Off Topic

I think, therefore I harm

Bonjour! Hi!

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.

Arrêt 101

A typical bilingual stop sign where some of the letters of the English version are painted over through vandalism to turn it into a reference to bill 101. These were a common sight before they where changed to French only signs.

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.

french-montrealMontréal 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.

This images demonstrates how old the war have been raging on.

This images demonstrates how far back the war have been raging on.

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.

An activist group who produces advertisement published in newspapers and aired on radio to encourage business in French and the use of French in the working environment

An activist group who produces advertisement published in newspapers and aired on radio to encourage business in French and the use of French in the working environment

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.

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12 comments on “Bonjour! Hi!

  1. heretherebespiders
    October 16, 2013

    I see nothing really wrong with insisting on French. It does seem a little over the top to insist shop workers have to, what if the shop is an Indian restaurant? I am a little saddened by France’s enforcement of keeping any words that are not French out of their language, even to the point of making up new words for computer processes, etc.

    One of the things I like best about English is how many words came from other languages, and how much easier it makes it for me to understand a new language in return. Of course that doesn’t include many far eastern words, and very very few Gaelic ones! But it’s good for French, German, Italian, Spanish.

    I like the mention of the Cajuns, or French Creole. I did grow up close to that area, and I think I’d fit in pretty good.

    I think you have explained why Dublin is so full of immigrants! We do get French school-kids on tour here in my small town, though. It’s easy to tell as they dress very well 🙂

    • Tom Duhamel
      October 16, 2013

      Yes, you got my point. Makes sense that people that comes to a country (voluntarily and permanently) learn the local language, but doesn’t make sense to force the all Indian employees for a restaurant to speak the local language rather than their own.

      Don’t get me started on the French not accepting foreign words. I know we talked about that before. It’s stupid. If there already exist a perfectly good word in French, use that rather than one from a different language. But when there wasn’t a word in the first place, what is wrong about using that foreign word? In computer stuff, I do use the correct English word, like most people of my generation do. Unfortunately, schools had a different plan, and the next generation (age 25 and below, I’d say) use the new French word for everything. I got to get used to heard that, but I will never use these words myself. My son is learning my vocabulary, even though he uses a different one.

      French itself was born from other languages. I don’t see what is wrong at including other newer words as we need them. I’m sure you are already aware why you can easily guess French, German, Italian and Spanish words by only knowing the English word 🙂

      Yes, Cajun. I only wanted to make it a short example, so I didn’t name it, but you correctly understood what I was referring to. We studied that event at school, as anything that shows the English people as evil is good to teach in schools here. (I was amused once to pick up an history book used in Ontario schools, and see that many of the events I have learned in school were depicted there very differently, to show us as the bad guys. Sigh.)

      I like how I learn new stuff every time I got to read your comments. “French Creole” was unknown to me. The only reference I knew of Creole is a language in Haiti, born of the mix of French and the original aboriginal language. Obviously, that didn’t make sense in this context, I had not mentioned Haiti. I didn’t know the word “creole”, but Wikipedia just taught me everything I needed to know. Is Cajun really considered a Creole? The only person I knew from there was a singer in Quebec who was well known 20 years ago. He was openly a Cajun, but he really spoke French with a funny accent, but it was not trouble understanding him. You could feel some English accent mixed in, but his vocabulary was very French. Where did you live that you dealt with Cajuns? (And how do you even pronounce that word in English? I’m writing this and pronounce that word in French in my head lol).

      My top-of-the-head geography is not good enough to have thought of Dublin, but yes, any large city is likely a chosen destination for any person looking for an entry in a new country. I wonder how you ended up in a small town (if you mentioned the name of your town before, I can’t find a reference by scrolling back your blog, but I’m pretty sure you’re not in Dublin — is is far from there?)

      Thanks for your input. And thanks for not commenting about my “kindergarten grade English” lol 🙂

  2. sledpress
    October 16, 2013

    But of course all cats study French!!!!

    http://books.google.com/books?id=JZ-mm5HoFysC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

    I have about four years of French education (I call it “francais mauvais du lycee”) so enough to read a post in French, with Google Translate to help if I am really confused. Talk to us in French some more! It will be a mitzvah! (See? That is another wonderful language without which we would be poorer. More languages! For everyone!)

    • Tom Duhamel
      October 18, 2013

      Bonsoir presse de traîneau (that’s the only way I can interpret your nom de plume)

      Thanks for the link to the book. I checked the preview. There is one that is correct but which I would have worded differently. The one about the litter box is inaccurate, at last for someone in Québec, I’m not sure if they say “la boîte” in Europe.

      I have one post in French. When I first began my blog, I intended to mix French and English posts, because I previously posted in both languages on prior publishing platforms I have used. But I soon befriended a few of my English readers and decided to continue only in that language. Nobody seemed interested in French posts, and none of my real world friends or family is actually interested.

      You clearly realized that adjectives go after nouns in French, but ‘mauvais’ is one of the few exceptions, it goes before. ‘Lycée’ is only used in Europe, we use different words here. In Québec we would say “école secondaire” (that’s for people 12 to 17). Sometimes, we may say “la grande école”, mostly when put in comparison to “la petite école” (for children under 12).

      • sledpress
        October 19, 2013

        Well, I was taught European French, so we got “lycee”. Thanks for the tip about “mauvais.” It is like in English, I before E — EXCEPT for about fifteen exceptions.

        I wonder what a sled-press is actually called in French. It’s the machine that I love best in the gym, which is loaded with plates or a pin stack that add weight to a foot plate sliding along rails (the “sled”). Because it is very stable you can put a lot of weight against your legs, and I usually start with three hundred sixty pounds in plates, and can go up to seven hundred forty on a good day. There is no feeling that compares to the sensation of six or seven hundred pounds pushing you back into the seat of the machine. It forces you to rethink your whole relation to gravity.

        • Tom Duhamel
          October 19, 2013

          Ah! I’m not familiar with gym equipment. I couldn’t tell what the French word is. Nice play on word here then, where “press” also refers to writing and printing. Was that intentional?

  3. sledpress
    October 16, 2013

    PS. When I was 15 I co-wrote a novel that was never finished about an alternate future in which the British Empire never waned and only in the late 20th century did French-Canadian separatism play a critical role in *international* politics. My co author’s ideas — there were many more convolutions involving a faltered Russian Revolution and a partitioned US that did not unify after revolting against the British Crown. We were high school kids unequal to the huge implications of our subject matter so we never finished it. Now I have to go look at the manuscript pages again! You bastard!

    • Tom Duhamel
      October 18, 2013

      Yes, all because of my own fault 🙂

      I don’t see the French-Canadian separatists having any major role in an international event any time soon. You would be surprised how closed people here are in regards to anything that happens outside our French land.

      I can see how huge was your vision. But dreams and hobbies are just that. It was not complete, but it must have been a nice activity back then. You wouldn’t believe how many novels I began writing at high school, which never went past ten pages. I eventually found I was better at ten page short stories.

      • sledpress
        October 19, 2013

        When I re-read that novel (there are probably about two hundred pages in total) I realize I mostly was stopped by lack of knowledge about the total of world history. Still it was an interesting idea. The French separatists were entangled with various other groups worldwide who resisted British imperialism as it developed after a failed American Revolution. So they became part of a struggle on the world stage between a finally faltering Empire and a UN-like group that involved a kidnapping plot and lots of Hitchcock type pursuit over open ground.

        I am crap at short stories, but I did write satirical novels about my local county government and publish them online. Now I can’t go to the government building any more 🙂

        • Tom Duhamel
          October 19, 2013

          Still, you seem to know more than I do.

          I don’t write any fiction anymore. I wrote at high school and college. My blog is really all I write now. I wasn’t much about activism back then, but what I wrote was mostly around (light) social issues or personal events. I liked to have the reader think, even back then, though my readers where only friends.

  4. unpatriote
    October 19, 2013

    Bonjour, Hi, to state that the language wars have been raging for 35 year is less than accurate. Quebec has a fantastic tool ignored by many of its population and it is its digital library of every publication published since the 1800 like the journal le Canadien (1806-1909). Funny fact, the war on hemp was not raging in 1806. That started 35 years ago…

    http://www.banq.qc.ca/collections/collection_numerique/index.html?categorie=6

    For example from this library we see this language war raging in 1806 (213 years ago). Here is an extract of this history where

    Here is an excerpt from the diary of the Quebec House of Assembly for the month of April 1806.

    Mr. Beribelot proposed by Mr. Cartier that a humble address be presented to His Honor the President, asking him to allow the Speaker to disburse the amount needed for the printing and publishing in French of four volumes of the Precedents of the House of Commons by John Hagfel in accordance with resolution of 18c of March 1805 and that this House will provide the reimbursement of this sum.

    Mr. Young proposed an amendment against this seconded by Mr. Moore to remove all the words after this resolution and include the following: “This House should not encourage the study of any other language than English by the translation of English books, at the detriment of the language of the empire.”

    The House was divided on the issue and the names being called for this were taken as follows. For: Messrs. Moore, Pyke, Mune , Munro and Young. Against : Messrs. Fortin, Ferriol , Roy, Turgeon, Taschereau , Cartier, Berthelot Bush Bedard and DeSalaberry .

    It is said that Mr. Ryland, Secretary to the Governor recently refused to accept the report of the Committee on hemp (Cannabis low THC) because it was in French. The Committee on hemp was composed of gentlemen whose language was French.

    • Tom Duhamel
      October 19, 2013

      I said 35 years because that’s my age. I wanted to write about the current situation, and how I see it now. I am aware of the war raging for as long as this land has been shared by two nations.

      Hemp was made illegal by law in 1937 in the USA, and in 1942 in Canada. That’s a bit more than 35 years, but I am aware it wasn’t very popular in the early years anyway.

      Thanks for your input, it was interesting. Hope you will stay around and share more of your opinions. 🙂

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This entry was posted on October 16, 2013 by in Culture, History, Opinion and tagged , , .
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