Damned if you do, damned if you don't.....
In describing the linguistic situation of French in Montreal, I much prefer the Latin expression,
The recent outcry against international companies trading under English trade names is just one element denoting the shifting sands under the French language, where a convergence of trends augers poorly for the future of French as the overwhelmingly dominating language of Montreal.
Last Friday the OQLF published a report indicating that by 2031 the island of Montreal would tilt towards a majority of citizens whose mother tongue is other than French.
The reliability of this report leaves something to be desired, as pointed out by Don Macpherson of the Montreal Gazette, who tells us that the demographer making this prediction, Marc Termote, has had a spotty record, already having made this prediction on five previous occasions, all with different conclusions.
Read the story in the Montreal Gazette. Link
While one can dispute the 'when,' the fact that Montreal is becoming more English should escape nobody on either side of the linguistic debate.
Facts and statistics are all subject to interpretation, but let me try to keep things as simple as possible.
Montreal today has a demographic element of 25% Anglophones, 50% Francophones and 25% Allophones(whose mother tongue is neither English nor French)
We are told by the government, that eventually, half the allophones will adopt English and half will adopt French and so melding these numbers we can extrapolate that Montreal is roughly 37% English and 63% French.
Since Anglophones are no longer fleeing the province, the balance between English and French in Montreal remains stable, only if the 40,000 or so immigrants arriving to Montreal each year choose to adopt French over English by this same 63% to 37% ratio.
In fact to maintain linguistic balance province-wide, immigrants would have to adopt French at a level of about 87%.
But such is not the case and so each year, the English numbers creep up, slowly but surely.
But other factors are also at play, including the fact that while Anglos remain firmly embedded in Montreal, many francophone families have fled to the suburbs, tilting the linguistic balance on the island towards English even more.
Also contributing to the Anglicization of Montreal is the changing face of the retail marketplace, Not only are the mastheads of the new wave of international retailers alighting in Montreal, English, but the culture and products purveyed therein are English as well.
Montreal's English institutions continue to thrive and expand, the new mega-hospital currently under construction another symbol of the permanency and strength of the community. McGill University, an international and Canadian treasure, centers a concentrated network of institutions of higher English education that is so attractive that it pulls students from the indigenous francophone community as well as from other provinces and abroad.
The massive Bell Centre home of the 'English' Montreal Canadiens, serves up English concerts and events on most nights, with French artistes taking a decidedly backseat.
Most of the tourist attractions including the Comedy Festival, The Jazz festival and the Grand Prix are largely English affairs drawing tourists to the city that interact largely in English regardless of their mother tongue.
The decline of French in Montreal is largely paralleled with the decline of French internationally, as English has evolved into the de facto language trade, commerce, entertainment and tourism.
An so French language militants are truly behind the eight ball in trying to reverse what appears as an inexorable decline of French in Montreal and an opposing rise in English, which has all the appearances of having passed a critical tipping point.
But the reality is that while Montreal is becoming more English, it is just reverting back to its natural state, something it always was, a completely bilingual city.
Photographic evidence shows us, that whatever decade you choose to examine, (except for the last three) Montreal was one of the most bilingual cities on Earth.
|St.Catherine & Stanley 1915|
|This 1942 photo of a deppaneur denotes the beautifully bilingual nature of the city.|
|Montreal in its greatest decade- The sixities. English and French, side by side|
|Montreal in the Thirties. The sign says it all|
|The City of Montreal was officially bilingual until the late 1970's|
Nothing can change the fact that Montreal was built by the Scots and the English with most of the heavy lifting done by the Irish. The street names of the downtown core reminds us of a heritage that French language militants wish us to forget.
While they argue that Anglos are taking over, the reality is, that Anglos are taking back what always belonged to them.
Bill 101 continues to artificially prop up the French appearance of the city by forcing a predominance of French signage, propagating the fiction that somehow, by pretending English doesn't exist, it will somehow disappear.
But the sign laws are largely ineffective. If every sign in the city magically turned into French tomorrow, it wouldn't change anything.
Don't expect to use French at the casino's craps table or order dinner in French at its Les Artistes Steakhouse and similarly, although the store windows in the Fairview Mall are French, most people are transacting in English.
And so it seems that the artificial world that Bill 101 foisted upon the city these last thirty years is failing.The linguistic reality can no longer be plastered over by French signs which serve only to distort the truth.
Francophone militants claim that Montreal belongs to the French. By repeating it often enough and loud enough, they believe they can make it so. But they cannot change what is.
Montreal belongs to the English and French in friendship and partnership.
It remains home to a beautiful language duality that language bigots cannot abide.