Language Rights in French Canada

By Pierre A. Coulombe | Go to book overview

5 The French-Canadian Identity

Language is at the core of French Canada's personality, in and outside Quebec. Coalescing with culture, ethnicity, and territory, and for a long time with Roman Catholicism, it embodies the history of a people and its struggle to survive. There is little doubt about that. What is interesting is the story of how this came to be, for it says something about the emergence of the French language as identity itself.

The last chapter addressed the contingency of language as a necessary factor in the preservation of an ethnic and cultural identity. In the late sixties, the federal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (the so-called Laurendeau-Dunton Commission) concurred, pointing out that in some cases language can be sacrificed without any major loss to ethnic identity. Many Aboriginals, Acadians, and Welsh, it seemed, have "adopted" the English language without abandoning cultural traits and a sense of pride in their ethnic identity. 1 But the Commission also properly noted that the remaining cultural identity, deprived of its link with language, often becomes more vulnerable to further acculturation as generations pass. Furthermore, the view that language is not an essential feature of identity confronts deep-rooted beliefs among French Canadians whose communal membership equates with the French language. Thus the Commission came to the conclusion that cultural identity "is much more than the persistence of a few psychological traits or expressions of folklore" and that the life of the French-Canadian culture necessarily implies the life of the French language. 2

It is difficult to assess when the French-Canadian identity began to interface primarily with language rather than with other markers of identity, such as ethnicity and religion. One can trace back the existence of a Canadien personality (at first the term Canadien referred

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Language Rights in French Canada
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface to the Paperback Edition vi
  • Preface to the First Edition vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 8
  • Part I Community in Liberalism 9
  • Competing Communities 11
  • 2: What's Wrong with Liberal Society? 25
  • 3: Making Sense of Community Rights 41
  • 4: The Language-Identity Link 55
  • Part II French Canadians and Their Rights 73
  • 5: The French-Canadian Identity 75
  • 6: Justifying Strong Language Rights 89
  • 7: Québec and Bill 101 111
  • 8: Citizenship and Modernity 135
  • Conclusion 153
  • Notes 158
  • Bibliography 161
  • Index 177
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