An introduction by John Richards
A country’s census tells us something about its concerns. The U.S. census affords much data on black/white and Hispanic/white trends in per capita income, education levels, rates of single parenthood and incarceration. Canada’s census affords detailed data on mother tongue (language first understood), language of use (language most used at home), linguistic transfer (switch in language of use) and so on.
Statistics Canada has now rolled out results from the 2006 census. In Quebec overall, French is sustaining its viability more or less. One must be less sanguine about Montreal. On Montreal Island, French speakers (by language of use) enjoy a precarious and declining majority status.
Linda Cardinal provides a tour d’horizon of trends across Canada. Charles Castonguay addresses a specific question: do mother-tongue francophones who come to Canada from outside the country or who migrate interprovincially from Quebec do much to sustain francophone minority communities outside Quebec? After careful analysis of their linguistic transfers, his blunt answer is: no, they don’t. If our immigration policy is intended, in part, to sustain viable francophone communities, francophone immigrants should be encouraged to settle in Quebec or the “Bilingual Belt” in Acadia and eastern Ontario.
Johanne Poirier offers a cautionary tale. Like Canada, Belgium is a country whose founding social contract implies state support for more than one lingua franca. In Belgium, most national institutions have now divided on a linguistic basis. The result is very little French-Flemish bilingual interaction and a country whose national politics have become a hollow shell. The implicit question hovering over her article is: how do we Canadians maintain enough French-English interaction to avoid the fate of her country? Writing from Vancouver, a city where French-English bilingualism is rare – very rare – I am not reassured.