The self-government of schools is
what makes the experience of Francophone Canadians outside of Quebec particularly
interesting for sociolinguistic theory; it provides a clearer perspective of the factors
and dynamics at play in the relationships between school language policy, demographic and
sociolinguistic conditions and language uses in diverse social situations.
2.2. Fundamental variables
The results of
school language policy must never be evaluated in isolation, but always in their
relationship with the demographic and sociolinguistic context of the policy in question.
Bearing this in mind, a fundamental factor in this type of situation as occurs in
other cases of minoritization studied is the sociolinguistic consequence of
inter-ethnic marriage, particularly where group barriers are removed to a great extent and
the number of such family units is therefore high and rising.
In Alberta and
British Colombia for example, English is the predominant language in the home for the vast
majority of mixed marriages, both between the couple themselves and between parents and
children, almost always to the detriment of French. Since English is the code that is best
shared between the couple and since it is used more in the general social environment, in
practice, it becomes the only domestic language, because the English-speaking partner very
often has difficulties even understanding French.
large numbers of this type of couple: in Alberta, for example, three quarters of the
partners of French-speakers are Anglophones. The children of these inter-ethnic couples
often attend the theoretically Francophone schools so as not to lose their
French. As a result, these centres are dominated by individuals whose L1 is English,
despite having one parent from each language group. In practice therefore, for Francophone
parents, these self-governed schools must act not simply as 'maintainers', but also
bilingualizers both at written and oral level for this group of individuals
whom the law recognizes as 'Francophone', although their L1 is not French.
population of mixed origin that functions in English will create other sociolinguistic
effects. The vast majority of individuals that could have French as their L1 are also
functional bilinguals in English due to the pressure of their social context. As a result,
English is used more than French in informal, interpersonal and everyday communication
between pupils at these Francophone schools. English is unconsciously and mechanically
adopted as the 'natural' language for personal functions, whereas French is reserved for
more formal and institutionalized functions (vehicular language of classes, addressing
teachers, writing up projects, etc.).
therefore, is not whether bilingualization in French has been successful, but rather that
the dynamics of the situation cause English, rather than the language of ascendants, to be
more commonly used in everyday interpersonal functions, even in intragroup
relations between individuals of Francophone origin (either entirely or partly). Clearly,
this does not imply a positive outcome for maintenance of the Francophone minority in
Western Canada, because it means that its first-language speakers are gradually
diminishing and that this group is therefore becoming increasingly dependent on the
education system to conserve the language. This latter is not the same as
intergenerational transmission of language varieties, which 'naturally' ensures the
nativization and hence historical reproduction of language groups.
2.3. Causes of the sociolinguistic evolution
We need to
take a close look at how demographic and sociolinguistic factors initiate this perverse
dynamic causing the language group and use of French, in this case, to dwindle. It is not
so much the idea that education is a failure as the difficulty in altering
sociolinguistic dynamics activated by demographic and sociological factors. Very often,
the Francophone community is mixed with the English-speaking population or individuals of
other origins (in large cities, for example). As the former is a smaller community, its
members are more prone to find a partner from outside rather than within their own
community. It is also much more likely for French speakers to function communicatively in
English than for English speakers to do so in French.
In the face of
these dynamics, how far can education influence the aim of making French, at the very
least, the most commonly-used code between individuals of purely French or mixed origin?
What factors come into play here?
In the same
way that macrosociolinguistic factors are important for a global understanding of
evolutionary dynamics, microsociolinguistic factors are important for understanding
individual linguistic behaviours. Why do pupils at these schools not use French with each
other in non-formal functions, when French is the habitual vehicular language of these
schools and their aim is clearly to promote the culture and identity of French-speakers?
this phenomenon, we probably need to take into account two fundamental factors: firstly,
individual language competence when the class-group is formed and, secondly, the tendency
to establish the regular nature of interpersonal language behaviour in terms of
person-language, which notably favours the maintenance of the linguistic choice made at
the start of the relationship with a given interlocutor.