Here's What's Wrong With The CAQ's Controversial Quebec Language Ad

Linguistic decline or simple fear-mongering?

Associate Copy Editor
Peregrine falcon. Right: A bilingual stop sign in Quebec.

Peregrine falcon. Right: A bilingual stop sign in Quebec.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

On March 15, Quebec's Ministère de la langue française released a short video ad on what they call the "decline of the French language" using the allegory of a peregrine falcon and, once again, they completely missed the mark.

In case you're feeling defensive and assume you're about to dive into the argument of a bitter anglophone full of hate for la belle province, I'll let you know that I've spoken French since I was a toddler and I can equally make my case en français.

Now that I've cleared that up, let me tell you about what's wrong with that ad.

Quebec French Has 99 Issues, But Lexical Variation Ain't One

The obvious problem with the peregrine falcon ad is that it fails to depict the actual issues surrounding the French language in Quebec.

The video completely misses the mark, insinuating that the contemporary slang and lexical variation in the language used mainly by Quebec's francophone youth are at the heart of the whole problem when, in fact, they mean nothing in the long-term survival of the Quebec French dialect.

Le faucon pèlerin. Cet oiseau de proie vraiment 'sick' est reconnu pour être assez chill parce qu'il est super 'quick' en vol. Il peut passer la majorité de son temps à 'watcher' son environnement. Malgré que ses 'skills' de chasse soient 'insane,' l'avenir du faucon pèlerin demeure 'sketch.'

The English borrowings used by many Quebecers when speaking French today are in fact simply the result of a wider global and technological influence of English being used as the main vehicular language. Foreign lexical borrowings are very common in human languages and French has plenty of words and phrases originating in other world languages. This is nothing new.

A more likely culprit than your favourite slang for the decline of the French language in the province is the horrific state of Quebec's public school system and our French literacy levels. Roberge himself — who is a former ministre de l'éducation — previously recommended the use of private educative services for schools and parents because our public system is so lacking in support and services, partly due to an exodus of professionals from the public service to the private sector.

And don't get me wrong, I value our public education system, and have briefly worked in it myself, but it's pretty obvious it needs some loving, and stat.

But let's be honest, were Minister Roberge pointing out those issues now, the government might have to actually do something about that and invest in our youth, right? RIGHT?

Blaming Young People

Now, while avoiding anything actually relevant to the state of the French language and the depleting state of our public institutions, the short Ministère de la langue française ad manages to completely alienate a whole group of French-speakers.

You know, the generations in which they are trying to elicit interest in the French language.

What motivates you the most when you're expressing interest or learning about something new? Is it being publicly ridiculed?

Probably not, huh?

Mocking the way young people speak is the oldest trick in the book when you want to make yourself appear smarter and more valuable. Okay boomers, but you didn't invent that either. This idealized form of the French language is outdated.

Blaming young people for speaking their sociolect only alienates the youth, and pretending that their lack of French skills in writing and reading is their own fault fails to acknowledge the defunded and rundown public education system. The fact is, each generation's speech is unique, so looking at today's youth's utterances through the lens of yesterday's standards doesn't help anyone.

More importantly, in no way should your neighbourhood teens saying their friend's clothes are "tellement sick" amount to a threat to you speaking French with your mom or with your buddies during your next 5 à 7. Vivre et laisser vivre, my friend.

The Victim Complex On Stolen Land

It's nothing new that the Quebec linguistic landscape is scattered with less-than-logical arguments offered by our political leaders who believe to their core that the majority language of the French-speaking province is disappearing at an alarming rate.

We French-Canadians are masters at shifting the blame when discussing identity politics and linguistic minorities, from Jacques Parizeau blaming "l'argent et le vote ethnique" for the 1995 referendum results, to more recent activist group Nouvelle Alliance feeling threatened by English-language street signage in the Ville de Mont-Royal.

Though sometimes, we should grab the nearest mirror and take a good look.

Indeed, victimizing a settler language while ignoring pressing cultural and linguistic Indigenous issues is plain hypocrisy from the Quebec government.

Heck, my maternal grandfather spent his youth in residential schools and even I don't speak any Indigenous language. Why wasn't I taught in school to try to remedy the cultural cleft this generational trauma created?

Indigenous communities have criticized Bill 96 time and time again, but it seems French, a colonial language, is hegemon here.

"Our students are the innocent victims of legislation that compromises the languages, cultures, and traditions of First Nations in Quebec," previously stated Denis Gros-Louis, Director General of the First Nations Education Council (FNEC).

If Quebec cared about linguistic conservation, the focus would be on teaching languages that are on the verge of disappearance, and encouraging multilingualism in the greater population.

The benefits of bilingualism are not only cultural and neurological, but studies have shown that bilingual workers literally earn, on average, more money than monolinguals in the province. Investing in language teachings rather than language repression would be quite lucrative for everyone, it seems.

Plus, French is still dominant in Quebec's rural regions, and linguistic diversity is on the rise. A quick stroll in most city streets in the province, and you'll see mainly French on signage, hear French conversations, and be able to live and breathe the language.

Therefore, the Quebec government is simply out of touch with reality.

While keeping an eye on its status in a globally vulnerable position is a good idea, it seems just like the peregrine falcon, the steps we take to preserve Quebec French need to be well-researched and thoughtful, not petty and divisive.

This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

Kelly Asselin-Tousignant
Associate Copy Editor
Kelly Asselin-Tousignant is an Associate Copy Editor for Narcity Media Group and is based in Montreal.
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