The language politics of Iceland and Quebec

Recently my friend Bonnie and I went to the Montreal Jazz Festival. Very cool, if a little overwhelming. We decided to stay outside of the city in a little place called the Motel Iberville in Saint Jean sur Richelieu, about 20 minutes outside of Montreal. Our plan was to go to one of the Metro end stations from there for the ride into the city. Along the way we could save a little money, and it would be easy getting in and out of the city. And all of that worked just fine.

Now, we know that the Quebecois are very proud of their French language, and we knew that we were going to encounter some people that didn’t speak English so well. Boy, did we ever. Some of their English wasn’t much better than my French, and that’s setting the bar pretty low.

About a month earlier we had been to Iceland, and were just amazed at how everyone was just about completely fluent in English. Now granted, Iceland is a small country, and much of their television and other media is broadcast in English.

But the same is true for the Quebecois. It’s not like they don’t have English language television or radio in Quebec. It’s not like most of the Internet isn’t in English. It’s not like the Quebecois don’t hear English as they’re growing up.

So the difference has to be an act of will: the Quebecois simply don’t want to learn English. They don’t want to learn it even though English is the language of international commerce. They don’t want to learn it even though the benefits of bilingualism on the brain have been proven scientifically.

I am bilingual. So is Bonnie. But I’d love to be fluent in French or Spanish. To be quadrilingual, as so many Swiss or Dutch people are. We just found it fascinating that the pride of the Quebecois actually got in the way of their doing what would otherwise be a very sensible thing.

About a1skeptic

A disturbed citizen and skeptic. I should stop reading the newspaper. Or watching TV. I should turn off NPR and disconnect from the Internet. We’d all be better off.
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2 Responses to The language politics of Iceland and Quebec

  1. Hope you enjoyed Montreal! The French-English debate is a huge issue in Quebec. In fact, they even have laws that make it illegal to use english more prominently than french in business (on signs, menus, etc). The french text has to be more prominent (larger, bolder, you get the drift). And there are actually plenty of places in Quebec where English is not used at all, so it’s not surprising that you encountered SOME people who are mainly francophone! And to be honest, some just don’t want to speak english so they pretend that they can’t. Sad but true.

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