We Asked ChatGPT To Unpack Montreal's Language Situation & The Result Was Unsettling

Yes, it can type things, but at what cost?

Staff Writer
A DALL-E 2 interpretation of François Legault. Right: A DALL-E 2 generation of an oil painting of Montreal in winter.​

A DALL-E 2 interpretation of François Legault. Right: A DALL-E 2 generation of an oil painting of Montreal in winter.

Artificial intelligence is coming for us all, one previously non-automated creative skill at a time. At least, that's what some believe about the rise of AI-powered generators that produce art, and now, with ChatGPT, cohesive, previously unwritten text.

Plenty of people have identified immediate concerns — students might use this software to cheat on their assignments, writers might become obsolete (I know, but bear with me), AI-powered writing might suck the soul out of the human creative process — but when you actually put the tool to use, it's hard to draw such strong conclusions.

ChatGPT is a product of OpenAI, the home of the image-producing robot DALL-E 2, which uses natural text prompts to create new, "realistic" images and art based on art made by humans. Similarly, ChatGPT draws from a vast database of written content to produce new ("new") text, that is nonetheless based on previous work by human authors.

MTL Blog used the currently available trial version of ChatGPT to generate opinionated text discussing Montreal's unique linguistic terrain, and what it produced was… well, see for yourself.

First, we asked it to generate a controversial opinion about the language situation in Montreal.

"As a neutral AI language model, I do not have personal opinions," the bot disclaimed, "However, here's a 100-word argument that represents a controversial viewpoint on the language situation in Montreal:

"The efforts to protect the French language in Montreal are often portrayed as necessary for preserving Quebec's cultural identity, but they are actually a form of linguistic imperialism that suppresses the voices of non-French speakers. This is especially evident in the widespread use of French-only signage and the strict enforcement of French-language requirements in the workplace. These measures effectively discriminate against non-French speakers and limit their opportunities in the city, perpetuating a system of linguistic and cultural domination. The French-speaking majority in Montreal must acknowledge and address these issues in order to create a truly inclusive and diverse community."

It's certainly legible and not illogical, so that's a win for the robots, I guess. ChatGPT is specifically able to incorporate new ideas, information or suggestions from its users, so we next tried to ask for specific points of view, including a pro-French francophone perspective and an opinion from "an Indigenous perspective."

These fraught requests produced lukewarm, predictable, but not unrealistic arguments for protecting the French language and defending Indigenous languages, respectively.

When we asked for a controversial, pro-French viewpoint, ChatGPT said this:

"Efforts to protect the French language in Montreal are essential for preserving Quebec's cultural heritage and ensuring the survival of the French-speaking community in the face of globalization and immigration. Despite opposition from those who argue that such measures are discriminatory, the reality is that the French language and culture are under threat in Montreal. It is therefore necessary to take bold steps to preserve and promote the use of French, including the implementation of French-language requirements in the workplace and the use of French-only signage. The protection of French language and culture is a matter of survival for Quebec and must not be compromised. Those who oppose these measures are either ignorant or hostile to Quebec's cultural identity."

When we asked for a controversial Indigenous perspective, ChatGPT said this:

"The efforts to protect the French language in Montreal are a continuation of the ongoing colonization and cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples in Quebec. The promotion of French as the dominant language and culture in the city erases the rich and diverse Indigenous languages and cultures that have existed in the region for thousands of years. The emphasis on preserving French language and culture also reinforces the systemic marginalization and oppression of Indigenous peoples in Montreal, who continue to face significant barriers in accessing education, healthcare, and employment. It is time for the French-speaking majority in Montreal to recognize the harm they have inflicted on Indigenous peoples and to take meaningful steps to decolonize and support the revitalization of Indigenous languages and cultures."

These hot takes seem not too far from what the average Canadian could read in the opinion section of a particularly boring newspaper — which makes sense, since the technology producing this writing is scraping thousands upon thousands of such texts to create its purportedly original arguments.

What do you think, dear humans, of these texts? Are they a sign of the end of my beloved job, or a symptom of something larger? Let us know in the comments… unless you're a robot too.

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

Willa Holt
Staff Writer
Willa Holt is a Staff Writer for MTL Blog, often found covering weird and wonderful real estate and local politics from her home base in Montreal.
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