Bill 96 will not change the linguistic dynamics in Quebec
The adoption of Bill 96, on Tuesday, May 24, is far from unanimous among the Quebec electorate. While many are threatening more restrictions on the rights of Anglophones in the province, will the law really change the linguistic dynamic in Quebec? Sociolinguist from the University of Quebec in Montreal, Calvin Veltman, answers the question.
ANALYSIS – Law 96 on the official and common language in Quebec, adopted on May 23, aims to strengthen the status and presence of French. It is based on two related but largely erroneous assumptions:
1) French is in “free fall”.
2) allophone immigrants are not becoming French enough or fast enough.
The first represents the dominant paradigm in Quebec, which wants French to be on the way out. This is what statistician Charles Castonguay stipulates, in his essay “Le français en chute libre”, or independent researcher Frédéric Lacroix, in “Why Bill 101 is a failure”. Multiple forecasting studies by demographer Marc Termote, notably this one,
as well as those by René Houle and Jean-Pierre Corbeil also seem to reinforce this perspective.
However, all of these studies are based on a totally inadequate interpretation of Canadian census data, which is poorly adapted to the sociolinguistic reality of Quebec minorities. As a result, there is an overestimation of allophone languages and, by extension, an underestimation of French.
As a sociologist and sociolinguist, I have published numerous studies on linguistic mobility in the United States, Quebec and Alsace.
Sociolinguistic estimation of the Quebec population
In my studies, I proposed a new sociolinguistic approach for the analysis of census data. The multiple response attribution method has been updated. Then we incorporated second language choices among allophones into the analysis.
The results, presented in Table 1, with the RFA indicator (share of French divided by the sum of the share of French and English), calculate the use of French in the non-Allophone population. The data for 1971 are unadjusted, those for 1986 are adjusted for the language of use, then since 2001, to take into account the presence of second languages among allophones.
Table 1: Language most often spoken at home, Quebec, 1971 to 2016. Calvin Veltman, Author provided
According to my calculations, French is in a much better situation in 2016 than in 1971, that is to say before the adoption of Law 101, although in slight decline since 2001. Since 1971, two million people have been added to the Francophone population. This language is spoken at home by 83.6% of the Quebec population. English is now spoken by just over one million people, or 12.5% of the population, down 2.3% from 1971.
It's true , however, that since 2001, French has been declining slightly. The RFA index is down 87.8% to 87.0%.
What elements can explain this slow regression on the part of French?
If more than half a million allophones are now part of the French language group, Canadian census data show that since 2001, the effective francization rate of allophones has fluctuated around 75%. This is an insufficient level to maintain the current linguistic balance between Francophones and Anglophones, i.e. an RFA of 87.0%. The problem is not so much the ineffectiveness of Bill 101 as the immigration policy: more than a quarter of immigrants say they know only English when they arrive in Quebec. This group often finds an economic niche where English unilingualism is still present.
The slow regression of French is above all not the fault of the English-mother-tongue population. If we compare the English-mother-tongue population in 2001 to the population growth between 2001 and 2016, the change is major: 68.2% adopted French as their main language spoken at home or as a second language regularly spoken. Apart from French unilingualism, all forms of French practice at home have grown, so that the rate of francization, calculated according to the traditional method, for the period from 2001 to 2016, reached 15.2 % compared to 10.4 % observed in 2001.
Since 1971, statistician Charles Castonguay, a retired professor at the University of Ottawa, has maintained that the anglicization of the French-speaking group represents a threat to the future of French. Table 2 presents the linguistic distribution for 2001 as well as the characteristics of intercensal growth from 2001 to 2016.
Table 2: Languages spoken in 2001 and distribution of population growth, French mother tongue, 2001 to 2016. Calvin Vetman, Author provided
Indeed, French unilingualism is declining, dropping from 94.2% in 2001 to 65.1% over the past fifteen years. All categories concerning the use of the English language at home are on the rise: 24.1 % for the integration of English as a second language, 2.9 % for French/English bilingualism, etc. The rate of anglicization for the whole period was 4.7%, compared to 1.3% in 2001, although almost all maintain a regular practice of French at home.
< h3 id="h-no-real-effect-on-the-situation-of-french-in-quebec">No real effect on the situation of French in Quebec
And law 96 in all this? How to increase the rate of francization of allophones from 75% to 87% if Quebec cannot better control international immigration? Freezing the level of registrations in English CEGEPs and refusing them expansion projects, as we saw this winter in the case of Dawson College, are insignificant measures.
Should we fight against the adoption of English at home by Francophones? Castonguay has been talking about the danger of anglicization since the 1970s, but our policy makers don't seem to be aware. Moreover, it would be a question of intervening in the private sphere, which is not possible in a democratic country.
The columnist Michel C. Auger expressed the situation well: “We therefore chose to take law 101 and tighten every available bolt a quarter turn. Which does not change anything fundamental and which will probably have no real effect on the situation of French.
This is also my opinion.
Calvin Veltman, Full Professor (retired), ÉSG-UQAM, sociolinguist, University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM)
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