Words do matter: Time to end the waste of so many

Par Beryl Wajsman le 4 novembre 2010


A local media ad campaign has used the slogan “words matter” for some time. Sadly that is not getting through to our intelligentsia. Words should matter and we shouldn’t waste so much time arguing what language they are spoken in.

There has been a parallel current in media and academic circles in recent weeks focusing on how much English is spoken in Montreal. The debate has grown broader following the announcement of Francois Legault’s “Force Quebec” and leading up to this past weekend’s opening conference of the Reseau Liberté-Québec. What is appeasingly sickening  is that most of the angst over the “English rebound” has come as much from English circles as French nationalist ones. The whole issue is one big lie.

It is one thing for a society to legislate the official languages of the public service. It is quite another for a free people to be afraid to talk in whatever tongue they wish. No society that engages in law and legislation or rule and regulation built around “sang et langue”, blood and language, can be called truly free. What is worse,  a society that  so demonizes minorities that they begin to pontificate on how to  placate the majority  so as not to anger it by the use of a language other than French is badly damaged indeed. And the fellow travelers in the anglophone and allophone communities that warn citizens about a “lack of respect” for French should be ashamed.

The reality is that neither of the two main founding cultures has any call on moral superiority in this debate. Both came here as agents of European imperial powers. Both ravaged and pillaged native populations and exploited the land for the glory and treasure of their respective monarchs. And both have  committed sufficient injustices one to the other to warrant both sides just saying “Ca suffit!.” It’s enough. Let’s get on with life and love and art and business.

This has nothing to do with the question of separation. Political decisions made democratically and freely by a population in a political jurisdiction on a clear proposition is one thing. But that proposition can never be democrat or free if it is based on false notions of a threatened culture or a demonization of the other.

The nationalist narrative of a threat to French was false thirty years ago and is false today. Those non-francophones who would make a journalistic or academic career pandering to the that narrative in hopes of acceptance are doing a grave injustice to the truth and are frankly missing the tide of history. Whether it is Liberté-Québec, or les Lucides or the students at French universities who know they can compete globally and see English as merely a tool of the trade, are confident enough in themselves that they no longer engage in the debate of the lowest common denominator.

Those  non-Francophones who have recently called for more `sensitive` legislation on language in response to French concerns that Montreal island is hearing to much English are engaging in the most oxymoronic explanations. Because in the very same texts they admit that the reason more English is heard on the island is that Francophones are moving to the suburbs. Their suggestion that Anglophones should make concerted efforts to speak French because of it goes against the very fabric of a democratic society. In a democracy the freedom to choose is paramount. Just as Francophones choose to live off the island, so non-Francophones must have the choice of speech. Yes, language is very much at the heart of freedom of speech. And the freedom to choose was also exercised by the hundreds of thousands of Francophones who left Quebec for Toronto after the PQ election and the almost equal number who left for Florida. That is a part of the narrative the nationalists choose to exclude.

The non-Francophone mythmakers have even suggested that these is no threat to English in Montreal. To call these suggestions pandering propaganda would be kind. Those who propogate such a fiction are engaging in nothing less than the encouragement of the self-abnegation of a culture. They should be roundly condemned.



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