I think, therefore I harm
I’d assume that anywhere in the world, people would simply agree on a language they both understand and communicate that way. Bienvenue au Québec, where languages have been the subject of a war raging for at least the last 35 years (I wasn’t born before that, I don’t know).
Québec is a resisting French nation in the North of a mostly English continent. The rest of Canada bears both English and French as official languages, but French there is really a second order language. Québec made it it’s only official language.
We have bill 101 (the only law I could name by number – it says how much we hear of it) that forces the use of French as primary language in any public areas, such as stores or hospitals. Brand names on store signs must be in French, or there must be a French caption to complement it. You can’t sell a product which package doesn’t include French as one of the languages. Any publicly visible sign must be prominently in French. Alright, I guess you get it.
French is our main cultural trait, that is why Britney and Lady Gaga sell millions of albums while Québec artists receive subventions from government just so they don’t have to work nights at McDonald.
Government is in panic, the number of people speaking English at home has increased by a swooping three tenths of a percent in the last ten years. The speech fails to mention the significant decrease in the number of people speaking languages other than English or French.
What do they think, that people will suddenly learn English and stop speaking French at home? Do they think that because my new neighbor speaks English, I will begin speaking English with my wife and children?
Government made sure we couldn’t speak English by dumbing down teaching of English. No high school graduate is able to speak English if they haven’t learned or practiced it outside of school environment. In comparison, students in Ontario (the next province to the west) can speak a functional, mostly clear French by the time they complete elementary school.
Montréal is still the second most French metropolis in the world, right after Paris, but it’s not the pure French city it used to be. Let’s face it, when people immigrate into a new country, they don’t choose to live in St-Adrien-de-Ham, Ste-Hélène-de-Bagot or St-Himilite-des-Deux-Ponts. If I decide to move to France, I’ll likely pick Paris. If I must move to the Netherlands, I’ll probably choose Amsterdam. Likely, these people pick Montréal, that’s all they know about. These people possibly spoke different languages before they arrived. While a number of them will decide to learn the local language and culture, they will most probably speak their native language at home. Some of them will choose to live in a neighborhood where they can keep their culture and language, that’s how Chinatowns and Italian neighborhoods grew in major cities of the world. These people grew in number over the last few decades, but the number of native French people haven’t shrunk. We are still here, and we won’t go. Neither will we suddenly begin speaking English in our homes or our life in general.
An hospital located in a mostly English area of Montréal once had to change its posted directions because French wasn’t at least 50% larger. Obviously, an hospital is the place to learn a language.
Several Montréal based bands, whose members are French speakers, are being criticized for choosing to sing in English, but those have a revenue to prove they picked wisely. Others are admired for using only French, but don’t sell any albums or tickets because French songs sound cheesy. I don’t know where people have their heart nowadays. Or their brain.
I was questioned by my family when they found I had an English language blog. I’d get eggs thrown on my door if I was to display a sticker which says to the firefighters that I have three cats, if said sticker was printed in English only. I’d be looked at strangely if I was to speak in English publicly for any reason other than answer a request for directions – tourists are allowed to speak any language, citizens are not.
I chose to write my blog in English in order to get an audience. Early, I wrote two French posts (one of which was later removed), and those did not get read. My English posts got me followers, so I made the logical choice. Beside, writing in English permits me to reach an international audience. My blog made me have actual talks with people from the US, Netherlands, Ireland and Australia. At other times in my life, I have been in contact with people from much more countries, such as Saudi Arabia, China and India to name a few, just for being able to communicate in English. Deciding to use English doesn’t make French fade away. Knowing two languages improves my vocabulary in both languages, opens my mind to more cultures and ideas, and got me to meet with great people. Being comfortable with English even got me the best job I have had so far.
Choosing to use the world’s most popular language (alright, don’t tell me about Mandarin) doesn’t make me weak, inferior, or stupid. It doesn’t mean I’m sold out, that I’ve betrayed my own nation. I have not surrendered to an enemy. If anything, I enlarged my own world.
Yes, French is part of our culture. It doesn’t make our culture.
Many times history showed us that you cannot wipe a language, even by force. France and England have been captured by one another several times, and each time it was prohibited by the captives to speak their own language. As far as I am aware, several centuries later, both are still speaking their own language. If anything, part of the two languages mixed with one another. In the mid-1700s, over 7000 French people were deported from eastern Canada and into the south of the United States, where those who survived the trip ended up forming a colony. The action was aimed at splitting the families so to force assimilation, but they ended up spreading French speaking people instead, who continued speaking French there 250 years later. There exist no single trace in history of a large group of people who’s language was preserved or removed by law. Language is an evolutionary process that takes many generations over centuries to form, take foot, or get replaced. No artificial process never proved effective at accelerating this process, or slow it down.
This is the twenty-first century. People can talk with anyone in the world instantly. People can get from one country to another within hours. The Towel of Babel is no more. I believe that at one point in the future, all humans will unify and speak a single language. English has a real chance at being one day the one language, but really, it doesn’t matter which one it is. This process has only begun, and will take centuries, if not millennia, to complete. None of us will live long enough to see it. None of us has any control on it. Let’s get over it and speak whatever language is convenient in any particular situation.
It is common in stores in Montréal to be greeted by “Bonjour! Hi!”, a simple way to indicate that the clerks there will serve you in either French or English. They are required to be able to speak French, and most do – to a certain degree. Why is there a law for that? I once visited a store where the clerk could only speak English, and since I was still new at aquariums at the time and wasn’t willing to learn the English vocabulary on that spot, I simply didn’t return. Same goes for a shop that would have signs in a language I don’t understand, I would simply not visit.
When I began hearing “Bonjour! Hi!”, I thought it was stupid. Customers that don’t speak French would certainly still understand “Bonjour!”. But over time I found it was rather an interesting symbol. They understand that there is a significant enough amount of people speaking either language that they must care for both of them, and greet them both in a symbolic way.
I took it into an habit to detect what language a particular clerk really spoke. “Bonjour” is difficult enough to pronounce by an English speaker that I will notice easily if the clerk is not totally fluent in French. In that case, I will often order in English. Just for the sake of it. They will often smile, and I like to think they are glad I decided to break the rule and communicate with them in their preferred language, though I really know they smile at my kindergarten grade spoken English.
I speak French at home. To every and each of my cats.