The influence of Quebec's language planning policy abroad: Wales

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The influence of Quebec's language planning policy abroad: Wales
in Revue d'aménagement linguistique, 2002

This is an unofficial English translation of "L'influence de l'aménagement linguistique au Québec au-delà de ses fontières : Le Pays de Galles", an article found in a special issue of the OQLF's Revue d'aménagement linguistique published for the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Québec's Charter of the French language in 2002.

Colin H. Williams, professor and researcher at the Welsh Department of Cardiff University, in Great Britain.

Canada and Quebec took three decades to provide themselves with an infrastructure establishing linguistic rights at the federal and provincial levels and ensuring the arbitration of the disagreements between the two (Williams, 1998). Wales has known for only eight years the repercussions of the Welsh Language Act of 1993, which consecrated the equality of English and Welsh in the public sector. The country also adapts itself to the new reality of a bilingual national Parliament (established in May 1999), which intends to tackle on the issues of linguistic planning in a much more resolute manner than former governments. The influence exerted by the linguistic policy of Quebec on Wales is the result of a curious mixture of boundless admiration for the achievements in professional linguistic planning and a deliberate effort to avoid analyzing their detailed consequences on the sociolinguistic behaviour in Quebec. One could conclude from this that symbolism has more importance than practical knowledge to draw from. That is due mainly to the lack of maturity of linguistic planning in Wales and the reluctance of politicians and British senior civil servants to give up their pragmatic and reactive approach with regards to linguistic policy. When Quebec is used as an example, it is generally in comparative analysis adopted by Welsh academics and dissenting politicians rather than in the deliberations of the responsible government agencies (Williams, 1994). Nevertheless, following important reforms carried on over a decade, the Quebec experience will probably have more and more importance in the implementation of a more global Welsh linguistic planning.

For reasons easy to understand, many Welsh analysts feel an affinity with the French-speaking resistance in North America and particularly that of Quebec. The two communities underwent the obvious discrimination of the British State and felt the same feeling of running up against the hegemony of the English language. Both also inherited the traditions and the form of government of the British Commonwealth (Williams, 2000a). They are also concerned with social bilingualism, in particular in the field of education where Welsh specialists benefit from the applied research undertaken at Laval University in the 1960s on the teaching methods and the organization of bilingual school systems, research that still continues today (Baker, 1985, 1996). More precisely, the linguistic policies in Wales were defended by the nationalist intelligentsia which took as a starting point the the Quebec context, among others. Welsh newspapers and popular magazines carefully followed the discussions on linguistic planning and the first linguistic laws adopted by Quebec, especially starting at the end the 1970s. After 1976, the rise to power of the Parti Québécois was greeted in Wales as a very positive event worthy of emulation. The particular lessons followed in Wales which stem from the experience of Quebec touch the following grand stakes:

1. The acquisition of detailed census data and explanatory facts aiming at clarifying the public discussion

As Bourhis and Marshall (1999 : 261) sustain, the Official languages Act of Canada and the Charter of the French language of Quebec have in common a frequent concern of democratic States - the linguistic policies were adopted following scientific research and vast public consultations - which raises the legitimacy of the linguistic planning efforts. The government of Wales invested very little in data analysis of linguistic matters and our legislation is based on intense political pressures and parliamentary debates but on very few research specifically carried out in this field. The strategists of the linguistic policy neglected research a lot and do not have any study comparable to the excellent detailed analysis, often prepared under the auspices of the Office de la langue française, like those of Maurais (1987, 1988) and of Castonguay (1994). However, during its meeting of March 23, 2001, the Welsh Language Board committed to constituting a complete sociolinguistic database to support its strategy and the advices it gives to the government and the other organizations.

2. The linguistic legislation

The Welsh Language Act, 1993, is a unique British law of its kind. It imposes the equality of Welsh and English in the public sector in Wales. It also guarantees to the people of Welsh expression the absolute right to speak Welsh in front of the courts and creates the Welsh Language Board, which became one of the principal instruments of linguistic planning (WLB, 1999). The operation of the Office de la langue française and other organizations of linguistic planning was studied, as were the various linguistic laws adopted in Quebec (CLF, 1988; Maurais, 1992) in order to determine the practices best suited to consolidate the effectiveness of the Welsh Language Board established by the said Act. However, the Act of 1993 does not correct the legislation on employment to make it possible for employers to designate offices requiring the capacity to speak Welsh. The law does not impose any obligation on organizations outside the public sector and does not contain any statement giving to Welsh the status of official language. It should be stressed that, contrary to French in Quebec, Welsh is currently spoken by less than one fifth of the population. Thus, whereas the Charter of the French language (Bill 101, 1977) declares French the only official language of Quebec and sanctions the right of French-speaking people to communicate in French in their relationship with the administrative, health and social services of the province, as well as with semi-public agencies, trade unions and retail stores, the Welsh Language Act does not contain any provision of similar scale imposing the use of Welsh in the private sector. The detractors of the law see a great gap there, and pressure is increasingly sharp in favour of a new law obliging the voluntary organizations and the sector deprived to hold account of the rights of the workers and the customers. This requirement is based on the precedent of Bill 101, which established the right of French-speaking people to work in French. Francization programs were worked out to lead the companies more than cash fifty employees to adopt French as the language of work and to obtain a Francization certificate. The adaptation of such a project to the Welsh context would have major effects on the development of a bilingual economy; it seems however that small and medium-sized businesses would be more affected than the large ones by the legal obligation to recognize the rights of their employees express themselves in the language of their choice.

3. The iconography of the linguistic landscape

A major element of linguistic marketing consists in creating a favourable environment giving the priority to bilingual posting and to the role of semiology to influence the iconography of the linguistic landscape. Wales studied the experience of Quebec with regards to public and commercial signing in French. Once again, the detailed nuances and the projected consequences of the legislation were less interesting to us than the professional studies which arose from it, especially in what pertains to the monitoring of road signs and indication, the reaction of the private sector to commercial posting and the role played by bilingualism and translation to legitimize new forms of communication.

4. The progress in the teaching of the Welsh language

Just like in Quebec, the reform of education was one of the most important pillars of the revitalization of language in Wales (Jones and Ghuman, 1995; Williams, 2000b). For three decades, the program of bilingual schooling was limited to a minority serving a minority within a minority, and that limited obviously the visibility and the social relevance of bilingualism for the 80% of the population who did not speak Welsh. However, following the Education Reform Act of 1988, a national program of education as well as a national program of evaluation were established in Wales. These programs grant to Welsh the status of principal subject matter and recognize the bilingualism of Wales. The Gallo-Québécois relations are mainly centered on the effective teaching of the languages in a multicultural context and on methods of remote learning.

5. The representatives of the public sector

As French-speaking people could observe during the 1970s and 1980s, recognizing the rights of the individuals and groups to certain services are in vain, and their application remain uncertain if the language used at each point of contact is not really left as a choice to the citizen. The current people in charge for the Welsh policy are now very aware to the need of supervising such situations and they study the Quebec experience of francization of the public administration and the business world (Vaillancourt, 1985, 1996).


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See also