Montréal, le 4 juillet 1998
Numéro 15
(page 6) 
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            Vos commentaires           
 by Ralph Maddocks
          In reply to the question « Do those opposed to Bill 101 have a right to export the debate to our neighbors, the Americans? » (cf. Sondage QL, no 11), most readers seemed to think not. One reader even mentioning that he had heard little about minority language rights in the US. 
           Why do the 70% who feel that language laws are an internal Quebec matter, feel this way? Does it conceal some form of personal embarrassment? Do they feel that Quebec is not quite as democratic as they would like others to believe? Would they similarly object if the debate were exported to our other trading partners?  
          Saint Lucien in his recent pastoral visit to four US cities told his audiences that although Montreal was a French city, its people were bilingual; that bilingual signs and logos were allowed; that people's children could be educated in English if they wished; that education is free; that they can receive services in English etc. etc. ad nauseam. He didn't explain that you can send your children to a private school only if it receives no government funding. He didn't explain that commercial signs in languages other than French had to meet certain size ratios, he didn't explain fully that attendance in English schools was quite restricted; as those imprudent enough to believe him will discover should they ever come here. He didn't explain that medical services are not available in English in many places, even in places which may have a sizeable English-speaking population. He tried to obfuscate the issue of software language. He spoke of the language laws as being necessary to protect the French language, not to discourage the spread of English. He mustn't have seen the promotional video shown to potential investors by a Montreal agency which proclaimed that « Education, in both English and French, is accessible to all. » 
          He also opined that Canada is « a great country, a great democracy. » Perhaps, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, he had a revelation on the road to Chicago. I seem to recall that he once held the view, not all that long ago, that Canada wasn't a country at all. 
An emotional and divisive issue 
          Language is an emotional and divisive issue, as anyone living here soon learns. However, a language is a living, evolving affair. A fact which the language purists of this province forget and the politicians presumably never knew. There is such an outpouring of emotion about the use of so-called anglicisms. Yet, in France, if one listens to a radio or TV broadcast one may hear uttered many dreaded English words. It seems that our purists have forgotten the origins and influence of this language which they protect so ardently. 
          French being a member of the Romance group of languages stems from Latin and displays many resemblances to Spanish and Italian. Yet it is related distantly to the Indo-European tongues such as Hindustani, German or Welsh. English belongs to the Germanic branch of Indo-European, but the Anglo-Saxon backbone once was much closer to the Low German of the Dutch and North Sea coastal areas. As a result of the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066, the language acquired an extensive body of French and Latin words and grammatical forms. Yet I do not recall reading of an Office for the Protection of Anglo Saxon Language. 
          Classical Latin itself emerged around 100 B.C. and held sway for about three hundred years, not a long time in historical terms. Of course it lived on for several hundred years beyond that, but in a different form; and from it evolved the Romance languages. Around the ninth century the Old French language came into full flower and by the eleventh century was producing epic literature such as the Chanson de Roland which contained lines such as « Dist Oliviers: Paien ont grant esforz; De noz Franceis mei semblet aveir poi. » (« Said Oliver: The pagans have great numbers; Of our Frenchmen it seems to me there are few. ») Evolution continued, and by the fifteenth century Villon could write « Povreté tous nous suyt et trace; Sur les tombeaulx de mes ancestres, » (« Poverty follows and tracks all of us; Upon the graves of my ancestors, ») Although phonologically, French has changed little since Villon, vowel sounds such as pâte and patte are tending to merge as are nasal sounds such as vin and un. Further evolution along these lines and French could well differ from the elegant language of La Fontaine as does Charlemagne's Oaths of Strasbourg from Virgil's Aeneid. 
          To answer the reader's question. California has just passed a dubious proposition banning bilingual education in its schools. The grounds cited for this are that immigrants should learn the English language as quickly as possible in order to participate fully in Californian society. It is the kind of argument one has heard before; much closer to home. 
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