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Autumn - Winter 2007

Multilingualism in the workplace, within the context of the francisation of businesses in Quebec , by Virginie Moffet and Pierre Bouchard

In order to address the concerns of the population with regard to the use of French, the Québec government adopted, in 1977, a Charter of the French language which lists various measures to be implemented in terms of the working language and the francisation of businesses. Certification, which is an important feature of the chapter relative to the francisation of companies, represents, in a manner, the official recognition of the achievement of francisation objectives specific to companies. There are nevertheless certain environmental, organisational, social and economical realities which do not systematically support the francisation process or the use of French in the workplace. In addition, recent data show that even though most workers with French as a mother tongue do work in a French speaking environment, a significant number of them work in English in Montréal and those of altogether different mother tongue are divided between the use of French and English, especially within the island of Montréal.

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1. Introduction
2. The in-company francisation process
2.1 Introduction of the francisation process of businesses
2.2 The effects of certification on the use of French
3. French in the workplace
3.1 The situation in the Montreal metropolitan area
3.2 Workers of tertiary mother tongue and immigrants
3.3 Language spoken in the home versus language spoken in the workplace
4. Conclusion
5. References

1. Introduction

For some time already, the language, or languages, used in the context of the workplace have been a cause for concern to certain States. Back in 2003, the general Office for the French language and languages of France, the Generalitat of Catalonia and the Québec Office for linguistic policies actually jointly organized international talks in linguistic practice within internationally oriented businesses (1). There was, amongst other topics, talk of the challenges which internationally oriented businesses, whether based in France, Catalonia, the Basque country or Québec are now facing, and what linguistic policies are to be retained in those different States.

Quebec’s linguistic restructuring plan chose to support the use of French by adopting the Charter of the French language back in 1977. All the while declaring French the official language of Quebec, the Charter declared a number of fundamental rights, such as the right to communicate and work in French.

Several arrangements relating to the working language have been included in the Charter of the French language, namely those relating to language in the workplace (art. 41 to 50), language in business and trade (art. 51 to 71) and the francisation of companies (art. 129 to 154). Measures taken with regard to the working language all employees are subjected to concern the language used in the context of communications between employers and their staff, the language in which employment offers are advertised, the language used in congregations, and the language facilitating access to employment. Those measures relating to the language of business and trading set a linguistic framework within which business activities must be carried out: everything must be at least in French. These measures pertain to written information destined to consumers of goods and (written information on product labels, catalogues, software, toys, games, order forms, public posters, etc.). Lastly, the measures relating to the francisation of businesses- measures which only apply to companies employing 50 staff or more- describe the francisation process these companies must submit to.

From this angle, we will start by expanding on, in the first part of this article, the francisation process of businesses, as described in the Charter of the French language and we will aim to clearly explain its full scope. The second part will explore the question of the use of language in the workplace, notably the space occupied by French in Montréal.

2. The francisation process of businesses

The company certification process ordered by the Charter of the French language and modulated by the actions of the Quebec Office for the French language is unique in the world and probably still relatively unknown.

2.1 Introduction of the business francisation process

Before it is condition to obtain its francisation certificate, a company must first of all carry out an analysis of its linguistic situation and submit this analysis to the Office for assessment. The Office then delivers a francisation certificate to the company, provided that it is deemed to have a widespread enough use of the French language. Should this not be the case, the company (2) must set up a francisation programme adapted to its particular situation and implement the amendments deemed necessary according to a schedule agreed with the Office in order to obtain the certificate within reasonably close deadlines (3) (see figure 1).

Obtaining the francisation certificate does not relieve the business from its duties with regard to the francisation process. Indeed, according to the amendments brought to the Charter of the French language en 1993, the certified company is under the obligation to continue to concern itself with francisation by delivering a report “ to the Office on a three-yearly basis, describing the evolution of the use of French within the company” (Charter of the French language, art. 146). The following diagram summarises the main steps included in this francisation process.

Figure 1. Certification process for companies of 50 ormore employees

Figure 1. Certification process for companies of 50 ormore employees

What are the implications of delivering this francisation certificate? Given the aforementioned steps, it is obvious that granting a francisation certificate constitutes an administrative deed set by the Quebec Office of French language following the assessment of its linguistic situation (Council for the French language, 1995: 94). The certificate constitutes, in a certain manner, an official recognition of the level of establishment of the French language reached as a result of negotiations which take into account the objectives set by law and the socio-economical context the concerned business is set within. The workers are therefore able to work in French, although certain environmental or organisational obligations might make it necessary for them to still have to work in English or in another language.

How do we explain this situation? Several factors may be put forward: This situation does not only derive from characteristics specific the business. It may also depend on the social and inter-organisational context this business pertains to. Amongst the businesses own specific characteristics, one must take into consideration the language of the owning entity (Bouchard, 1991), the relevance of the headquarters’ geographical location in certain aspects, is linked to the origin of the ownership (foreign business = headquarters based outside Quebec) or with the language of the ownership (English speaking company @ headquarters in Montreal or outside Quebec).

The company’s business activity represents yet another one of the characteristics worth taking into consideration. Indeed, in addition to the linguistic or ethnic specialisations most commonly associated with certain fields (Raynauld and Vaillancourt, 1984) (4), one also finds areas whose financial activities are affected by the lesser or greater intensity oftheir use of technology (Council for the French language, 1995: indicator 2.7) and, as a consequence, a more frequent use of English by the workers.

If the globalisation of communication and information is able to explain, for the greater part, the non-certification, or the slowness in obtaining certification of certain companies, notably with companies which have been in the process of applying the programme for 10 years (5) or more, it also contributes to the use of languages other than French in the workplace. The repercussions of globalisation affect, amongst other things companies whose products are made in Quebec while being destined to the outside (such as the aerospace industry, for example). These repercussions are also felt with products from other countries (United States, or Japan) or which are manufactured using ever more sophisticated technologies (like for the automotive industry). This globalisation context also plays a part when businesses resort to information technologies to carry out stock management or make long distance sales (from, say, Toronto or New York in the sales sector for example), to complete financial transactions destined to other countries or originating from other countries (like in the financial sector) and to transfer work schedules from one country to the other in order to approve the use of software licenses for companies in different time zones (which is the case with the electric and electronic product sector).

2.2 The effects of certification on the use o French

The issue of certifications with regard to the use of French has been the object of several critical assessments from trade unions, members of the Council for the French language,the tripartite work group for French (6), the inter-ministerial committee on the situation of the French language and university research staff. All came to the conclusion that “certification” and “the use of French” are not one and the same thing, and that the certification of a company does not necessarily entail that its staff does indeed use French in the workplace; it is, at the very most, “a precursor to functional French, to life in French” (Inter-ministerial Committee on the situation of the French language, 1995: 87). One should nevertheless not conclude from these assessments that the certification process has no effect on the level of use of French.

A study which was carried out in 1995 by the Quebec office for the French language does indeed demonstrate that, in the Montreal region, the use of French is, as a general rule, more widespread within certified companies than in those that are not certified,regardless of whether this is in a written environment (7) (postings and work documents), written communications from workers (on application forms or other written documents), or spoken communications with their superiors or with their colleagues (> 80 % compared with £ 65 %). The certification process has therefore genuinely influenced the level of usage of French by the workers. This doesn’t consist of a mere francisation of the written environment (8): it ensures that these workers use French over English in their written communications (be it to fill in forms or to draw up various documents) and in their spoken communications in respectively 87 % and 82 % of certified companies, whereas these figures stand at 67 % and 62 % in non-certified businesses. Nevertheless, it is worth emphasizing that the certification process has had a much more restricted effect with regard to software: only 49% of certified companies, compared with 26% of non-certified businesses tend to preferentially use software in French.It does nevertheless appear that there has been, at least within the framework of the certification process, a certain progress in terms of the use of French in the workplace In addition, one needs to be aware that this use remains precarious, as other languages and English especially are used more or less frequently at work, more obviously so in the Montreal region. This will be demonstrated in the second part of this article.

3. French in the workplace

For the first time since 2001, we have census data on the use of languages in the workplace which have allowed us to more accurately assess the level of use of French, English and other languages in the workplace.


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