Date: Tue, 11 Mar 1997 18:13:47 CST


Subject: Quebec language & law

On Tue, 11 Mar 1997 18:12:51 -0500 (EST) Christopher Coolidge said:

Here's the big picture: the way Quebec's going, especially if it

separates from Canada, it's guaranteed to be little more than a

unilingual French backwater where those who have the money and power send

their kids to private bilingual schools and everybody else is effectively

imprisoned within Quebec's borders due to insufficient grasp of English.

The Quebec government isn't worried; even those members who don't speak

"perfect" English, have their kids in private schools so they can get a

job outside Quebec if they can't find one within its borders. Quebec has

been undergoing a massive brain drain since I was in high school in the

'70's. I can count maybe ten or so of my graduating class that I know are

still in Quebec somewhere; only one of those(she became a dentist)could

be considered successful. Those that I know are doing well are in the

States, Toronto, or Ottawa; anywhere but Montreal(or Quebec by

extension). The rest that are still in Montreal, most of them to my

knowledge are still living with their parents and/or working dead end


If I seem angry, it's not directed at the Quebecois people. I find

their dialect linguistically fascinating(and impossible to learn without

being laughed at or responded to in equally broken, or quite often, quite

good albeit accented English.), and the people, when I'm not frustrated

with their bullheadedness about language, are as openhearted and

passionately opinionated(not to mention obnoxious! :-))as Americans have

a reputation for being.(In fact, in some parts of rural Quebec, Johnny

Cash is considered very close to a God)Like Americans, the Quebecois tend

to speak their mind from the top of their heads, so they have an

international reputation for being course and boorish(like Americans!),

but that's the price you pay for brutal honesty, which they're very good at.

The other side of the coin is a Quebecois man is the best friend you

could have, and the women are among the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous(for

the most part!)I've seen anywhere. Among the most feisty too. Not many

shrinking violets in that province.

These are but generalisations, I realise, but otherwise I'd be writing

a book at this rate. I mean, I spent the better part of my life there...

I don't much care for Christopher Coolidge's shoot-from-the-hip,

stereotyped generalizations. Looking past all the bluster, the point

he raises that holds my interest is the critical choice that must be

made between linguistic/cultural identity and economic advancement.

How much of the one is worth how much of the other? Is it really

possible to have one's cake and eat it, too, via bilingualism

(or bidialectalism) and biculturalism? On the face of it, mass bilingualism

is great: culturally enriching, access to two worlds, not to mention of course

increased economic opportunities. But in practice, bilingualism is now

the step preceding language extinction in many, perhaps most, instances

where enclave languages persist. But who wants to be left in the economic

dust? The stakes are high either way and the solution is not simple.

I'm fairly certain that most Cajuns, if they had to choose between

retaining Cajun French and having decent jobs, would choose the latter.

In fact, for the most part, the Cajun community has already made that

choice. It didn't help, of course, that various state laws were enacted

at critical junctures that made it virtually impossible to find a middle

way. Apparently the Quebecois are willing to take some economic risks to

choose in favor of identity. Or they may not fully appreciate the risks.

Or Christopher Coolidge may be exaggerating. Probably all three.

At many levels, this connects with the whole Ebonics controversy

as well. I guess that's too obvious to need mention.

Mike Picone

University of Alabama