Date: Tue, 11 Mar 1997 18:13:47 CST
From: mpicone MPICONE[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UA1VM.UA.EDU
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.
University of Alabama
MPICONE[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UA1VM.UA.EDU