Quebec's language planning policy: Israeli perspective

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This is an unofficial English translation of "L’aménagement linguistique au Québec : regard d'un Israélien", 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.

By Bernard Spolsky, professor emeritus of English at the Bar-Ilan University and distinguished member of the National Center of Foreign Languages in Washington.

Recently, one of Israel's two English-language daily newspapers, the Jerusalem Post, published in its weekly magazine an in-depth article on the perceived threat that represents, for Hebrew, "one of the noblest achievements of Zionism", the increasingly manifest penetration of English in the sociolinguistic organization of the country. The article brought the attention on the increasing demand regarding the teaching of English: more and more parents in all social layers indeed register their preschool children to private English courses who are expensive and ask for the teaching of this language as of the first school year (Spolsky et Shohamy, 2001). The Israelies strew their speech with English words. English signs are omnipresent. English has invaded universities: even if practically all university courses up to the highest levels are given in Hebrew, most of the manuals of the more advanced levels are in English, as are most publications (and conferences) by university researchers. As, in general, high-tech businesses maintain strong ties with clients and collaborators abroad, English tends to become the language of this field. The presence, and the menace, of English are felt more and more.

In a case where a language like Hebrew, to which one grants a great value at the ideological level, seems threatened from the outside, it is not astonishing that the linguists and personalities under the spotlight are numerous to think of Bill 101 and the methods that Quebec applied in the past twenty-five years to reverse the trend towards English. Periodically, Israeli politicians present bills to proclaim Hebrew the sole official language of the country. Presently, Hebrew shares this title with Arabic only, because a measure was taken soon after the foundation of the State, in 1948, to modify the British policy, which imposed three languages, and gave up English. The last attempt at giving a judicial protection to Hebrew goes back to December 2000: two bills were then rejected. ...