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09.18.2003

Quebecois Bloggers Respond

I got kind letters in response to last night's post from two Quebec bloggers, Aaron Cope and Martine Page, both of whom help put the episode in a wider context. In return for their generosity, they're about to be hit by the remains of Hurricane Isabel, currently northbound through Vermont and whipping the trees something fierce.

Never underestimate the ingratitude of an American blogger.

Martine posts an open letter on her excellent weblog:

The OQLF incident you talked about is an isolated one. I doubt that it will happen again, at least on private sites like blogs. I like the fact that I live in a place where there is such a thing as tolerance, a place where people can say "this was a mistake" and we can drop the subject. I'm still nervous though that the anglo press in Canada will jump on this occasion to point their eternal accusatory finger at the so-called language police, accusing once again the franco quebecois of xenophobia or even totalitarianism. But anyone devoid of paranoia tendencies will tell you that this is not the way things are experienced here on a daily basis.

This is particularly remarkable considering that the province nearly seceded in a referendum just eight years ago. It's a tribute to Canadians that Quebec does not experience the kind of strife you see in Corsica or the Basque country.

Aaron sends in a link to a polemical email message that doubles as a neat primer on the politics and recent history of Quebec:

Until the Quiet Revolution of the 1950's and 1960's the province was roughly half the population of the entire country; families of 10-13 children were not at all uncommon during the first half of the 20th century. One of the first things to happen during the Quiet Revolution was a wholesale move away from the Church and a dramatic decline in the birthrate. [...]faced with being a minority of 6-7 million francophones in a population of 30-300 millions anglophones (if you include the U.S.), a declining birth rate and an increasing immigrant population the province opted to enforce laws governing the language of education and commerce. If a person doesn't accept the idea that language is culture, or at least an intrinsic part of it, then it is unlikely that they will see much need or merit in doing anything to preserve it.

The idea that you can choose the kind of culture you live in through legislation and collective social action is deeply repugnant to many Americans, but not perhaps to Vermonters. In our case, you only have to look at New York State or New Hampshire to see what the countryside here would look like if there were not a collective effort to keep down visual blight (no billboards, exacting zoning regulations). And all those quaint, postcardy dairy farms would be gone in a year if it weren't for price regulation. So it's easy from here to be sympathetic to arguments about the need to preserve language, even if it means regulation.

Aaron also points to an edifying post by Luke Andrews:

The latest census shows that the total number of people whose mother tongue is French in Canada is now only slightly higher than the total whose mother tongue is neither English nor French. Along with the dominance of English around the world, a steady tide of immigration have led to the decline of French's significance in Canada. Since most immigrants' children speak English, French will only continue to wane in influence, except in Quebec where its use is fiercely defended. It is this isolation which fuels Quebec nationalism. While francophones living in the rest of Canada are doubtless willing to defend their language, only Quebeckers actually have the territory and political will to define a nation.

Meanwhile, OQLFgate continues to gain legs. Quebec Urbain reports that the French and Canadian national press have both picked up on the story, and even reprints a front-page article from this morning's Devoir.

While we wait for Fox News to pick up the story, American readers can stay ahead of the pack by taking a look at the handy American's Guide to Canada, which includes advice on how to emigrate to that most excellent country. And to the folks at Userland software, who precipitated this crisis by hard-coding their blog calendar in English, I would recommend the useful Onion article "Perky 'Canada' Has Own Currency, Laws":

Like his estimated 35,000 fellow countrymen, Dorman is proud to be a "Canadian." Located 120 miles north of Buffalo, NY, Canada is, according to Dorman, "a nation with a government and laws distinct from those of the United States." It also has a military, a system of taxation, and periodic free elections to select political leaders. It even has its own currency, says Dorman, various denominations of "dollars" that can be exchanged for the many products manufactured in Canada, including Canadian bacon and ice.

They even have an "internet", and some "blogueurs" who don't want to resort to cumbersome software hacks just to have their Monday be a Lundi.

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