Paths to Post-Nationalism: A Critical Ethnography of Language and Identity

By Monica Heller | Go to book overview

4
Brewing Trouble

Language, the State, and Modernity in Industrial
Beer Production (Montreal, 1978–1980)

4.1 INVESTIGATING MODERNIZING NATIONALISM:
SOCIOLINGUISTICS IN THE BREWERY

The modernizing project of Quebec had many elements, and social sciences were involved in quite a few of them. Demographers correlated census questions about language with levels of education, revenue, and other important quality-of-life indicators. Anthropologists and historians undertook the construction of the story of Quebec’s traditions. Sociologists and political scientists debated the best forms for the new social institutions (such as regional high schools and community health care centers) and political structures that were developed. Linguists got involved in two things: demonstrating, through linguistic description, the regularity of the vernacular that served as an authenticating symbol of the Quiet Revolution, and the specificity of Québécois French; and developing standards and policies for the spread of French through all domains of Québécois life.1

By 1978, I had already decided that social, economic, and political change in Quebec was going to be easiest to understand by looking at the relationship between language practices in everyday life and the discourse and practices of the institutions regulating ethnonational and ethnoclass organization. Since Canadian academics were not asking that question, I went to study in the United States. I reached a stage in the program in which I was required to produce an empirical study in a subfield of linguistics different from my area of specialization.

This posed a problem, since I really didn’t want to do anything different, until my mother suggested I look up her former graduate school classmate Pierre-Étienne Laporte. Laporte was then head of the research services of the Office de la langue franÇaise (OLF) and might be persuaded to let me do an internship. The OLF was set up in 1961, one year after the election of the Liberal government that ushered in the Quiet Revolution (Cholette 1993). Its role was (and still is) to help the state

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