The OQLF – Still Ridiculous After All These Years

The OQLF is a joke.

There is simply no threat to the stability and sanctity of the French language in Montréal, Québec or Canada, nor is there any doubt whatsoever of the predominance of the French language in the public sphere of Montréal. English has been chiseled off the façades of our heritage buildings, bilingual signs covered up and monolingual ‘À Vendre’ and ‘À Louer’ signs are now far too predominant on our city streets.

It’s quite frankly a crime, a deceit of profound public irresponsibility, to campaign and dictate social policy based on the fabricated notion not only that the language of the majority of Québecois and Montréalais would be threatened with extinction, to the point of cultural genocide, but further that a small minority of English speakers are somehow holding Québec back from it’s place in the sun.

There are at present some seven million speakers of Canadian French, representing about 22% of the national population (it should be noted as well, somewhat astoundingly, that there are several small pockets of those proficient in our variety of French in the Northeastern United States), of which roughly 6.2 million speak the Québec variety as mother tongue. How many more have at least basic knowledge of conversational French, or who understand it perfectly while being unable to speak it (for whatever reason) likely puts the total number of people familiar with the language and it’s socio-cultural implications far higher.

There are at present some 661,000 Anglo-Québecois, with about one million calling it their first official language, out of a total population of eight million Québécois. Roughly 40% of the Québec population is bilingual to one degree or another in both Official Languages, while 53% of Québécois are monolingual Francophones.

The largest the Anglophone population ever got in this province was just under 800,000 people, in 1971, when they represented 13% of the population. Today the Anglo-Québécois community represents about 8% of the Québec population. It has been growing, modestly, since 2001, after an equally steady thirty-year decline immediately prior to that.

Political instability in Québec since 1970 has resulted in a net out-migration of 400,000 people, of which 285,000 compose the Anglo-Québécois Diaspora.

In Québec, Bill 101 has so far mandated that all immigrant students be educated in French regardless of mother tongue or at-home language proficiency. All businesses with more than fifty employees must conduct all official business in French. Government services are to be first and foremost in French, though with limited English services for communities where the Anglophone minority is prevalent. And all this to guarantee the supremacy of the French language in Québec.

It worked. There is simply no question French has been guaranteed forevermore in Québec. The Anglophone community is no threat – they’re no longer in control of everything and sitting on all the money. In fact the most successful among us split some time ago, taking their money with them.

There’s no question whatsoever that Québec is a French province, a robust and still far-too homogeneous nation of Francophones on the not-entirely Anglophone and increasingly inter-cultural North American continent. I’m glad it worked – I’ve benefitted from it personally. I am the product of cultural integration, bilingual by choice, mixed by birth. I know why Bill 101 was important, why it’s still relevant, and how it has positively impacted parts of Québec society.

But the party that was never supposed to be more than a movement to secure constitutional talks with the federal government (another success for Lévesque – he helped push repatriation and the Charter more than any other premier, even if he didn’t sign it, he succeeded in making Canada more sovereign – federalists owe him that much) has fallen on bludgeoning an already dead horse. A non-issue conjured to life like a modern-day Golem to scare the Anglophones out of Québec (again).

Now the PQ says Bill 101 needs to be strengthened. It needs teeth. At a time when we have to cut healthcare and education spending (resulting, as expected, in a raise in tuition despite all the campaigning to the contrary), it pushes for more OQLF inspectors (something the PLQ was planning on doing principally to mollify the soft-nationalist vote) and sets them lose amongst the small-business classes, a challenge to civic harmony if i ever dared imagine one, and hopelessly inept at containing bad PR as witnessed recently by the appropriately named pastagate – the suffix ‘gate’ so overused and meaningless it now appears to be entirely fitting when covering anything to do with the over-zealous law school drop-outs and philosophy minors who constitute the rank and file of the tongue troopers.

It’s a kind of political theatre. The appearance of actually doing something to fix a problem that doesn’t actually exist.

If Québec French was actually threatened with disappearance ‘within a generation’, as the PQ and other linguistic-supremacists sometimes imply, UNESCO would have a local office working round the clock to create a full record of the language and would have provided funds for local French-language schools. If that seems ridiculous I’m glad – it is. Such a thing would happen if there were fewer than 10,000 local speakers. Canadian French is a growing language that ranks roughly among languages such as Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Xhosa, and Haitian Creole in terms of number of native speakers. These languages, much like Canadian French, can sustain themselves, and are not about to disappear.

The video above is from 1998 and features commentary by the incomparable Mordecai Richler. Richler first brought the world’s attention to our idiotic and obviously punitive linguistic laws back in the 1980s and 1990s in some articles he had written for the New Yorker, irking the separatists to the point where he is typically today lambasted as ‘anti-Québécois’ in the same manner that he might have accused some elements of the separatist elites of being anti-Semites.

It never ceases to amaze me how the mere mention of his name in certain circles will produce a torrent of denouncement from people who, by their own admission, have never read any of his books and thus for that matter can’t give you any examples of the apparently rampant ‘Québec bashing’ strewn throughout his prose.

As a fan of Richler’s, I haven’t found it either.

In any event – just a few thoughts on a festering, oozing sore. Enjoy the video, it seems clear to me Morley Safer found the whole thing rather amusing, least of all because of Louise Beaudoin’s near-hysterical defence of Bill 101’s excesses (such as the language cops). It’s quaint seeing how a recently neutered PQ government, such as it was in 1998, returned to using the OQLF to give itself the appearance of legitimacy. Fifteen years later and we’re in just about the same situation.

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Final thoughts – why doesn’t the OQLF do anything to support Francophone communities elsewhere in Canada? Why do they send language inspectors after small-business owners and restauranteurs when, by virtue of their own protocols and operating principles, they refrain from adopting a standardization of the French language in Québec? Curiously, I suspect the answer is in fact that they want Québec French to be as mutually intelligible and malleable as possible, and thus refraining from standardization will facilitate integration with French-speaking immigrants. Ergo, linguistic integration, but only as long as you don’t speak any English.

Anyways, I have to cut this short. Presentement, je prend un cours de français et je dois terminer mes devoirs. Cet semaine je re-lis ‘Les Aurores Montréales’ de Monique Proulx, un livre assez impréssionante comme collage de petits vignettes des vies de divers Montréalais dans les années 90. Un analyze socio-culturelle assez profond – un livre clé pour comprendre la société et l’histoire récent de Montréal.

3 thoughts on “The OQLF – Still Ridiculous After All These Years”

  1. Glad to see you sympathize with the plight of people in Africa, Mr. Naimard. However, you seem to have no clue as to what’s happening in Canada.

  2. The OQLF does nothing for francophones in the rest of Canada for the same reason Quebecers never discuss them: the movement was never about strengthening the French language, it was about gaining control in Quebec. Accepting that there are francophones elsewhere would force them to acknowledge the reality that they have acted like assholes toward Anglos and immigrants for the past two generations

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