Commentary, Opinion

New French language funding cannot be a tool of linguistic domination

Tension over the use of French and English is nothing new for the city of Montreal. Decades of disputes between self-appointed defendants of French and those who recognize language laws’ discriminatory nature have brewed a debate so polarized that middle ground seems like a fantasy. Plowing straight through this precarious political territory is French Language Minister Jean-Francois Roberge, who announced on Sept. 1 that Quebec will grant the City of Montreal 1.5 million CAD to improve various programs to promote the language amongst the city’s business community, new arrivals, and young people over the next three years. Balancing calls from the Mouvement Québec français for stricter legislation protecting the French language and human rights concerns from Quebec liberals, this funding, if allocated correctly, could be exactly what the city needs to pacify both sides of the debate. 

Quebec is famous for its distinct character from the rest of Canada. Quebecois culture has allowed Montreal to blossom into the hub for French-language companies and arts including theatre, radio, film, and multimedia. However, more and more anglophones have migrated to the city resulting in it having the highest English-language concentration in Quebec. Due to this, many believe that the French language is at risk of disappearance. With 80 per cent of Quebec’s population speaking French, it is unsurprising that non-French speakers would be attracted to the city where there is the most diversity in languages and the most access to opportunities and services. This makes the targeting of Montreal particularly controversial as some fear that promoting the French language will result in further marginalization of the non-French-speaking population who already face tough restrictions due to the recent passing of Bill 96. Such legislation erases Indigenous peoples and migrants by institutionalizing the assimilation of non-Francophone minority groups. Bill 96 does not offer a helping hand in learning French—it imposes language onto people and walks the fine line of prioritizing language rights over human rights by obstructing access to necessary services for anglophones and allophones. 

However, unlike previous French-language laws that have diminished opportunities for non-Francophones, this initiative is unimposing to English speakers. Instead, the investment aims to provide resources that will smooth the transition to Bill 96 for businesses and provide language programs for immigrants to decrease barriers surrounding employment and education. Speaking French opens up opportunities for higher-level jobs as well as increased chances for placement in French school systems. Having these kinds of support resources for refugees and immigrants could make entering a new city with such a distinct environment less daunting. This funding, though, must also support Indigenous anglophones, by working in tandem with Indigenous language funding initiatives.

Despite the promise of this new investment, the real question lies in whether the programs will allocate the funding according to plan or push for French language domination and further exclusion of non-Francophones.  It is one thing to be proud of a culture and hope that people will continue to celebrate it, but it is another to let the desire to uphold tradition restrict individuals from opportunities through a difficult language barrier. 

Even if all does not go as designed, this new funding will at least serve as a way to avoid more aggressive methods of promoting the French language. With the most recent census showing a slight decrease in the percentage of Canadians who speak French at home, the Mouvement Québec français is advocating more than ever for stricter legislation, claiming the new funding is not a strong enough action. If this funding can curb the intense demands for legislation and offer a more peaceful solution to promoting the French language without increasing monolinguistic oppression, it may just be what Quebec needs. 

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