Why do people from Quebec speak French?

Language dispute in Canada : How Québec defends itself against English

In mid-September, the “Québec Office for the French Language” announced that some English terms will no longer be taken so seriously in the future. In the largest Canadian province, the word “cocktails” no longer has to be accompanied by a Frenchized “cocquetel”, and snacks can offer “grilled cheese” - even without the somewhat clumsy translation “sandwich au fromage fondant”.

It is unlikely that the resolutions will improve the authority's reputation. The "Office québécois de la langue française" is one of the favorite enemies of the local English-speaking media and internet users. The office, which is part of Québec's Ministry of Culture, employs 230 people, including 20 linguists; the annual budget is the equivalent of 16 million euros. The aim is to protect the French language. But in Québec that also means defending you against English, which dominates everywhere else in officially bilingual Canada.

You don't have to look long for stories about the supposed “language police”, presented with indignation or malice. There is the business that received a letter from the authorities because a sign had not given the French “caterer” priority over the English “caterer”. There is the pastry chef who had to pay a fine because the French inscription in his shop window was overshadowed by so many other languages. And there is "Pastagate" - the bureau's infamous complaint about the word pasta on the menu of an Italian restaurant.

"Law 101" caused some companies to relocate to Toronto

Main location of the clashes: Montréal. Québec's urban center with its more than four million inhabitants was once founded by the French, but came under British rule in the second half of the 18th century. In the Victorian era, the city boomed, attracting migrants from Eastern Europe, Italy, and China, and developed into a predominantly English-speaking metropolis - in a region that is very fond of its French roots. With immigrants from rural Québec, the proportion of French speakers increased again, but English remained predominant and also the language of the establishment.

“My grandmother worked in a department store in the city center and had to speak English to colleagues who were Francophone like her,” says Benoît Melançon, 59, professor of French literature at the Université de Montréal. “Most of the signage back then was also in English. This explains why so much emphasis was placed on making French visible later on. ”Melançon has been dealing with the language issue in Québec for years. The decisive turning point, he explains, was the “Charter of the French Language”. It was passed in 1977, at a time when there was a strong movement in the province to secede from the rest of Canada (the separatists lost a vote on independence a short time later and then again, very narrowly, in 1995). The charter, also known as “Law 101”, defines French as the only official language of Québec - the basis not only for the enforcement of French-language signs. Over the years the law has been weakened following complaints, but it has remained essentially unchanged. As a result, the children of newcomers are taught in French, and immigration is made easier for those who come from a Francophone country. Consumers have the right to be served in French and employees must be able to communicate in French at work. Critics blame "101" for the fact that many important companies have now moved to Toronto, Ontario, where English is spoken.

Everywhere in Montréal, “Bonjour! Hello! ”Welcomed

Montréal used to be divided into three parts. In the more affluent west lived more Anglophones, in the east more Francophones and on the border, the Boulevard Saint-Laurent, the newly arrived migrants settled. Today the language borders run between the individual districts. Melançon lives in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, in the west. In the meantime, French dominates here. "The other day there was a street festival and lots of visitors from elsewhere," he says. "My sons said: We have never heard so much English here."

The traditional Anglophone Westmount begins just a few streets away and has been the scene of scandals involving the “language police” in recent years. Anyone entering the shops here will, like everywhere in and around Montréal, be greeted with “Bonjour! Hello! ”Welcomed. The decision as to which language the conversation will continue in somehow comes naturally. The employee in a running clothing store explains that she has not yet heard of any real problem with the speaker in the neighborhood and that most of the cases are hyped up in the media. On the business card of the shop, the French name “Coin des Coureurs” appears first, and below that, a little smaller: “Running room”.

After 40 years of language politics, French has solidified in Québec. “The younger generation is no longer afraid that their language will be drowned in a sea of ​​English speakers in North America,” says Benoît Melançon - which may also explain the legalization of “cocktails” and “grilled cheese”. The notion of a duel between two languages ​​is also out of date in the eyes of the scientist, because at home people in the melting pot of Montréal would speak Chinese, Spanish, Arabic or one of dozen other languages ​​at home today. "We have to move away from this defense against English and towards more advertising for French."

Québec is the American dream à la française

Maybe like with the “Francofolies”. During the festival every summer in Montréal, French-speaking musicians from all over the world take to the stage, and hundreds of thousands of people come to celebrate and sing along. Originally just an offshoot of the event of the same name in La Rochelle, the “Francofolies de Montréal” have long since overtaken the original.

The fact that Québec is tending to become even more French is currently mainly due to the French. In recent years they have been the largest immigrant group in the province after the Chinese. Some simply come here to study cheaply and then stay. Others want to leave their home country, which is struggling with high youth unemployment, an identity crisis and terrorist attacks. Québec is the American dream à la française. A particularly large number of French people have settled in "Le Plateau" in Montréal, without necessarily having to be Canadian citizens, a former working-class district with tree-lined streets and two- or three-story houses that now has many cafes and restaurants. Local residents say you can finally find decent bakeries and delicatessen shops here.

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