Bilingual versus monolingual? And it’s not Ireland!

Two articles from the National Post newspaper in Canada: one celebrating the nation’s dual French- and English-speaking character, the other condemning it. First to wade in, Professor Antonia Maioni:

“The meaning of Canada has changed since 1867, but a basic fact endures: The country was designed to allow the French language to survive, and to allow French Canadians to claim their own national character.

…Our country remains, de facto and de jure, a binational and bilingual entity, with all that this entails politically.

Take, for example, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was as much a political as a constitutional document. Politically, it attempted to counter the vision that only a sovereign Quebec could guarantee French language rights. The Charter asserted the federal role in the protection of language; under it, individual rights that were not necessarily territorially bound.

And yet, the Charter has done little to diminish the political imperative of the French fact in Canada. Indeed, it has consolidated the sense of the Quebec nation as a rampart for French language and culture.

Another effect of the Charter came from its attempt to reshape Canadian identity by promoting a pan-Canadian citizenship ideal that embraced multiculturalism.

In other words, what we have in Canada are two predominant cultural settings. Each is defined by its linguistic heritage and rooted in North American reality, yet each possesses a distinct national character.

The multicultural experience is real, but it is rooted in the prior existence of two distinct cultural and linguistic settings, even as it contributes to shape these two settings. As individual Canadians, we may “opt in” to a cultural sphere that revolves around French or English as the primary medium of communication. Thus, our attachment to either language (sometimes both) is a powerful defining element of our identity.

In sum, the stubborn facts remain: Canada is bilingual, binational and bicultural. We cannot airbrush the French fact out of Canada’s past and present, and we should not dismiss it from its future. We cannot deny that two national characters exist within Canada. And we should recognize, and even celebrate, that multiculturalism is rooted in two distinct cultural worlds.”

However his opponent, David Bercuson of the conservative Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, takes a very different view:

“Canada has two “official” languages, English and French. The Official Languages Act of 1969 provided the legal basis for this official bilingualism while the Constitution of 1982 declared it to be so in Section 16 (1). The impact of this official bilingualism is obvious nationwide: French is to be found co-equal to English in all federal facilities and properties, and in all interprovincial and international commerce. Our Corn Flakes boxes are printed in French and English. Our Chinese-made smart phones come with French and English instructions. Our airlines make sure that all cabin announcements, from the lengthy explanations of how to buckle our seatbelts to the terse announcements that the aircraft is not quite at the gate yet, are in English and French. And communities in Canada that have virtually no unilingual French speakers receive full-service radio and TV from our national broadcaster, courtesy of the taxpayer.

It’s also more than a little ironic that English-speaking Canada has been expected to embrace bilingualism when the very cause of so much bilingualism – to show francophone Quebecers that they are equal partners in Canada – has been scorned by Quebec itself, which postures as a unilingual French province.

Official bilingualism is a constitutional fact of life. Real, functionalism, bilingualism is rare in Canada; by and large, Canadians are not bilingual. As for biculturalism and binationalism, they are myths created out of whole cloth in a now decades-long process of wooing French nationalists in Quebec. How much longer that process will continue is anyone’s guess.”

%d bloggers like this: