The Charter of the French Language, revisited
A recent Journal de Montréal report has reignited the evergreen debate about the use of English in Quebec’s businesses. Even more than that, it has reignited the flood of articles crying shame upon those whose primary language isn’t French, and has even initiated talks in the provincial parliament to bring reforms to the controversial Bill 101.
This report, aimed at exposing how prevalent English is in the city’s establishments, stated that one out of every two businesses don’t greet customers in French, and some even have workers who are unable to speak it. This conclusion, of course, fails to note that the downtown area’s high concentration of immigrants, tourists, and international students have heavily skewed their results.
Don’t get me wrong — contrary to many who attend anglophone universities, I don’t disagree with the concept of imposing the teaching of French on those who grew up here. I’m not totally opposed to the idea of preserving a part of our culture that makes us stand out from the rest of the country. Learning French is incredibly useful, and I find myself lucky that I was raised in a country that promotes multilingualism in this way.
Further than that, I don’t think English should become an official language of our province. We have built a culture around our language, which still represents a core part of our heritage — and I’m saying this even though both my parents are immigrants. To me, Quebec wouldn’t be Quebec without the dominance of French.
This being said, the war between languages can still be quite problematic in some aspects. I’ve conveniently compiled some definitions of commonly used terms to help you navigate all the articles you may come across when reading up on this debate.
Also known as Charte de la langue française, this legislation asserts French as Quebec’s sole official language. Its articles outline specific rules, such as:
- the use of French on product labels, packaging, and instructions manuals (Article 51);
- the use of French on advertisements, public signs, coupons, receipts, and job application forms (Articles 57 and 58);
- the requirement of sending children to primarily francophone schools, with the exception of those who have at least one parent who is a Canadian citizen and who has received most of their education in English (Article 73).
Many articles of this bill have been challenged on grounds of xenophobia and racism. Not only has it been widely used to assimilate children from ethnic backgrounds and discourage them from speaking their parents’ mother tongue, some consider it to create a lot of division among newly arrived immigrants.
Office québécois de la langue française
Provincial organization that aims to enforce the use of French as the official language in Quebec. Over the past year, it has processed 3665 complaints relating to the observance of Bill 101, and whose inspectors ensure the proper punishment of offenders, such as a small bakery owner who used the word ‘espresso’ and a family restaurant named Kitchen 73, which contains an English word.
Greeting used by many service workers to ensure the representation of both languages in their workplace. Also the root of a continuous debate about the prioritization of French in businesses that has caused many to support making English greetings illegal in the province, a decision which was ruled out in favour of public awareness campaigns.
I hope these definitions will help as you scroll through the Journal’s home page and find yourself impressed with their pro-Charte rhetoric. Though important, Quebec nationalism isn’t as ideal as they make it out to be.
Graphic by Taylor Reddam