Posted on | February 9, 2009 | 10 Comments
I recently read the book “Sorry, I Don’t Speak French“, which gave a very comprehensive account on the language struggle in the recent history of Canada.
To those who are not familiar with the issue, French has been spoken predominately in the Quebec province, and English in the rest of Canada. The Quebeckers resent the lack of recognition of their language in other provinces. The rest of the country wondered why so much time and effort are wasted in forcing them to learn French.
There are a lot of points to ponder after reading the book. I am going to share two of them in this post.
The author quoted William Mackey who pointed out decades ago, that there would be fewer bilingual people in bilingual countries than there would be in monolingual countries. This is not difficult to understand. A fully-functional bilingual country will guarantee the maintenance and use of either language, hence there would be no urgency for them to learn the other language. On the other hand, in a monolingual country, people (often immigrants) have to learn the official language, and becoming bilingual as a result.
The author’s interview with Stephen Harper also turned out to be very interesting. While Harper was working on improving his French back in the late 80’s, he became interested in international language policies. After studying the history, he concluded that governments in the past could not change the actual language use of individuals by simply enforcing laws and policies. It could only be done through displacing populations, through genocide, or through what is now called ethnic cleansing: mass movement of populations. The author obvious disagreed with Mr. Harper, but I tend to agree with the Prime Minister.
The author concluded that the contemporary Canada language policies have been a failure, and this I agree with him very much. He gave a few recommendations, mostly by creating more policies. I am sceptical about this. I think the real issue is not about languages. It is fundamentally a conflict of cultures.
The author was a bilingual (fluent in English and French), but he was certainly not a linguist. Sorry, I don’t think Japanese is a tonal language.