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Trilingualism flourishes in Montreal

Cheryl CornacchiaThe Gazette


Tuesday, January 08, 2008



While widespread bilingualism remains an unattained goal in the rest of Canada, in Montreal, the level of trilingualism has jumped yet again.

In 2006, the number of people in the Greater Montreal area able to converse in both of Canada's official languages plus another language, increased to 18 per cent up from 16.5 per cent in 2001.


About 660,000 Montrealers know three languages, according to Jack Jedwab, the Montreal researcher who conducted the study that looks at trilingualism in 10 selected Canadian cities.


"It's good news all around," said Jedwab, an executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies in Montreal.


When it comes to language proficiency, Jedwab said, Montrealers far surpass those living in the nine other cities analyzed as part of the study.

Montreal is not only one of North America's most cosmopolitan cities but also one of the most linguistically gifted, he said.


"The message for the rest of the country," he added is that "where there is a will, there is a way."


At 10.5 per cent and 10.2 per cent of their population, respectively, Toronto and Ottawa came the closest to Montreal for trilingual speakers. At 1.2 per cent, Halifax had the fewest number of trilingual speakers.

Jedwab who teaches a course entitled Canada's Official Language Minorities: History and Demography at McGill University's Institute for the Study of Canada, analyzed 2006 Canadian census data, released last month, to arrive at the linguistic portrait.


The study also found that in Montreal Armenians (77 per cent), followed by Italians (72.3 per cent) and, then, the Dutch (71.9 per cent) were the three most bilingual of the city's allophone groups.


The least bilingual of the city's allophone groups, unable to speak either of Canada's official languages, were Cantonese (21 per cent), Cambodian (15.5 per cent) and Punjabi (15.3 per cent).


Hagop Boulgarian, principal of l'École Armenien Sourp Hagop, a 675-student private elementary/secondary school in Montreal said the findings about his ethnic group didn't surprise him.


With genocide and a diaspora in his people's history, Boulgarian said, learning new languages - and fast - has been an important survival tool for Armenians in general, not only the 25,000 living in the Greater Montreal region.


Aloisio Mulas, acting director of the Picai Institute of Montreal, which is devoted to the promotion of Italian culture and language, said Italians in Montreal have shared that passion for speaking French and English.


However, he said, attendance in Italian language classes at the institute have been falling over the past decade. Some families after a generation or two in the city, he said, become less concerned about ensuring their children keep up their Italian language skills.


Denise De Haan Veilleux, a cultural attaché at the Consulate General of the Netherlands in Montreal said she is pleased but not surprised to see that so many Dutch living in Montreal are multilingual.


In Holland, she said, children must study two languages, English and French or German when they reach high school.


"It's just something you do," said De Hann Veilleux. "The attitude towards other languages is very different.


"It's no big deal" added the 47-year-old francophone, who grew up in Quebec City and learned English and Dutch only after she married and moved abroad for various postings.


With the family now back in Canada, she said, her 20-year-old son studying at McGill University and a 13-year-old daughter are lucky to be able to speak French, English, Dutch, German and Arabic.


"It's like a present you give them as children," she said. "They don't have to learn as adults."





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1.2% in Halifax !! That's way too low !!


The least bilingual of the city's allophone groups, unable to speak either of Canada's official languages, were Cantonese (21 per cent), Cambodian (15.5 per cent) and Punjabi (15.3 per cent).

I'd be curious to know what %age of those groups are bilingual in the first place !!

In Holland, she said, children must study two languages, English and French or German when they reach high school.

This I knew. Therefore, I was not surprised to see Dutch people in this list.

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ça ne me surprend pas une seconde. J'ai fais mon primaire dans une école arménienne à Ville St-Laurent, et à partir de la maternelle, on apprenait déjà les trois langues(Français pour la majoritée des cours, Anglais et Arménien)


Quand on est jeune,ç'est facile!

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  • 3 weeks later...
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French like me? An undercover shopping spree in Montreal's anglo 'hoods


Gazette reporter sees what it's like for the other side -- the unilingual francophones that is

Andy Riga, Canwest News Service Published: Sunday, January 27, 2008


In Quebec's long, tumultuous history of language squabbles, it might have been a first.




In one corner, me -- an anglophone reporter -- trying (politely) to be served in French as I returned some empties and bought a 6/49 ticket in Notre Dame de Grâce.



In the other, her -- an anglophone cashier for a major grocery chain -- insisting on answering in English until finally relenting and addressing me in passable French. It was the only uncomfortable moment in Franco Comme Moi, my bid to see how the other half shops.



It's not quite Black Like Me, the book by John Howard Griffin, where a white reporter underwent medical treatments to look black in 1959 to see what life was like for African Americans. But for a week, I went under-


cover as a radical, unilingual French-rights activist, speaking only French to store, café and restaurant workers in more-or-less anglophone parts of town.



I was born in Quebec of Italian immigrants who chose to settle here a half-century ago.



The French language is a daily part of my life, though I speak it with an accent.



I'm sending my children to school in the French system.


I've even recently discovered the wonders of Quebec TV (tip to anglos watching La Petite Vie reruns: try it with subtitles).



Like many (most?) bilingual Montrealers, in conversations with people of the opposite


"-phone," courtesy prevails.



If my French is better than their English, it's Molière (more or less). Vice-versa? Shakespeare (more or less).



Sometimes, upon hearing my accent, francophone store workers switch to English even if their English is not better than my French. Maybe they are being considerate or they want to practise their English.



I figure most Quebecers fall somewhere between the minority of francophones who have convinced themselves that English again dominates in Montreal the way it did pre-Bill-101, and the minority of anglophones who still long for the days of English domination.



Where we are on the spectrum depends on mother tongue; political tendencies; exposure to the other solitude; how close we are to the next referendum; whether the latest demographic statistics are being interpreted Chicken-Little style; and which side of the bed we happen to get up on that day.



By now, many anglos have learned to take it all in stride.


But every once in a while, something reignites the feeling, even in the most "integrated" anglo, that when it comes to language and immigrants, many in the francophone majority will never be satisfied. The latest case is the uproar caused by a series of imaginative articles in a certain tabloid suggesting it's difficult for francophones to be served in French in Montreal.


- - -


Can it be that in 2008 some Montreal stores essentially tell francophones to "speak white"?



To find out, I embarked on my unscientific experiment, vowing to speak only French to store workers for seven days.



My rules were simple. I would select stores at random. I would start by saying "bonjour," keeping the conversation simple to hide my square-head accent. I would continue in French even if the salesperson insisted on English. I would not be obnoxious (I don't think I could muster an "Au Québec, on parle français!" tirade).



Some highlights of my adventure:



Grocery store (N.D.G.): It's my first stop. I'm returning two cases of empty Boréale Rousse bottles and buying a 6/49 ticket in French. I say "bonjour." But the cashier is having none of it. She doesn't respond to my greeting. In English, she asks for my bottle count. I answer in French. She repeats it in English. Then I ask for a 6/49, in French. In English, she asks if I want to add an Extra to the ticket. No, I answer: "Pas d'Extra." Finally, she relents, confirming she understands my order and thanking me - in French. Phew. That was rough, though with a happy denouement. Still, the fact she obviously understands and speaks French but resists doing so leaves me irked. Have I already succumbed to the Stockholm syndrome? Is she just having a bad day? Maybe she thinks she's not getting paid enough to make an effort?



Big-box store (Point St. Charles): Aha! They're speaking English behind the counter near the door, though one worker is obviously a francophone. But when he hears my "bonjour," the anglo cashier snaps into French, politely asking me why I want a refund on a previous purchase. As I enter the store, I overhear part of a pep talk: in English, a francophone supervisor is telling an anglo store greeter to speak more French. "People will be able to tell you're trying very hard," she reassures her. Apparently, the recent controversy has left some stores and some bilingual anglos spooked. At the cash, a perky cashier greets me enthusiastically in French.



Hardware store (St. Henri): "Bonjour, hi," the guy behind the counter says. I "bonjour" him, pay for my brand new garbage can and we exchange "mercis."



Coffee shop (N.D.G.): This may be interesting. The woman behind the counter is wearing a hijab; she's training a young man, who also has dark skin, at the cash. They're speaking English to the customer before me. I smell a scandal. Will this be a double whammy, bringing together the reasonable-accommodation and store-language crises? Should I see if they'll serve me soupe aux pois with pork - in French? They greet me with "bonjour, hi" and switch to impeccable French when they hear my "bonjour."



Software company call centre (somewhere in India): My anti-virus software is on the fritz. It's in French (it was cheaper than the English version). But for tech support in French, the company website tells me to call a toll-free number and wait on hold - or click to instantly exchange text messages with a tech support person in English. Despite my pledge, I opt for English, worried my computer will become infested while I wait and then stumble for French technical terms. Is it fair - cheaper software but slower tech support?



Italian bakery (N.D.G.): The guy ahead of me is conversing in Italian with the counter worker. When it's my turn, I ask in French for six soft sandwich buns; she answers in French, but they're all out. Rats. I call my wife, who (in English) sends me to the second choice: a nearby chain grocery store.



Grocery store (N.D.G.): I find buns (they're factory-made and 2 days old). At the cash, the cashier greets me in English but quickly switches to French after I "bonjour" her.



Panhandler (downtown): I walk by a scruffy man greeting all passersby with a "bonjour," his hand sticking out. I give him some change and ask (in French) if he might collect more if he greeted people in English, as well. He tells me he alternates, some days English, some days French. The take doesn't change.



Grocery store (Pierrefonds): How refreshing. Instead of "bonjour, hi," the cashier says "allô" in such a way that it almost sounds like "hello." She's a genius: it saves her one syllable and keeps everybody happy. When she hears my "bonjour," she continues in French. I order a 6/49. Maybe this bilingual ticket will be luckier than the one purchased from the stubborn anglo in N.D.G.



Dollar store (N.D.G.): In French, I ask a shelf stocker where the kitchenware is. No luck: she points, non-verbally telling me which aisle to visit. Maybe she's on to something - should we all just use sign language? At the counter, the cashier doesn't respond to my "bonjour," instead quickly picking up my items and counting them (in English). With my junk in hand, I say "merci;" she says "thank you." Verdict: efficient but unilingual. Does she figure there's no harm done since we communicated despite the language barrier? That, if need be, another employee could serve me in French?



Restaurant (Pointe Claire): I forgot my cellphone at the office. I decide to hunt down an elusive pay phone. I wander into a small restaurant and ask the guy behind the counter if they have one. In heavily accented French, the anglo says no, but he offers to let me use the restaurant's phone.


Fruit store (Dollard): Arabic music is playing when I enter. I ask a stock clerk if they have nectarines. "Certainement," he replies, walking me to them. When I go to pay, the sullen cashier doesn't respond to my greeting or to my "merci." She either doesn't speak French or doesn't know her manners.



- - -


In total, I visited 22 places of business.


Two people didn't immediately switch to French; two others didn't answer verbally when addressed in French.



My conclusions:



In some cases, some store workers indeed resist speaking French. But there's a wide gulf between that reality and the Journal de Montréal's front-page headline: "Difficile d'être servi en français à Montréal." (At least they left out the exclamation point.)



The province's store workers should collectively be given the Order of Quebec for doing an admirable job on the front lines, in most cases deftly handling customers of all stripes, not to mention pesky reporters.


A new entry is needed in Quebec's franglais (Englench?) lexicon:


"bonjour/hi," the two greetings repeated together so often in Montreal stores they sound like a single word.


Montreal Gazette



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Interesting. and much closer to my own personnal experience. I very rarely faced unilingual anglos in retail stores here. What happened to me though was an unilingual chinese behind a counter in Chinatown. No french, no english. I felt there that we were both (anglos and francos) left with no service at all in our own mother's tongue. At least, equal there !! ;)

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It's probably a lot easier to be served in French in Montreal's most English neighbourhoods than it is to be served in English in Los Angeles' most Latino areas.


Montreal has changed a lot since the 1970s. This recent linguistic controversy seems like a particularly dishonest attempt at manufacturing the kind of hatred and division on which certain political groups thrive.

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Montreal has changed a lot since the 1970s. This recent linguistic controversy seems like a particularly dishonest attempt at manufacturing the kind of hatred and division on which certain political groups thrive.


You can thank our daily TABLOID paper for that. The J de M is the worst paper in this city!


As much as I am an ardent defender of the French language, this article by the Journal de Montréal was a cheap attempt at getting some fvcking ratings!

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