|Montreal, June 8, 2002 / No 105|
by Harry Valentine
The preservation of the French language and culture has been a central focus of Quebec politics for several decades. At various times the cause of linguistic and cultural preservation has been championed by Quebec's independence movement, as well as by pro-federalist forces in the province. The federal government initiated programs such as the Official Languages Act and the hiring of bilingual staff, in recognition of Canada's cultural heritage.
It was believed that state-enforced compulsory use of a language was the only way to prevent the annihilation of the French language and culture by Anglophone assimilation. This almost happened in the French district of New Orleans, USA. However, non-coercive efforts have been initiated to revive use the French language in that area.
to the rescue of the French language
The information revolution and the telecommunications technology that is an integral part of that revolution offer new opportunities whereby independent, non-coercive action may be undertaken in the interest of preserving and promoting the French language and culture. This could be achieved by private groups, peacefully operating outside of the scope of government. The development of fiber-optic based telecommunications and the advances which have occurred in that technology can assist greatly to such an end. There is now an oversupply of fiber-optic infrastructure and information transmission capacity in several parts of the world.
When the first trans-oceanic fiber-optic lines were introduced across the North Atlantic, each fiber strand could carry 35 simultaneous messages without interference. At the present day, the technology enables a single strand of fiber to carry nearly 150,000,000 simultaneous messages without interference. The introduction of a newer fiber line across the North Atlantic enables faster information transmission of more information that the original line.
There is now more than enough capacity to transmit all of the French language television and radio programming originating in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland across the ocean, for the interest of people living in Canada and the USA who speak French, or who are willing to learn to do so. A fiber-optic links already exists between Montreal and Paris, with additional links to Geneva, Brussels and Luxembourg. If all the French language television programming originating from Europe were transmitted by the fiber-optic system to Montreal, it would require less than 1/100th of 1% of the total trans-Atlantic fiber-optic line transmission capacity.
With the potential of over 500 television channels becoming available in the future, television service for French Canadians could offer them the option of dozens of French language channels. The oversupply of fiber-optic capacity enables such service to become available anywhere where a large French speaking community has access to fiber-optic or cable telecommunications services. This could be in the province of Quebec, the Acadian region of Atlantic Canada, parts of Ontario and Manitoba or even New Orleans, USA. Private business initiative could make this programming available to a North American audience, paying for it by replacing the European commercials with domestic commercials.
Voluntary decisions instead of coercition
Recently, private efforts originating in New Orleans resulted in French speaking teachers from Canada being hired to teach the French language to the children. They are the descendants of the original French settlers and they are being introduced to the language of their for-fathers. In Alberta, children are being voluntarily enrolled in French immersion school programs by their parents. Freedom of choice in learning a second language like French may achieve more to ensure the long-term preservation of the language than any authoritarian state-enforced compulsory language programs. The preservation of the French language and culture would then depend on the voluntary decisions undertaken by millions of people. The potential availability of additional French language television programming from Europe could do more to preserve the French language and the French culture, in Quebec and outside, than any government enforced compulsory language program.
In parts of Quebec and Ontario, parents from unilingual francophone families have allowed their children to watch educational English language children's television programs. This enabled them to acquire a second language and become bilingual. As these children grew up, they and their parents began to recognize the advantage of being fluently bilingual. Children's programming can introduce young children to the rudiments of the French language in a similar manner as the Sesame Street program that introduced the English language to children from non-English speaking families. Large numbers of francophone children gained their only introduction to the English language this way, courtesy of Bert & Ernie.
Many of the French language children's educational programs from Europe have the potential of achieving the same result for children from English speaking homes. There is great interest by people living outside Quebec to enable their children to learn French as their second language. The growing home-schooling movement across the USA, where over 1,000,000 children are being home schooled, are among this group. Some Americans still remember that it was the French who helped them fight the British during the American Revolution and achieve independence. As a result, Americans have developed a special affection for the French culture.
Quebec attracts large numbers of American tourists and investors. The volume of trade between Quebec and the USA exceeds the volume of trade between Quebec and any other Canadian province. The evolution of the dynamic information sector in Quebec's economy can ultimately be traced to developments which began in the USA, a sector that now employs tens of thousands of mainly university-educated Quebeckers. It is in the nature of most of their jobs and the entrepreneurial endeavors in which they are engaged to think creatively and independently. They then have to make important intellectual, business and moral decisions. Some of their sector's technological achievements in the telecommunications and information fields have now make it possible to preserve the French language in Quebec by private, non-coercive means. The only obstacle likely to hinder or delay the widespread availability of European French language television in Quebec and in Canada would be the outdated and outmoded telecommunications regulations enforced by the federal government, through the CRTC.
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