Asking the questions differently

L’actualité says it wanted to know what anglophones are thinking in order to foster linguistic dialogue. Why not ask francophones too?

Tension linguistique - JJC trahit la nation!

The linguistic situation in real-life Montreal is more nuanced than the results of a poll by L’actualité would suggest.
The provocative cover story in L’actualité’s April 15 edition is a hot-button issue that people are still talking about more than a week after it appeared. Small wonder: the image on the magazine’s cover of a frog holding a sign saying “Ici, on parle English” seemed deliberately designed to kindle language tensions. The cover’s text suggests that Quebec’s young anglophones not only think that French is in a state of decline in Montreal but are happy about it. “Unilingual English bosses? Get used to it!” is another message it suggests is coming from young anglos.
The magazine said its goal was to foster respectful, open-minded conversation between Quebec’s two main linguistic groups. Its first step toward this wished-for exchange, it explained, was to grasp what anglophones are thinking. Hence it conducted a web-based survey of about 560 anglophones.
Critics of the magazine’s self-described effort to promote dialogue have suggested that L’actualité should have dug deeper into anglophone attitudes, and should have asked francophones the same questions it asked anglophones.
To fill the gaps left by L’actualité’s poll, The Gazette and the Association for Canadian Studies commissioned a new poll. Léger Marketing conducted the survey, also web-based, of 777 francophones, 244 anglophones and 79 allophones. (We caution against making firm conclusions about the opinions of allophones due to their small sample size). The poll was conducted the week of March 26.
In our polling, we tried to make sure that the questions asked were posed in as unbiased a way as possible, unlike the L’actualité-CROP poll. In that survey, there were clear cases of respondents being pushed toward a particular answer. One of L’actualité-CROP’s questions, for instance, asked whether respondents thought that English would become the language of the workplace in Montreal. A surprisingly high number of respondents – 54 per cent – said yes. But here is the statement, shamelessly loaded, that respondents were asked to agree or disagree with: “Given the power of globalization and of the English language, it is only a question of time before most work in Montreal will be done in English.” Of course most people agreed.
In posing the same question, the Gazette-ACS-Léger poll dropped the reference to the “power of globalization and of the English language,” instead simply asking if respondents thought that “eventually the majority of Montrealers will work in English.” Twenty-five per cent of anglophones and 48 per cent of francophones agreed. We’re a long way here from L’actualité’s “finding” that the majority of anglophones believe French is on the wane and they’re glad of it.
In fact, most anglophone responses point in the opposite direction. They feel English is in a state of decline in Quebec, not French.
Many also feel unwelcome and that their contributions are unappreciated. And while a majority of anglophones feel they have mastered French, both polls found that francophones disagree with that perception.
The findings of the Gazette-ACS-Léger poll suggest that anglophones have reached out significantly across linguistic lines. Ninety per cent of them have francophone friends, while only 60 per cent of francophones say they have anglophones as friends. But even so, anglophones, especially the younger generation, feel unliked by their French-speaking fellow Quebecers. Seventy per cent of people aged 18 to 24 believe francophones dislike anglophones.
Asked about the impact of Bill 101, 55 per cent of anglophones say that it has contributed to a decline in the use of English, as do 54 per cent of allophones. Only 15 per cent of francophones agree with that statement.
One question where the L’actualité-CROP and Gazette-ACS-Léger polls came up with roughly similar results concerns the extent to which Quebecers think that the fight to protect the French language is being lost. L’actualité gave scant attention to the interesting finding that 60 per cent of anglophones and francophones alike do not feel it is a losing battle.
In The Gazette-ACS-Léger survey, 44 per cent of francophones say that English-speakers are the principal threat to the French language in Montreal, a view held by only 10 per cent of anglophones and 13 per cent of allophones.
Our poll found that the majority – 55 per cent – of young anglophones are not comfortable with the idea of English becoming the majority language in Montreal. That indicates that the L’actualité-CROP poll was wrong when it suggested that a majority of anglophones were fine with the idea.
If anglophones and francophones hold divergent views around the situation of French and English in Montreal, their view of their relations is more nuanced. Asked whether relations between the two groups have improved over the past five years, nearly 60 per cent of anglophones say that they have; for francophones, it’s 45 per cent, while 38 per cent disagree. About 54 per cent of anglophones agree that their community feels positively about francophones, compared with 43 per cent of francophones who say that the majority group feels positively about anglophones.
Our findings suggest that in the real world, the ongoing conversation between Montrealers of all origins is quite removed from the image projected by the cover and much of the commentary in L’actualité. And this is happening despite the genuinely felt language insecurities on the part of both anglophones and francophones that our poll revealed.
If L’actualité sincerely seeks meaningful dialogue with anglophones, it will need to recognize this and acknowledge that when it comes to language identities, the need for introspection cuts both ways.
If L’actualité is unable to give serious consideration to the concerns of anglophones, please excuse me if I respectfully say no thanks to the invitation to “open-minded” conversation.Jack Jedwabis executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies in Montreal.

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