Bouchard-Taylor Commission - The linguistic analysis is misleading

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Bouchard-Taylor Commission - The linguistic analysis is misleading
December 4, 2007

Unofficial translation of Commission Bouchard-Taylor - L'analyse linguistique est trompeuse by Charles Castonguay in Le Devoir, December 4, 2007

By Charles Castonguay,
retired professor of Mathematics, University of Ottawa

The uncertain integration of immigrants to the francophone majority is evaded

One sometimes too quickly points the finger at those who are concerned with the francization of immigrants. Messrs Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor chose to widen the path: in the consultation document that they proposed us, they mentioned the persistent feeling of brittleness of a founding people, anxious over the conservation of their heritage, and which continues to nourish a certain concern over their future. They ask themselves — and ask us — to what extent this fear for the collective cohesion of Quebec society and the cultural and linguistic survival of the French-speaking majority is founded.

The commissioners were right to raise this question. If the linguistic assimilation of the allophones followed the demographic weight of French and English in Quebec, the future of its French-speaking majority would be assured. For each allophone who would make of English his/her new language of use at home, nine would choose French. And the majority would welcome immigration with confidence and eagerness.

However, the power of attraction of French is not there. It is perhaps the principal reason for the unrest at the origin of this commission. Alas! as soon as the question was asked, the commissioners dodged the problem raised by the uncertain integration of the immigrants to the French-speaking majority. They present, on the contrary, a portrait of francization which to me appears as jovialist as were other assessments drawned up since 1995.

A well-founded concern?

Their consultation document does not contain any data attesting the cogency of the current concern regarding the insufficient integration of new immigrants as part of the French-speaking majority. This problem is dealt with as if it existed only in the collective imaginary of the majority, which it would suffice to simply cure. They devote but one paragraph to the analysis of francization, where they limit themselves to showing reassuring statistics on the knowledge of French. The commissioners then insist "on the fact that important francization indicators are on the rise and that the Quebec francophony shows great vitality".

For the analysis of such a fundamental question, it is quite thin, if not misleading. What are these important indicators on the rise? No study of the Office nor of the Conseil de la langue française reveals any recent progression of French as a language of work. Rather, the 2001 census shows us that, among newcomers, the allophones who work in English in Quebec are as numerous as those who work in French. And that on the island of Montreal, similar equality between English and French applies to the whole of the working allophone population.

No study shows any significant rise of the share of French in the choice of a new language of use at home among the allophones who arrived in Quebec since 1976. In fact, since 1978, the selection of a part of the immigrants according to a preliminary knowledge of French proves to be the principal factor having played to the advantage of French. Because at least half of the linguistic assimilation observed among the new allophones was achieved before their arrival in Quebec.

If one takes into consideration this factor with others, one is led to conclude that with regard to the cases of adoption of a new language of use at home which took place on Quebec territory, there were many more cases of anglicisation than of francization since 1971. Approximately, 75,000 cases of anglicisation in Quebec between 1971 and 2001, against 30,000 cases of francization.

Nothing reassuring

The main determinants of the future of French in Quebec, which are the linguistic behaviours at work and at home, are therefore hardly reassuring. By comparison, the census statistics on the knowledge of the languages to which the commissioners refer provide a less reliable indication of the linguistic future. To know French does not mean that one uses it as a main language.

Besides, we very well aware that the majority of our anglophone and allophones fellow-citizens know French now. Bill 101 ensures a good command of French to the immigrants who arrive in Quebec at the school or pre-school age. A considerable number of adult immigrants also have a command of French as of their arrival. Quebec selected them precisely for this reason.

However, the learning of French among those who are unaware of this language at their arrival still constitutes a problem. According to a recent study by Statistics Canada, four years after their arrival, two thirds of them still do not know French very well. The censuses offer equivalent information to us. Half of the adult immigrants who arrive in Montreal without knowing French never learn it well enough to sustain a conversation. It is unacceptable, but the document of the commissioners does not say anything of it.

Their document shows other similar weaknesses. In its chapter on the demographic profile of Quebec, it states that the Quebecers whose ethnic origin is other than French or British represented more than 22% of the population in 1991. However the percentage for this census year was actually 15%. The document adds that the current proportion would be 25%. This is delirious. If that were true, the majority of the population of the island of Montreal would have been of an origin other than French or British a long time ago.

Weak comparison

This inflation of the population whose origin is other than French or British is accompanied at once by reassuring remarks on the stability of the proportion of Quebecers of French mother tongue. To show it, the document compares the weight of the French-speaking population for the census of 1986 with that of 2001. However, Statistics Canada informed us that the major changes brought to the questionnaire in 1991 rendered very complex the task of comparing the data of 1991 on mother tongue with that of 1986. In other words, it is better to compare only the data of 1991 and 2001, collected using an almost unchanged questionnaire. One then observes that the weight of the French-speaking people in Quebec fell of almost one point of percentage during the last ten years.

The analysis of the linguistic situation that the commissioners present us thus clearly leaves to be desired. Their way of treating the question appears to aim before all to send the message that it is not necessary for the French-speaking majority to worry, whatever the growth rate of the population whose origin is not French or English. The commissioners seem to have their idea made the subject. This would be a pity. Because without an objective and adequate report of the linguistic situation which currently prevails in Quebec, the commission is very likely to miss its goal.

It is the weakness of the consultation document in this matter which pushed me from the very start of the public hearings to suggest the commissioners to reveal, as they receive them, the studies which they ordered from experts to nourish their reflexion, in particular those bearing on the demographic profile of Quebec and the indicators of collective integration. Their fellow-citizens could then have also benefited from them or, if necessary, revealed the inaccuracies which they could contain. The commissioners preferred to keep these studies secret until the moment to present their final report. This remains regrettable.


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