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French in Quebec since the Quiet Revolution: A Symbol and an Instrument of National Cultural Identity

French in Quebec since the Quiet Revolution: A Symbol and an Instrument of National Cultural Identity

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A discussion of the symbolic and instrumental value of the French language in québébcois national identity since the social and political upheaval of ' La révolution tranquille'. How French came to play such an important role is examined, with reference to historical linguistic inequality and the revitalisation of French through strict language legislation. Both corpus and status measures are analysed.
A discussion of the symbolic and instrumental value of the French language in québébcois national identity since the social and political upheaval of ' La révolution tranquille'. How French came to play such an important role is examined, with reference to historical linguistic inequality and the revitalisation of French through strict language legislation. Both corpus and status measures are analysed.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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06/04/2014

 
1
“In Quebec, s
ince the
révolution tranquille
of the 1960s, French has been a dynamic
force, at once the symbol and the instrument of national cultural identity”
(Sanders,1995). Discuss.Language, Society and Identity in the French-speaking WorldNiamh Skelly, JSTrinity Term, 2008
 
2The
révolution tranquille
, generally defined as the period of intense modernisationbetween 1959 and 1966, w
as a „fundamental watershed‟ in the history of modern Quebec
 (Fitzmaurice, 1985, p.54). Social transformation created an atmosphere of elation and asense of collective strength. It was in this context that the concept of a distinct
québécois
 identity emerged, which was to have an important impact on attitudes towards and use of the French language (Coleman, 1984). When languages are in contact, as is the case of English and French in Quebec, speakers of distinct varieties interact and tensions arisesurrounding the respective status of these varieties (Spolsky, 1998). Until the 1970s,English was of higher prestige than French. Those who spoke English natively or by
adoption, henceforth referred to as „anglophones‟,
enjoyed
de facto
language rightsdenied to those who spoke French natively or by adoption, henceforth referred to as
francophones
. However, since the
révolution tranquille
, there had been impressivemomentum behind the French language; Quebec French is continually evolving andstrengthening its position and may therefore be considered a dynamic force. French nowpossess the functions and status normally associated with the native language of themajority group. The status of French in Quebec is central to how the
Québécois
viewthemselves, as it conveys the shared values which bind them together and distinguishthem from others. French is thus the most readily identifiable symbol of their nationalcultural identity, as well as a powerful instrument, used to differentiate Quebec from therest of North America and assert its claims to political and cultural autonomy. In order toillustrate how French has been a dynamic force in Quebec since the social and politicalupheaval of the 1960s, the unique position of Quebec will first be briefly outlined,followed by an examination of how French came to both symbolise and be aninstrumental of 
québécois
identity. Linguistic inequality in Quebec will be discussed,before analysing of role of language legislation in the revitalisation of French, withreference to both the status and internal features of the language.Of the ten provinces of Canada, only Quebec has a francophone majority; of the 7.4million inhabitants of Quebec, 5.9 million are native French speakers
(
Statistics Canada
 ,
2006). Having effectively broken all ties with France and experienced four centuries of political, cultural and economic dominance by anglophones, the survival of French in
 
3Canada is a considerable achievement (Blanc, 1993). It is against all the odds, andtestament to the renewed dynamism of French since the 1960s, that modern Quebec hasmaintained its francophone profile and distinct cultural identity. The two challenges toQuebec French - competition with English and controversy surrounding choice of alinguistic standard - are shared by other francophone countries but are all the morepressing in Quebec, given its unique situation as a francophone enclave in apredominately anglophone state (Corbeil, 1980). Historically, Quebec was an isolated,conservative, rural province with an exceptionally high birth-rate; in such conditions, theFrench language and French-Canadian identity were relatively secure (Blanc, 1993).However, the industrialisation, urbanisation and secularisation of the
révolutiontranquille
posed new challenges to French in Quebec.Language is often a major component of ethnic identity and, in recent times, has becomemore significant than religion in distinguishing between ethnic groups (Thomson, 1995).Until the
révolution tranquille
, Catholicism was the principle distinguishing factor forFrench-Canadians, with language playing a secondary role in their group identity. Thisidentity was undermined by the social changes of the
révolution tranquille
. Thereafter,French became the last bastion of the distinct identity of francophones living in Quebec(Blanc, 1993). As a result, their attitudes towards language and identity changed and theybegan referring to themselves as
québécois.
Culture and group identity came to bedefined on the basis of shared language, partially due to the loss of other distinguishingfeatures and the search for a symbol of cultural authenticity, partially in response toeconomic and cultural disempowerment. The focus on the French language that followedthe emergence of nationalism greatly altered the linguistic situation in Quebec.
 
The
Québécois
viewed themselves as both a nation, defined by the territory of Quebec and theFrench language, and as an ethnolinguistic minority, threatened by the anglophonedominance of Quebec and Canada (Blanc 1993; Conrick and Regan, 2007).
Québécois
 linguistic insecurity was the motivating factor in attempts to revitalise French and createa dynamic, vibrant linguistic force, capable of asserting itself and competing withEnglish.

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