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


In fact, in connection with the decisions already taken (based on the indicators already published and the Surveys already carried out, ensuring the proper functioning of the event) the following works constituted the main items on the agenda at the session: Indicateurs de la situation linguistique au Québec (1992 Edition); the Indicateurs de la langue du travail au Québec (1994 Edition) and the Rapport du Comité interministériel sur la situation de la langue de travail, 1996. From this point of departure we were able to decide which indicators to bring up to date, which to reject and which new indicators to develop (based on research already completed and on upcoming research). Apart from the critiques thus provided, all equally relevant, a large number of proposals were also put forward, which will undoubtedly enable us to carry out a more complete and more scientific Survey than before.

3.1.2. Setting up of two working groups

Besides consulting the experts via a brain-storming session, two teams of experienced researchers in the field and in connected fields were also set up to orientate the work on the question of the quality and mastery of French of behaviour and attitudes of the different language groups.

The consultation begun at the end of autumn 2002 was to be finished by March 2003 so that this could be taken into consideration in the work programme for 2003-2004 about which we shall have more to say below.

The working group on the behaviour and attitudes of the different language groups had been given the mandate to propose five-year programmes of research that would provide reliable monitoring of the behaviour and attitudes of the different language groups in Quebec.This, among other things, would make it clear what the axes of the research under the new mandate issued by the law had to be. This would determine the lines of research which could form part of the next five-year research programme.

The working group on the quality and mastery of French had received a similar mandate to the preceding group, that of proposing a way of assessing the quality and mastery of the language which would enable reliable monitoring to be carried out on the Quebec situation. However, the objectives pursued by this last group differed from the other, given the subject of the investigation and the often antagonistic positions that this subject provoked. Also, it had to document and take stock of the various positions relative to the quality and mastery of the French used, uncover points of convergence among the different positions observed, determine the orientations that ought to underlie the work in this field and single out the research domains that form part of the next five-year research programme on quality of and mastery in the language.

The presentation of conclusions arrived at by the two groups is a task that goes beyond the bounds of this article. However, we have to say that the main conclusions have been included in the working plan for the year 2003-2004 and will be in the subsequent years, so that they will be briefly touched upon when looking at the selected subject areas.

3.2. Working schedule

From this point of departure a programme of work or schedule was worked out for the year 2003-2004 with the avowed objective of proceeding, in the first place, to bring up to date the main indicators already published to then be in a better position to determine the indicators needed to be developed to complete the Survey, as a part of future work schedules. In fact, all the indicators presented to the experts found to be relevant have been written into the work schedules for the current year, a work schedule which in any case has been ratified by the Quebec Language Situation Monitoring Committee. This planning obviously went beyond the capacities of production of the Office's research team; there also had to be collaboration from various different partners who were approached and who all agreed to take part.

The working schedule therefore included ten different focal areas, all of lesser or greater importance, at least for the purposes of the current year. Indeed, it is quite possible that for a given subject area, there might be few indicators to bring up to date, but which in the next work schedules, there would be much more development to be done.

The great majority of the projects planned for the current year will obviously have to do with the areas of language and population and language and immigration. The recent publication of the 2001 census data explains in very large part the investment in these particular areas. In the case of the language and population focus, for example, the indicators relating to demographic-linguistic factors will be brought up to date (mother tongue, language spoken in the home, knowledge of French and English, main (official) language spoken) as will those relating to certain associated phenomena, such as linguistic transfer, fertility and inter-provincial migration. Having said that, there are obviously other important topics on the agenda for other years, for example, to mention but one: the change in the demographic weight of francophones in certain territories, the impact of exogamy (marrying out of the community) and the effect on linguistic behaviour in the home.

The language and immigration area includes both the new census data and the administrative data. In this context, the main demographic-linguistic variables previously under scrutiny will be given special treatment, as will certain associated phenomena. Among other aspects, the period of immigration will be a weighty variable of considerable importance. As for the administrative data, they will allow us to take a different and certainly more reliable look at this focus area, more especially the data on knowledge of French and English. Following this updating process, several themes emerge, for instance, the resulting immigration or the «retention» phenomenon, the language choice of the immigrants and the consequences of concentrations of immigrants.

The language and education focus covers a vast domain, since it relates to the linguistic situation proper in all the levels of education from nursery school to the universities. Besides evaluating the direct effect that the law has had on attendance of English-medium primary and secondary schools, it will also enable us to estimate how many students who could have attended English-medium schools in fact opted to study in French. The data relating to colleges attended will make it possible, in turn, to gauge number of secondary school students who change the language of instruction when they go to college: information on university attendance will enable us to arrive at figures on the access there is, by language group, to university degree programmes and the gaining of university degrees. Subsequent to this updating of our information, in all probability many other projects will be proposed, for example looking at the illiteracy rate and school drop-out figures by language group and the language of instruction used in ongoing or tertiary education.

The language and work focus has been given considerable attention over the years. The list of indicators to bring up to date in this domain is therefore very long, referring to a large number of data from the census (active population, profession, economic sector, etc.) and numerous pieces of diachronic research. Furthermore the 2001 census included a new question in its questionnaire «In this job what language does this person use most often (regularly)», a question which seems very promising, especially in determining the language spoken in a given territory. Beyond that, many research projects were also suggested at the brain-storming session, projects which one day or another in the future are likely to attract our attention, especially the idea of reformulating questions relating to the language at the workplace to adapt them to the realities of the present-day work market.

The language and IT focus is by far the least developed as regards the current year. It will be limited to data from recent questionnaires administered in small and medium-sized companies. That being so, we will need to seek to develop this area of interest over the course of the next years, notably in determining the constituent elements of the so-called high tech sectors and seeking to explain what it is that favours the use of English in information technology.

The language and earnings area currently boasts only a few indicators that have been developed and which can be brought up to date. However, this is an important domain to investigate, looking at the benefits tied to bilinguism and those that go with trilinguism, a phenomenon which is likely to grow. And it will be important not to stop there, but to extend these economic approaches to other categories and to other workers and, as far as is possible, even to non-workers.

The language and culture area covers, for its part, the very wide field of cultural practices, either in the press, on television, on radio, publishing and cinema. Over the course of the current year we need to use the existing data and bring up to date the different indicators already in existence, to be able to organise research providing greater insight into and understanding of the Quebec people and their language in general and the different cultural communities in particular.

The attitudes and behaviour of language groups approach should first of all go for the development of instrumentation in collection. What is more, we shall be working during this current year towards the production and testing of appropriate questionnaires aimed at addressing the most meaningful questions regarding identity, questions which will then be included in a general questionnaire will not reach its final form until various associated sub-projects are carried out.

The tasks set the working group on the quality and mastery of the French language have been given the go-ahead to give the spoken language priority. Also, the most principal studies carried out in this domain will be on the oral language of readers of novels, and on the spoken French of future teachers. Having said that, it is important to mention that in this domain, there is everything to do before we can really evaluate the quality and the mastery of French and that, accordingly, we are aware that the evaluation that is going to be carried out for the next Survey will be very limited.

3.3. Diffusion strategies

The working schedule for the next year, an ambitious one, especially in the area where we have the objective of making known our ongoing work by instalments. Indeed, it is important to add in closing, that the Monitoring Committee intends not to have to wait for the producing of the Report required by law before publicising updated indicators or newly developed indicators, plus the associated research. Instead small articles will be published as we go along on the Internet. We can mention here that the first of these will be on language and population and is scheduled for the end of autumn.

4. Conclusion

Based on the plan which we have put forward here, it is clear that, for the moment, the approach taken by the OQLF is to bring up to date a large number of indicators and, indeed, to develop many others to thus arrive at the most complete diagnosis possible of the linguistic situation in Quebec as and when the next Survey is completed. At all events, it is important to mention that we are also mulling over the idea of developing some synthetic indicators. Such a project, however, would take many months if not years, since it would first be necessary to clearly articulate the conceptual elements involved, as well as the underlying methodological problems. In short, despite all the interest that there might be in this project, we see the need for the time to develop such indicators and assure ourselves of their reliability when rendering account as required by law.

5. Bibliography

Comité interministériel sur la situation de la langue française: Le français langue commune. Enjeu de la société québécoise. Quebec: Ministry of Culture and Communications, 1996.

Commission des états généraux sur la situation et l’avenir de la langue française au Québec: Le français, une langue pour tout le monde. Une nouvelle approche stratégique et citoyenne. Quebec: Commission des états généraux sur la situation et l’avenir de la langue française au Québec, 2001.

Conseil de la langue française: Indicateurs de la langue du travail au Québec, 1994 edition. Quebec: Conseil de langue française, 1994.

Conseil de la langue française: Indicateurs de la situation linguistique au Québec, 1992 edition. Quebec: Conseil de langue française, 1992.

GEORGEAULT, Pierre: «Les indicateurs d’usage du français au Québec. Réflexion sur leur élaboration». Revue d’aménagement linguistique, no. 105, winter 2003, p. 349-362.

Pierre Bouchard
Director of the Research Service secretary to the Committee for the monitoring of the language situation
Quebec office of the French Language
Telephone: (514) 873-8277

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