The English Language in Quebec

Seminar Paper, 2001

17 Pages, Grade: 2 (B)



Canada and Quebec

A language battle: English vs. French
Language Laws
State Language Planning
Language Laws: 1763-1969
Bill 101, 1977
Language Laws: 1982-1993
Education system
The teaching of the English language

Finale: The U.S. Neighbor


Canada and Quebec

With ten million square kilometers Canada is the world's largest country. It consists of ten provinces and two territories, each having its own character due to the landscape and people who settled there. Just to name a few, there is the Prince Edward Island (P. E. I.), for instance, the smallest of all ten provinces. Farming is most important for the economy of the region, but fishing also helps. Attracted tourists can reach the sandy beaches by ferry to enjoy a quiet atmosphere.[1]

Or, there are three prairie provinces. At the end of the 19th century they were settled by immigrants of German, Scandinavian and Ukrainian origin. Saskatchewan is one of them. Lying in the center, it is home to the "Mounties," the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Canada is a country with two official languages, English and French. Every public service has to be offered in both languages, which is why sales people welcome their shoppers by saying "Hello / Bonjour," and which is why a third province needs mentioning here: Quebec, the largest of all Canadian provinces. It is very different from the rest because of a high French influence. Economically important for this region are hydroelectric power, logging, and manufacturing. Quebec's commercial center is formed by Montreal. It is not only the second largest French-speaking city in the world, it also offers a wide range of cultural activities. However, there is more to Quebec than these rather late developments.

Already 300 years ago the problem between the English and French originated. Reasons can be found in two facts. One, in 1608 the Frenchman Samuel de Champlain was the first to start a settlement in Quebec. Two, after the English and French colonies had grown and battles had begun, the Seven Years' War was fought in 1763. The French lost and had to give nearly all their territory to the British. That was the so-called Treaty of Paris. Thus, French power actually ended then. People have their own way of life, though. They simply kept the French language, their Roman Catholic faith, and a civil code that had its origins in French laws.

In the beginning of the 19th century, hundreds of British immigrants arrived in Quebec. For many French the future looked dark, so they moved to other parts in Canada or the United States at around 1845. About a century later, the province began to gain economic and political power – and in the 1960s its inhabitants were confident and national enough to change things by, for instance, no longer having the schools managed by the church, by expanding the provincial government, and by negotiating for more political power at the federal level. That was the time of the Quiet Revolution, resulting in a quick and peaceful change.

In 1976, the Parti Québecois rose to power. Its aim was to have the status of an independent country. This was emphasized with Bill 101, one of the first acts passed. It made French the only language in commerce, education and public life. Public signs had to be in French and new immigrants knew their children would be schooled in French or else they could not stay. New language laws like this, along with political uncertainty, caused many people to leave the province.

In May 1980, there was a vote on separation. Did the people want to be independent but still associated with Canada? 60 percent did not! They preferred to stay in Canada. Quebec is led by the Bloc Québecois today, a separatist party that is sure the province could stand alone since it is Canada's second largest province by population and one of its wealthiest, too. Canadians who are against separation are afraid other groups in Canada might break away if Quebec did.

A language battle: English vs. French


Although the subject to be covered deals with Quebec and the status of the English language there, a few remarks should be granted about the French influence in the province. What is somebody called whose first language is French? A "francophone."[2]

More than 400 million French-speaking people from 47 countries belong to the community La Francophonie. It was the intention of the first francophone groups to promote the French culture and language. Over the years, they included the aim of cooperation, which now has reached technical fields like agriculture, education, energy and environment. The size of the member countries varies: from the Seychelles, a small country, to the huge industrialized nation France. Both are divided on the grounds of different economic, political and social surroundings, but united by their aim to exchange culture and language.

Canada, of course, is involved for reasons of its French heritage. Its membership helps to string together the francophone community inside the country while promoting its French culture internationally. Manitoba, New Brunswick and Quebec are representing Canada since their provinces have the largest proportion of francophones.

5.7 million francophones live in Quebec, being well aware of the demographic and economic anglophone omnipresence. They strongly support language planning in Quebec aimed to make French the official language. This is only possible because here they hold a majority of 82%. By supporting a language plan like the one above, conflicts are provoked. Quebec anglophones despise this kind of language planning.

Surrounded by an Anglo-Canadian majority, it puts them in the position of a linguistic minority in Quebec.

Taking these different points of view into consideration, it seems impossible to present any aspect of the Quebec English or Quebec French situation without first discussing issues responsible for their relationship:

"Conflicts between these two linguistic communities over their respective collective survival and the debate pitting Québécois versus Canadian nationalism have not only affected every domain of Quebec society but also had an impact on the course of numerous academic disciplines dealing with language issues such as linguistics, sociolinguistics, psychology, and demography." (Bourhis 1993: 347)

Language Laws

State Language Planning

According to the Canadian constitution the government of Quebec is obliged to practice bilingualism, even though the English-speaking minority is constantly decreasing in numbers. In 1871, 20.4% of Quebec's population was British, but in 1961, only 10.78% were left. Nevertheless, the government has no intention whatsoever to change its attitude towards granting this decreasing minority the full recognition of its language. Opinions state that the knowledge of both languages should not be necessary but for reasons of advancement, e.g. promotion in positions that include responsibilities towards a public at the same time English- and French-speaking. Thus, both languages are, for instance, used in communications between municipal or school organisms and other governments or people who speak either French or English. [3]

Due to a number of reasons, mostly socioeconomic, language regulations are necessary and require as such active state language planning.

"Before state intervention, French was used in the lower echelons of economic life, while English was used in the upper echelons, and so bilingualism was experienced differently depending if one was French- or English-speaking." (Coulombe 1995: 94)

Furthermore, even with a French-speaking majority, English was believed to be the language of prestige in Quebec. Obviously, everything important was not only dealt with in English, but in a study that compared English- and French-speakers of equal education and job status, both parties also considered English-speakers as being "more intelligent, having a better job and a higher education." (Coulombe 1995: 95) Some people even thought capital spoke English and labour French. Certainly, linguistic identity and self-esteem were to suffer, thus motivating a corresponding state intervention whose main aim was to protect the French language.

Trouble for the French language among others lies in the correlation between increasing urbanization and higher rates of assimilation, as well as in exogamous marriages. In the latter case it is more likely that the francophone has to switch to English because his / her spouse is anglophone unilingual. This may result in their children not learning French, which some people may consider as being bad, especially since from the situation of the French outside Quebec can be concluded that they face linguistic and cultural extinction almost everywhere, again justifying more extensive language planning. In the following a sample of language laws from 1774 to 1993 may illustrate what is meant.


[1] see: Rae-Brown 1994: 8-9, 62, 70-71.

[2] see: Bourhis 1993: 346-347 & see: Erfurt 1996: 94 & see: Rae-Brown 1994: 29.

[3] see: Conseil de la vie française 1964: 59, 77 & see: Coulombe 1995: 94-97 & see: Hoerkens 1998: 282.

Excerpt out of 17 pages


The English Language in Quebec
Dresden Technical University  (Anglistics/ American Studies)
Seminar: Varieties of Canadian English
2 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
458 KB
Quebec, English
Quote paper
Silke-Katrin Kunze (Author), 2001, The English Language in Quebec, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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