from both sides, maybe we can get recognition of Véro and Guy A. among anglophones and Rick Mercer and Mutsumi Takahashi among francophones to the point where it’s clear that there is no more divide.
Then, we can hope, the next survey of anglophones by L’actualité won’t be whether they know who Julie Snyder is, but whether they preferred Mélissa, Andréanne or Andrée-Anne.
Un gars peut rêver, can’t he?
UPDATE (April 10): Jack Jedwab responds to L’actualité’s survey with one of his own. It shows:
- 25% of anglophones and 48% of francophones believe “eventually the majority of Montrealers will work in English” when the question is not preceded by reference to globalization
- 90% of anglophones have francophone friends, but only 60% of francophones have anglophone friends
- 70% of anglophones 18-24 believe francophones don’t like anglophones
- 55% of anglophones, 54% of allophones and 15% of francophones believe Bill 101 has contributed to the decline of use of English
- 10% of anglophones, 13% of allophones and 44% of francophones believe English speakers are the principal threat to the French language in Montreal
- 55% of young anglophones are not comfortable with English becoming the majority language in Montreal
- 60% of anglophones believe relations between anglos and francos have improved over the past give years. 45% of francophones agree versus 38% who disagree
- 54% of anglophones and 43% of francophones believe their community feels positively about the other