The real strength of French in Quebec

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The real strength of French in Quebec
Translated by Mathieu Gauthier-Pilote from:

"La force réelle du français au Québec", in Le Devoir, December 20, 2005

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

by Charles Castonguay, retired professor of mathematics at the University of Ottawa

Some 30 years after the adoption of bill 22 and bill 101, it is important to correctly assess the real incidence of those laws on the rapport de force between the French and English languages. How many people were francized on Quebec's territory before 1971? How many were anglicized? There is no easy answer to those questions because the census data does not let us know where and when a person who declares himself/herself francized or anglicized has shifted his/her mother tongue for French or English at home.

The Conseil de la langue française published, last year, a collection of reflexions (entitled Le français au Québec) which contains only a rough analysis of the language shifts among the immigrants. However, the Office de la langue française had already published during this Spring a study (Les indicateurs de vitalité des langues au Québec 1971-2001) in which an attentive follow-up of the whole data sets had me conclude that "there were more - a lot more" shifts in favour of English than in favour of French on the territory of Quebec between 1971 and 2001.

The research supplemented since the realization of my study for the Office enables me to quantify my conclusion more precisely. I summarize here my analysis which has just appeared in L'Annuaire du Québec 2006.

When one compares the balance of language shifts for Quebec in the 1971 census with that observed in 2001, it can seem at first sight that more new shifts were carried out in favour of French (110,000) than in favour of English (55,000). However, when doing only that we are truly comparing two snapshots, which in addition were taken by the means of two different instruments of observation. Let us bring in turn all the adjustments which are necessary to see things more clearly.

Compared to the results of the censuses conducted between 1971 and 1986, the questionnaire introduced in 1991 has, in an artificial way, reduced the number of anglicized francophones and inflated the share of French among the shifts declared by the allophones. In my study for the Office, I measured the incidence of this change. I showed just as the additional modifications made to the questionnaire in 2001 again inflated the francization of the allophones. I estimate that the whole of the modifications made to the instrument of observation caused approximately 50,000 cases of francization and 10,000 cases of anglicization. It is advisable to withdraw them to the apparent gains in favour of French and English since 1971.

In the same study, I could also confirm that at least half of the shifts in favour of French or English declared among the immigrant allophones took place abroad, before their arrival in Quebec. According to my estimates, it is thus necessary to also withdraw, of the apparent gains for French, at least 30,000 cases of francization which did not take place in Quebec and to do the same for some 10,000 shifts in favour of English.

Alone, these corrections for the effects of the questionnaire and shifts which took place abroad bring back the shifts which occurred on the territory of Quebec since 1971 to 30,000 for French and 35,000 for English.

There is more. In 1971, Quebec counted approximately 25,000 francized allophones, but 70,000 anglicized allophones. Over the 30 years in question, a significant number of these anglicized persons passed away. Since the gains of English did not cease growing, these anglicized persons were all replaced by new cases of anglicization which it is necessary to add to the balance for English since 1971. The number of shifts which it is advisable to add to the balance for French to compensate for mortality is definitely less.

Moreover, thousands of francophones and allophones anglicized on the territory of Quebec migrated to the rest of Canada since 1971. More precisely, the censuses of 1976 to 2001 counted, outside Quebec, approximately 41,000 anglicized francophones and 33,000 anglicized allophones who all resided in Quebec five years before. For my analysis in L'Annuaire du Québec 2006, I estimated that the interprovincial migration thus subtracted to the balance of shifts for Quebec in 2001 at least 10,000 francophones and 5,000 allophones who were anglicized in Quebec between 1971 and 2001. It is advisable to also add them to the shifts in favour of English realized in Quebec since 1971 and, correlatively, to withdraw the anglicized francophones of the balance of shifts in favour of French for 2001.

As a whole, these last two types of adjustment maintain the 30,000 gains in favour of French by way of new shifts which occurred on the territory of Quebec between 1971 and 2001, but provide for 75,000 corresponding gains in favour of English.

Obviously, the rapport de force between French and English in Quebec since 1971 are contrary to what an incomplete reading of the data can lead us to believe. It is regrettable that the Conseil initiated a reflexion on the linguistic policy of Quebec which does not present an overall picture of the recent shifts which truly took place on the territory of Quebec.


See also

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