Language tendencies in Quebec 1960 until 2000

Is French going to remain the predominant language in Quebec, or are the first steps towards a replacement by English already done?

Seminar Paper, 2005

17 Pages, Grade: 2,0


This research paper wants to discuss the question, whether French is able to remain the predominant language in Canada´s province Quebec, or if there is a shift towards replacement by the English language.

Obviously, the number of the French speaking population in Quebec is a lot higher than the one that speaks English. Currently, about 9% of world´s Francophones are Canadians and of those, around 30% are Quebecers. French is the mother tongue of over 80% of the Quebecois population, and of only 13%, it is English (Gentsch 142). It seems as if the roles in Quebec are assigned.

But English is the world language and is spoken in the rest of Canada as well as by 280 million inhabitants of its huge southern neighbor, the United States of America. Quebec is surrounded by English speaking countries. Will a small province like Quebec be able to preserve its culture and its language or is it going to be overswept by the wave of “anglicization“ after all?

Canadians are very proud of their culture and language. It is very important for foreigners, who visit Quebec, to speak French. In an newspaper article about a winter festival in Quebec, a German boy said about himself and his friends: „Wir alle können kein Französisch“ (Tourisme du Quebec) and therefore implicated that it is not possible to manage a visit in the Canadian province without knowing any French. But Quebec is not an only-French speaking province, is it? In almost all parts of the world, tourists, who visit other countries, are able to correspond in English there. In Quebec, although about 11% of all inhabitants are Anglophones, people prefer leading a conversation in French. They are proud of their culture and their language and therefore, they are looking down on everything that could endanger it. Quebecois are very much afraid of English replacing their beloved French language.

The key component of Quebec´s national culture is their French language.

René Lévesque, leader of the Parti Québécois from 1976 until 1981, explained this in 1968: „Being ourselves is essentially a matter of developing and keeping a personality that has survived for three and a half centuries. At the core of this personality is the fact that we speak French.“ (Gentsch 160). This is very interesting, because Quebecers identify themselves by their language and not by their country.

This is comparable to a German man, who identifies himself by being able to speak

German, rather than a person who lives in Germany. One reason for this might be the fact that not everyone in Quebec speaks French and therefore, Quebecois cannot identify themselves with the province so much.

Quebecois believe that the French language is worth to be preserved. “It´s natural that a people should preserve its language. Nowhere in history do we find the case of a group that voluntarily gave up its language.“ (Handler 167). Furthermore, they think that “our part of the world is French and should stay that way, just as other places have their own customs and languages. It´s a matter of pride.“ (Handler 167).

Lésage, a Quebecois polititian, once described the attitute of the Quebecers towards their cultural distinctiveness pretty well: “Of all the languages currently spoken in the world, the French language is the one that fits us best because of our own characteristics and mentality. We could no longer be French Canadian if we spoke another language because then we would adopt means of expression produced in a foreign culture.“ (Handler 161). This might sound quite radical to you. Quebecois, who feel that way, call themselves puritists. They are devoted to secure linguistic “purism“ in French Canada and furthermore want to prevent the “pollution of French by anglicization“, to stop the evolution of the so called “franglais“, a mixture between French and English (Handler 162).

Quebec always had to define itself “by comparison and opposition“ to both its English language surroundings and to the French language norm in France (Handler 163). Quebecois always felt the need to distinguish themselves from the masses: but if the language they speak is the one of France, where can the distinctiveness of the Quebecois be found? And if it is not the French of France, what is it then?

Young people in the 1970s tried to find an answer to that question by “inventing“ a language mixture between English and French to emphasize their distinctiveness. ‘Joual‘, as it was called, meant the “degenerated language of Quebec“, made famous by the book “Les insolences du Frère Untel“. Frère Untel (“Brother Anonymous“) explained, why the term joual was well chosen: “There is a suitable relation between the thing and the noun which designates it. The word is odious and the thing is odious. The word Joual is a kind of condensed description of what it is to speak Joual: to speak Joual is precisely to say joual instead of cheval [horse]. It is to talk as one can suppose horses would talk if they hadn´t already opted for silence.“ (Handler 163).

The language developed through the influence of English in Quebec, and was said to be used only among “primitives“. But soon, also intellectuals, writers and musicians started to communicate and write in joual and thus, it became more and more popular and well liked. The confidence of the joual speakers grew with every “member“ that joined them. “We realized that we were no stupider and no less capable than other peoples“ (Handler 164).

In the 1980s, the vogue of joual faded. At that time, many people agreed that “Joual is reabsorbed, like cancer is healed“ (Handler 164). Not only singers sang in better French, also writers again started to use grammatically correct words and phrases. It seemed that people were “content with having reacted at one time to prove their identity“ (Handler 164) by speaking a language that noone else was able to speak in the world. Joual was only comprehensible among themselves, so they were sort of “cut off from the rest“ of the world (Handler 168). Joual was important because of the demarcation that went with it. It would still be spoken today, if Quebecois did not have felt the need to “cure“ their language.

After the event, people often discussed what joual had really been at all. One group advocated the opinion that joual had been a “variety of French spoken in Quebec“ (Handler 165) and that the difference between joual and the French language spoken in France was the bad pronunciation of joual. Furthermore they mentioned the using of anglicisms, English words and swearing to be an important characteristic of it. And the use of the English syntax, called “québecismes“, plus words and expressions peculiar to Quebecois French, were typical signs of joual.

Another group said that joual was not a dialect spoken by all Quebecers, but by the working class of Montreal. This meant, by people with no education, who did not worry about their French. They explained that those people were victims of the economic and cultural colonization and of a work and mass media, which is dominated by English (Handler 165). “Take a trip through the rest of Quebec and listen to the people talk … You´ll see that it´s completely different from the language of Montreal. I have listened to these people and in some places they speak a very beautiful language, French in its extra ordinary words and images. These people do not speak joual at all.“ (Handler 165).

Nevertheless both groups had something in common: they explained joual as a degradation of language (Handler 166). And they also both stated that joual was never more than one of the Quebecois dialects, not the language in Quebec.

The official language in Quebec is French, as the Official Language Act of 1974 (Bill 22) and the Charter of the French Language of 1977, also called Bill 101, define it. “Every person has a right to participate in all domains of social life in Quebec in French“, as the Fundamental Language Rights, Article 2 to 6 of the Bill 101 states it (Handler 172).

There have been three important bills in the recent history of Quebec, which tried to promote the French language in the province. The first one was Bill 63, inacted in 1969, the second one was Bill 22 in 1974, and the third one was the Charter of the French Language, Bill 101 in 1977. All three are “policies designed to stabilize a standard-language norm and to develope new lexicons“ (Handler 170).

Their purpose was to promote standardized and “correct“ usage of French. Then, since the 1970s, the status of the French language in Quebec was tried to be improved, to “make it the dominant and preferred language of business, government, and education (Handler 170).

The progress from Bill 63, over Bill 22, to Bill 101, refle]cts the nationalist ideology that constantly rose, starting in the 1960s. The Bill 63 of 1969 calls for French as “the working language in public and private undertakings in Quebec“ (Handler 170), whereas the in 1974 enacted Bill 22 demands that “domains of Quebec society should be `frenchified´, but without serious sanctions for citizens and companies“ (Handler 170). An “overall strategy for frenchification and sanctions to enforce compliance“ is claimed by the Bill 101 of 1977 (Handler 170). The language laws became more and more strict to establish a homogene nation that shares the common characteristic of speaking French.


Excerpt out of 17 pages


Language tendencies in Quebec 1960 until 2000
Is French going to remain the predominant language in Quebec, or are the first steps towards a replacement by English already done?
LMU Munich  (Amerikanistik Institut)
Canada Today
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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392 KB
Language, Quebec, Canada, Today
Quote paper
M.A. Susanne Schalch (Author), 2005, Language tendencies in Quebec 1960 until 2000, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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