Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Language, Part 2 - Quebec

Here is what I understand as the situation here in Quebec given my experience so far. For the natives, feel free to correct me.

The language demographics. Outside of the metropolitan area and places patronized by anglophone tourists, French is the language and English is a rarity. Many people outside these areas have little need and opportunity to speak English. In the metropolitan area, the division of francophone/anglophone splits at downtown. East of downtown is francophone generally by a ratio of 90/10, while west of downtown is anglophone by a ratio of 70/30. I did not include allophones (those who speak another language) in the percentages. They generally make up about 10 -15% on the island. My impression is that about half the francophones are fluent in English, while closer to three-quaters of the anglophones are fluent in French. I have limited experience of the north shore and the west island, so these are educated guesses on the anglophones.

Although I think a francophone can get by not speaking English as long as their business is not downtown, I find it hard believe an anglophone could do the opposite. I say this because French is the primary language here and there are only limited areas that are largely anglophone. I'm sure people could get by the same way I did in Europe, but to live here I feel you would eventually need to understand French. I'm just saying that it limits your options on both sides.

As a foreigner, I have addressed the language situation by assuming that this is a francophone province and it is my perogative to treat it as such. Therefore, when I meet people for the first time, I always address them in French and try my best to continue discussions in French. The funny thing is that many times it is evident that the person I am speaking to is anglophone but my brain keeps wanting to address them in French. When I return to the states I have the same problem. My brain keeps wanting to address people in French and sometimes I say Merci instead of Thank you.

With all of this said, it is a great place to learn French for an anglophone. Everything is written in both languages. There is a high percentage of people who speak both languages downtown. And I think that since people in the city know what it is like to learn the other language, they are very understanding of people who are learning. The other thing is that since there is an anglophone presense here, there is always that opportunity to escape back to your mother tongue every once in a while. For instance, I have been very bad about reading and watching things in French. I have been worried I would miss some important news or whathaveyou. Now that I am retreating from my interest in the news to return to naive bliss, I am free to study more on those fronts.


Matthew V said...

I think you're right, except that the East/West divide doesn't correspond quite that perfectly. I think that 70% anglo might be exaggerated for the West. Not for the West Island, of course, but closer to downtown, maybe..

A lot like the way we say "East" and "West" in Montreal when it's not really that on a compass, I think people stick to the east=French west=English dichotomy because it's just simpler, even when in reality the communities may be more mixed. I'm anglo by birth, and my grandparents come from Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, which nowadays is thought of as a french enclave. People think of the English being in the West, because that's where the rich English were. But in the past there were big working-class anglo communities in the South-East, and in Griffintown under the Victoria bridge.

Unknown said...

The East West reference was largely for simplification purposes for people unfamiliar with the area. Like a travel guide.

I was in a bit of a rush to get the post out, so I didn't verify the numbers. I had done a little study of the island demographics for my own knowledge a few months ago and the numbers you see were my recollection.

This has repiqued my interest and I will restudy the breakdown and post on it. I'll be using the 1996 Census figures from the City of Montreal webpage.