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French in Canada

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French is the mother tongue of about 6.7 million Canadians (23% of the Canadian population).[1] While most native French speakers live in Quebec, where it is the majority language, about one million native francophones live in other provinces, forming significant minorities with French-language supporting institutions, in the provinces of Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

French is one of Canada's two official languages at the federal level; the other is English and is the language of the majority. French is also the sole official language in Quebec, while it is co-official with English in New Brunswick. Where numbers justify the situation, the federal government provides services in both official languages throughout the country. In addition, all senior management positions in the federal government have a bilingualism requirement by agreement with the PSAC (union of federal civil servants) offers extensive language training services to the civil service. The provincial governments of Ontario, New Brunswick, and Manitoba also provide service in the French language where numbers warrant. In the cases of Ontario and New Brunswick, the provincial services include government-funded education. This has sometimes been a politically sensitive issue, not because of the cost, but because the French-language schools are largely parochial schools run by the Catholic Church.

Legal status in Canada

About 5.2% of the world's francophones are Canadian, and French is one of Canada's two official languages (the other being English). Various provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms deal with Canadians' right to access services in both languages. By law, the federal government must operate and provide services in both English and French, proceedings of the Parliament of Canada must be translated into both these languages, and all Canadian products must have bilingual labels. Overall, about 13% of Canadians have knowledge of French only, while 18% have knowledge of both English and French.

In contrast, over 80% of the population of Quebec speaks French. It has been the sole official language of Quebec since 1974; this was reiterated in law with the 1977 adoption of the Charter of the French Language (popularly referred to as Bill 101), which guarantees that every person has a right to have the civil administration, the health and social services, corporations, and enterprises in Quebec communicate with him in French. Although some arrangements of the Charter allow the use of English in order to respect the freedoms and rights of Quebec's anglophone minority (such as access to health and social services), French is widely promoted.

The provision of Bill 101 that has arguably had the least significant impact mandates French-language education unless a child's parents or siblings have received the majority of their own education in English within Canada. This measure has reversed a historical trend whereby a large number of immigrant children were sent to English schools. In so doing, Bill 101 has greatly contributed to the "visage français" (French face) of Montreal in spite of its growing immigrant population. Other provisions of Bill 101 have been ruled unconstitutional over the years, including those mandating French-only commercial signs, court proceedings, and debates in the legislature. Though none of these provisions are still in effect today, some continued to be on the books for a time even after courts had ruled them unconstitutional as a result of the government's decision to invoke the so-called notwithstanding clause of the Canadian constitution to override constitutional requirements. In 1993, the Charter was rewritten to allow signage in other languages so long as French was markedly "predominant."

The only other province that recognizes French as an official language is New Brunswick, which is officially bilingual like the nation as a whole. Outside of Quebec, the highest number of francophones in North America reside in Ontario, whereas New Brunswick, home to the Acadians, has the highest percentage of francophones after Quebec. In Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Manitoba, French does not have full official status, although the provincial governments do provide some French-language services in all communities where significant numbers of francophones live. Canada's three northern territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut) all recognize French as an official language as well.

All provinces make some effort to accommodate the needs of their francophone citizens, although the level and quality of French-language service varies significantly from province to province. The Ontario French Language Services Act, adopted in 1986, guarantees French language services in that province where the francophone population exceeds 5% of the total population; this has the most effect in the north and east of the province, as well as in other larger centres such as Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Mississauga, London, Kitchener, St. Catharines, Greater Sudbury and Windsor. However, the French Language Services Act does not confer the status of "official bilingualism" on these cities, as that designation carries with it implications which go beyond the provision of services in both languages. The City of Ottawa's language policy (by-law 2001-170) has two criteria which would allow employees to work in the language of choice and be supervised in the language of choice; this policy is being challenged by an organization called Canadians for Language Fairness. A law similar to the Ontario French Language Services Act came into effect in Nova Scotia in 2004.

Canada has the status of member state in the Francophonie, while the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick are recognized as participating governments. Ontario is currently seeking to become a full member on its own.


French dialects in Canada

As a consequence of geographical and political/historical (British Conquest) isolation, the French language in Canada presents three distinct dialects (distinct from French in Europe, but also among each other within Canada):

Note that the term Canadian French (as used by persons outside Canada) usually refers to only to Quebec French (the most widely spoken dialect), and not the French language as it is spoken elsewhere in Canada, as the other Canadian dialects have little international visibility (excepting Acadian among American francophones). Quebeckers prefer to say Québecois, Acadians prefer to say Acadian French or Canadian French, while Francophones of other provinces might prefer to say Canadian French. It is just a question of identity, not a difference in meaning. The three dialects can be historically associated with three of the five former colonies of New France, respectively Canada, Acadia and Terre-Neuve (Newfoundland).

Acadian French, Quebec French and Newfoundland French are not Old French – a much earlier ancestor that spanned 1000 to 1300 CE and, in many ways, resembled Latin. The origins of these dialects of French in Canada actually lie in the 17th and 18th century regional varieties of early Modern French, also known as Classical French, and of other Oïl languages (Norman, Picard, etc.) that French colonists brought to New France.

Also, Michif is a mixed language based on Cree and Quebec French, deriving much of its vocabulary from French.

The language across Canada

Quebec

Quebec is the only province whose sole official language is French. However, many of the services it provides are available in English for the important anglophone population of the province (i.e. Montréal). Québécois is noticeably different in pronunciation and vocabulary, though with effort mutually comprehensible, with Metropolitan French in France. This is due to the long history of French in North America and the fact that French immigrants to New France kept speaking the French of the Ancien régime while in France the French Revolution led to the standardization of bourgeois Parisian French. Today, 81.4 percent of Quebecers or Québécois are francophone.[1] Different regions of Quebec have their own style, due to their isolation for many years: Gaspé Peninsula, North Coast, Quebec City,Lac St-Jean, Outaouais and Abitibi have clear differences in choice of words and pronunciation, based on culture, lifestyle and origins.

The Outaouais region is located near Ottawa. French-speaking people will use English words and deviations. You will find phrases like:

  • "Tooter de la horn": To toot the horn.
  • "Se faire couper les cheveux bawled": To get a bald head haircut.

In eastern regions, the pronunciation is the greatest differenciator. Some French Montrealers (Montréal) will find funny a French person from Magdalen Islands.

In addition, since the year 2004 Quebeckers have used more and more English terms in their everyday language. This is said to be caused by the cultural influence brought from the United States by the technological era.

Atlantic Canada

French is one of the two official languages of the province of New Brunswick. Apart from Quebec, this is the only other Canadian province that recognizes French as an official language. Approximately one third of New Brunswickers are francophone,[2] the largest Acadian population in Canada. Most commonly known as Acadian French, the variety of French spoken in Atlantic Canada possesses features different from Québécois French. It also has speakers in the provinces of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. Acadian French is historically related to Cajun French.

Although not traditionally associated with Acadia, the Magdalen Islands, an archipelago of 9 small islands belonging to Quebec, also have historical ties with Acadian French.

In Acadia, French is a minority language. In some communities, it is an endangered language.

Ontario

Although French is the native language of just over half a million Canadians in Ontario, francophone Ontarians represent only 4.4 percent of the province's population and are concentrated near the border with Quebec (Eastern Ontario) and in Sudbury. Nonetheless, they are also present in smaller numbers throughout the province as well. However, a third of Franco-Ontarians no longer speak the language at home.

The province has no official language, although it is a largely English-speaking province. Ontario law requires that the provincial Legislative Assembly operate in both English and French (individuals can speak in the Assembly in the official language of their choice), and requires that all provincial statutes and bills be made available in English and French. Furthermore, an individual is entitled to communicate with the head or central office of any provincial government department or agency in French, and an individual is entitled to receive all government services in French in 23 designated areas in the province. The provincial government of Ontario's website is bilingual.

Prairies

Manitoba also has a significant Franco-Manitoban community, centred especially in the St. Boniface area of Winnipeg, but also in many surrounding villages. The provincial government of Manitoba boasts the only bilingual website of the Prairies; the Canadian constitution makes French an official language in Manitoba for the Legislature and Courts. Saskatchewan also has a Fransaskois community, as does Alberta with its Franco-Albertans. British-Columbia, on the other hand, hosts only a small francophone population, the Franco-Columbians.

Although not a dialect of French, Michif, a unique mixed language based on Cree and French, is spoken by a small number of Métis living mostly in the province of Manitoba.

Northern territories

French is an official language in each of the three northern territories: Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.

Footnotes

  1. Statistics Canada: Lanaguage composition of Canada'.
  2. Statistics Canada: Provinces and territories'.