Quebec language policies lack nuance, some experts say

Click to play video: 'Is French on the decline in Quebec?'
Is French on the decline in Quebec?
WATCH: The Quebec government has often referred to the decline of the French language when implementing some of its laws, like Bill 96. But a new study from the OQLF suggests use of the language is actually stable in some areas. Global's Franca Mignacca explains – Apr 5, 2024

Despite the Quebec government’s repeated claim the French language is in decline in Quebec, a recent study suggests otherwise when it comes to the public sphere.

The survey, published by the Office québécois de la langue française, suggests 79 per cent of Quebecers most often communicate in French when in public — almost exactly the same proportion that was calculated in 2016 and as far back as 2007.

The language watchdog’s study also found the number of people most often communicating in English when in public also decreased by 2 per cent since 2007.

“I think it just demonstrates what happens when decisions are made that are not based on facts, that are not based on studies,” said Quebec Community Groups Network President Eva Ludvig. “It’s a little bit of vindication, I think, for many of us.”

Ludvig points to the adoption of the government’s language law, Bill 96, as one of those decisions.

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Jean-Pierre Corbeil, an adjunct sociology professor at Université Laval, agrees.

“Coercive measures don’t work very well,” Corbeil explained.

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He says there is a need to protect the French language — and some indicators, like the percentage of people who can carry out a full conversation in French —point to that need.

But, he says, the province seems to be more focused on the number of people using English when at home, than it does on other key statistics.

“People are concerned and I think their concerns are legitimate, but this is why we need to focus on the right indicators and I think the current government is very very selective,” said Corbeil.

Corbeil suggests better promotion of Quebec’s cultural scene, as well as better communication with both the English-speaking and French-speaking communities, are more effective ways of preserving the language.

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“Not being able to speak French in Quebec is a hurtle, it’s a barrier to full citizen participation. We know that there is a significant underrepresentation of English-speaking Quebecers in the public service,” he said. “I think there’s a lot that needs to be done and recognizing that both communities have concerns, have specific views and certainly to establish a better dialogue.”

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‘An attack on the English language’: Demonstration held in protest of Quebec’s Bill 96

Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies, says it’s important to take a nuanced approach when discussing issues of language.

“It’s a point in time in which the OQLF is describing the situation of French in terms of its public use as ‘stable.’ Last month it described the situation of the French language as ‘worrisome,'” he said. “I think we have to understand these findings and the way in which they get communicated to the public as reflecting the political currents.”

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The Quebec government, for its part, sees the latest OQLF study as a sign of success, especially given the study also suggests 90 per cent of people communicate in French with provincial government services.

“The stability in the population’s use of French in the public sphere, and more particularly with Quebec government services, reflects the state’s commitment to use French, the only official and common language in Quebec,” Quebec French-language Minister Jean-François Roberge wrote in a statement.

“The results of this study suggest that, with policies favouring the use of French and the determination of all Quebecers, it is possible to stop and reverse the decline of the French language.”

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