Let’s pledge to take a vow of silence on a topic that has everyone’s tongues wagging, and has had them going for years.
Language debate in Quebec: it’s exhausting and never-ending, and with the recent kerfuffle over extending Bill 101 (or making it mandatory for certain students to study in French as opposed to English), we want to propose a stop to it.
The big justification for the draconian language laws in our province is that we’re here to protect French, Quebec’s official language. Fine; Quebec is a North American island of francophones in a sea of anglophones. It’s understandable that a government would want to enact protectionist laws in order to preserve the culture and heritage of the community, but we have to draw the line somewhere.
The French language is not in danger anymore; people still speak the language across the province and learn both languages, and even a third one, to be successful, productive members of society.
Let’s embrace the status quo over signs and schools and leave it at that; the debates over language take time away from other precious issues actually impacting our society. In the mean time, with the silence offered up by the new void, let’s address the other things we’re not talking about when we endlessly discuss language.
Instead of discussing how to get through loopholes, set up a school for English-speaking children who are new to the province to help them become accustomed to French, instead of throwing them into a new school in a different language.
Let’s not look into which private schools will get kids better instruction in languages, but how to make quality education available for all kids in the province, no matter if they’re paying $12,000 or $100 in school fees every year. More pressing issues are funding to update schools, get new books in kids’ hands and pay teachers higher salaries for the tough work they do. Most importantly, the government should be making sure that students are equipped to handle the rigours of post-secondary education.
With less focus on the debate, Montrealers from here or abroad could take a more positive approach to the French language. Instead of worrying about being judged for their language skills when applying for a job, they could focus on taking language classes, practicing with bilingual friends or brushing up on the lingo on their own.
While Bill 101 will likely never be extended to universities, let’s consider the CEGEP students who might be forced to attend schools based on language. Stop discussing how to further limit the choice and independence of kids who are of voting, drinking and smoking age: CEGEP students should be able to choose which language they can go to school in, as much as they can decide who to vote for and which brand of beer to buy, or not buy.
Of course, for all you linguist fans and polyglots out there, not all discourse on language is bad. We’re on the eve of a shiny new President’s Conference Series, the fourth in a series of lectures and panel discussions, and the theme this year is “The City is the World: Montreal Through the Eyes of Concordia,” one which will approach the language issue in several different ways. (We applaud the very ConU-centric theme, why shouldn’t everything be about us? It’s about time.)
The first big event of the session is “The Flow of Languages, the Grace of Cultures.” Concordia Ã©tudes franÃ§aises professor and translator Sherry Simon is giving a lecture with a focus on three of Montreal’s richest literary movements in the 1940s. It discusses literary creation in English, French and Yiddish, and shows that Montreal is a product of intertwining languages, not the two solitudes that are frequently imagined in our city.
Embrace bilingualism and remember to cherish your mother tongue. It’s the only way we’re going to live together peacefully. Let’s drop the topic and keep talking about other stuff.