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Summer 2003

Monitoring change over time in the in Quebec language situation: a project with a set agenda, by Pierre Bouchard

The Office quebecois de la langue française (Quebec Office for the French Language) was recently given a mandate to monitor ongoing change in the Quebec language situation, and reporting at least every five years to the minister. Carrying out this task should be seen as a continuation of work done in the nineties. Taking this as the point of departure, the author presents the issues and the preparatory work prior to the implementation of the mandate, together with the programme providing the structure for the upcoming Bilan or Survey (of the state of the language). In terms of dissemination strategies for making findings known, the author echoes a decision taken by the Monitoring Committee. Rather than waiting for the official report required by law to come out before publishing the updated or newly formulated indicators - plus the research carried out on these issues - the emerging information should be published in instalments on the Internet. The plan for the Survey will therefore be to integrate all the indicators produced, to arrive at a clear diagnosis, hopefully.


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1. Introduction

2. Some precedents

3. Monitoring the language situation
3. 1 Preparing the ground
3.1.1 Brain-storming Session
3.1.2 Setting up of two working groups
3.2 Working schedule
3.3 Diffusion strategies

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography


1. Introduction

On the 1st October 2002, within the framework of the most recent modifications of the French Language Charter, the Quebec Office for the French Language was given the mandate of surveying the ongoing change in the linguistic situation in Quebec and to report on this, at least once very five years to the Minister, with particular attention to usage and status of the French language together with the attitudes and behaviour patterns of the different language groups. (L.R.Q., c. C-11, a. 160).

It is both astonishing and interesting that such a mandate should be included in the French Language Charter. Indeed, for those who have been watching the language situation in Quebec, it is plain that organised monitoring of the Quebec language situation was not fully in place until the nineties, although efforts towards francisation had officially begun well before this, in the seventies. A number of pieces of research had been mounted (in the work domain, in the media and the services; on the attitudes of the different language groups; and on the quality and mastery of the French spoken) and there was a large quantity of administrative data available. Yet little effort had been made up until that point to bring together all such data and arrive at a reliable diagnosis of the language situation. In the course of the 90s, however, the will to do this saw the light of day, and gave rise to a number of precedents which we shall be looking at in the first part of this article, precedents which inspired the idea of monitoring as laid down subsequently by law. This obligation to report periodically on the evolution of the language situation is interesting in that it ensured recognition of the need to evaluate results of the application of language policy actions. It provides the government with the means of monitoring the situation and to react to need. The second part of this article will therefore focus on the work carried out or now planned in this new context of legal requirement.

2. Some precedents

In 1992, the Conseil de la langue française (French Language Council) in collaboration with other organisations created as a result French Language Charter: the Office de la langue française (French Language Office) the Commission de protection de la langue française (Commission for the Protection of the French Language) and the Commission de toponymie (Place Name Commission) together with the Secretariat of Language Policy, all began to work in earnest on this approach. The publication of the article Indicateurs de la situation linguistique au Québec (Indicators of the Language Situation in Quebec) (1992) constituted a important "first" in this work in Quebec, even if intentionally limited. The economic situation at that time did not permit the implementation of further data collecting, and it was decided rather to limit the project to processing existing data, bringing all the data together and organising them around major themes. In this way, a sort of instrument panel for francisation in Quebec was achieved. The article in question, then, provided information on population, immigration, education, work, earnings, communications, the culture, the certification of companies and government organisations, and place names. It is important to note that the article has never been republished since that date, but a certain number of indicators used in it were brought up to date in 1995 on the occasion of the Bilan or Survey of the language situation which we shall comment upon further, below.

In 1994, the same team continued the work begun in 1992, probing further into the question of language in the workplace and making use of sixty-one indicators. This analysis included a large number of dimensions of language use in this domain, making it possible to articulate a set of indicators for the world of work that in turn would reveal the factors favouring or disfavouring the use of French. This work only served to pave the way for a more comprehensive survey which was soon after to be entrusted by the Government of the time to an Interministerial Committee.

The latter was called for and set up in 1995, and findings were published in 1996 (Comité interministériel…, 1996). After 1977, it seemed that in addition to some important changes in the language legislation, (1) Quebec society was facing certain new needs, fed mainly by the demographic-linguistic context, by the globalisation of the economy and by the rise of the new information technologies. It was this which apparently led the Interministerial committee to examine the state of the French language in a large number of spheres in Quebec society. Thus, the survey covered the language of the workplace, the francisation of companies, the language of trade and commerce, the language of Government offices and quasi-public organisations, the language of education, the language of integration of immigrants, the language of cultural practices and French in the globalisation of trade and information. It could be seen that long road had been travelled since 1977 toward normal and habitual use of French in Quebec. Indeed, overall progress was clearly observable in the direction of generalised use of French in different domains. For example, a large majority of young immigrants were attending French language schools and use of French in the business world had grown. All the same, there was still along way to go before French became the common language of the people of Quebec.

Another sizeable operation was also undertaken during 2000-2001 by the Commission des États généraux (General states Commission) on the current situation and future prospects of the French language in Quebec. This commission had as its mandate to identify and analyse the main factors influencing the present and future fortunes of French in Quebec, to look at the perspectives and the priorities for relevant action, to proceed to the examination of the relevant articles of the French language charter and, in general, present recommendations to ensure the use, diffusion and quality of the French language in Quebec (Commission des États généraux…, 2001 : i). Unlike the Interministerial Committee which strove to «provide a statistical portrait of the situations observed whenever the data were available» (Interministerial Committee …, 1996 : 219), this commission chose rather, in carrying out its mandate, to hold «hearings in all parts of Quebec as well as national hearings», to organise «thematic seminars and an international colloquium on precise, neuralgic issues relating to the future of French in Quebec» (Commission…, 2001 : i). This then, was to be a qualitative type of Survey taking stock of the considerable progress made since 1977 (for example in the sphere of the language of education, the language of business and commerce and the francisation of companies). However, the commissions also observed that this situation was not irreversible. In their view, «it would take little to break this social cohesion. There were new pressures, arising from economic and social changes on the international level which tended to impose English over French, so that certain setbacks and plateau effects were now observable in Quebec.» (Commission…, 2001 : 10). In short, this fact strongly suggested the Government should provide means of monitoring the evolution of the language situation in Quebec. They did so by writing into the law 104 (L.Q. 2002, c. 28) the need to monitor the situation in the Province and report to the Minister every five years.

3. Monitoring the language situation

According to the latest modifications to the French Language Charter, a new Survey should be produced before October 2006, the anniversary of the date that Law 104 (L.Q. 2002, c. 28) came into force. How to set about producing such a Survey? This was the general question that the research team at the Quebec French Language Office first addressed. And there was no easy answer.

Should one start afresh, or build on what had already been done? Which perspectives should be adopted? Who should do what? How to do it and when to do it? With what budgets? How to disseminate findings, and when? Those were some of the specific questions which were put on the table and for which it seemed important to find answers as swiftly as possible.

Furthermore, the law stipulated the setting up of a committee to monitor the language situation consisting of a «president, selected from members of the Office», a «secretary, chosen from its staff» and of «three people who are not members of the Office or its staff». The law also mentioned that the Committee for monitoring the linguistic situation should also, by law, contain «at least two specialists in demographics or sociolinguistics» (L.R.Q., c. C-11, to. 165.12). There were, then, other questions in addition to those we have already mentioned. Who would take part in this committee? What would this committee's role be, and how would its members liase with the research team and external collaborators?

And what would this committee's mandate be? The law stated that the committee monitoring the language situation should submit to «the Office, at its request or on their own initiative, proposals and opinions» (L.R.Q., c. C-11, a. 165.11). But how should this be interpreted, exactly? The research team posed the question as did the members of the Committee. It was this which led the latter to define their mandate in the following way:

a) put forward proposals to the Office quebecois de la langue française (OQLF) regarding the type of research carried out to effectively monitor ongoing change in the language situation;

b) provide opinions on the scientific quality of the research and the associated indicators developed in that framework;

c) provide the OQLF with opinions and proposals on the actions to take arising out of the research.

So the broad nature of the mandate from the Legislature led the research team to reflect on the ways in which such a Survey could be carried out. It soon emerged that the work could not be left to our internal resources alone. One lesson that could be drawn from experience up to this point was that such an operation very obviously could not be carried out without a substantial input from other collaborators.(Georgeault, 2003 : 359), or without turning to a recognised scientific committee that would play that role. Also, we had from the outset considered involving a certain number of partners or associates who would work with the Monitoring committee. We shall look at this question below:

3.1. Preparing the ground

The whole range of these issues also led the research team of the Office quebecois de la langue française to look at the best means of carrying out the mandate from the Government. The first important decision was to use the indicators that had already been published and the surveys that had already been carried out and submit all of this to a group of experts, members of the Monitoring Committee and others. Another decision, - not the least important - was that of setting up two working groups for the questions that had not been formally addressed previously, the quality and mastery of the French language and behaviour and attitudes of the different language groups.

3.1.1. Brain-storming Session

The idea of consulting experts lead the research team in November 2002 to organise a brain-storming session on the following questions, already covered by the 1996 Survey: language and population, language and immigration, language and education, language and communications, language and information technology, language and earnings, francisation of the workplace, and finally the language of business and commerce. The objectives of this session had been defined in the following way :

a) orientating the research as quickly as possible in the domains;

b) obtaining scientific opinion from researchers in this area;

c) structuring vertically the work that needed to be carried out to achieve proper monitoring;

d) examine the means that would have to be put in place to ensure improved partnership (another session, colloquia, stages…).

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