Country for Study of Language Use Canada Thesis

Pages: 8 (2232 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 14  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Communication - Language

Canadian Languages

An Examination of Canadian Official Bilingual Policy and Other Multi-Lingual Factors at Work in Canada

Historical and Current Linguistic Factors

Canada is a large country in terms of geographic area, and its history and society incorporate many diverse people and different languages. The country occupies over nine-million square miles of land -- almost seven percent of the Earth's total landmass -- and much of this area is very sparsely populated (StatCan 2009). Its location in North America has given it a relatively unique history and mixture of European-descended as well as indigenous peoples. The most current population estimate is nearly thirty-four million people, with growing rates of immigration and higher birth rates responsible for some of the most sizable increases the country has seen in decades (StatCan 2009). This growth complicates an already complex and multi-layered historical linguistic pattern that has been millennia in the making.

The discovery of the so-called New World at the end of the fifteenth century led to its heavy exploration and exploitation, which became especially prevalent in the seventeenth century. Several European colonial efforts had large stakes in what are now parts of Canada (and the United States); the current prevalence of native French and English speakers born in the country and Canada's current official bilingual status are evidence of the two primary European influences in the area during the centuries of colonialism and development (Allen). In addition, there are still over fifty languages in spoken by the indigenous cultures that have occupied Canada for several millennia, though none of these are officially recognized by the federal government (Norris; Black; MILTECH 2005). These languages have a complex interaction with each other in the past several centuries.

Colonialism and imperialism -- which arose out of the first waves of European immigration -- have had by far the largest formative effect on the language situation in Canada during the modern period. Though the native populations were not decimated to the degree and extent that those in much of the rest of the Americas, particularly in the United States, the assimilation of native groups has led to a massive decline in the number of speakers of most of these languages (Norris; Black). The problem grew far worse in the twentieth century, as the population of European-descended Canadians as well as increasing immigration caused a dwindling in the proportion of Canadian citizens that were descended from the various indigenous tribes, to the point that only two percent of Canada's population are of even partial indigenous descent (Norris; Social Overview).

A small and quickly declining percentage of these still speak their indigenous languages, however, making the problem far more dire -- in 1990, it was estimated that fifty of the fifty-three identified indigenous languages would have disappeared entirely within a few generations, or possibly even within a few years (Black). Yet recent trends, especially of people of indigenous descent learning indigenous languages as a second language, have somewhat mitigated these circumstances; in 2001, over thirty-six thousand more people spoke and indigenous language fluently than had an indigenous language as a mother tongue (Black: Norris). Some native languages are fairing worse than others, it is certainly true, but on the whole the language situation for most indigenous groups promises at least a token amount of preservation if not the continuation of the languages in whole populations of people (Norris). Much of the reversal in this situation can be put down to an intense engagement in language planning.

Research between 1996 and 2001 has shown that speakers of indigenous languages are increasingly more likely to have acquired this language as a second language than in previous generations, and that concerted efforts to learn these languages and to promote education of and in these languages has been key to this trend (Norris). Specifically, coordinated efforts of the Assembly of First Nations, a national policy driver for many groups of indigenous people, and the First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres [sic], which oversees seventy-seven separate cultural educational centers and schools, have created more programs to teach indigenous languages as well as engaging in heavy promotion of these programs, and of the need to revitalize and ensure the perpetuation of these languages nad the cultures they represent (Black).

To that end, there has also been much protestation and lobbying of the federal government to gain official status for these languages as has been granted to both French and English (Black; Norris). This would not only add political legitimacy and funding to the pursuit of preserving these languages through standard educational systems, but would also gain a greater public awareness of the problem. Chief Ron Ignace, Chairman of the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs Committee on Languages, has expressed the hope of a foundation of one-hundred million dollars, funded half by the federal government and half through the solicitation of donations, and has attached legislation that would effect its creation to proposals that would grant official recognition to a host of indigenous languages (Black; Norris).

The main political and social tension in Canada regarding language, however, stems from the continuing conflict between native French and English speaking Canadians. The roots of this struggle stretch far back into European history, where a long-standing dislike between England and France and the citizens therein has been observed. There are also more direct historical roots of the problem in Canada itself; in 1759, what had already been established as a French colony was taken over after prolonged military conflicts by the English (Wardhaugh 2006, p. 374). The relatively rapid expansion of the country to incorporate other British territories in the region meant that the original French settlers settled largely in Quebec were not only outnumbered but surrounded by the English speaking settlers, and ever since there has been a perception of imminent threat to the survival of French in Canada (Wardhaugh 2006; Healy 2007; Cardinal 2004). This perception has lead to different reactions over time, and the actual effects of both the real bilingualism in Canada and the official policy of holding both French and English as official languages are often clouded by politics.

French-speaking Canadians are centered largely in the province of Quebec, with which a population of nearly eighty percent native French speakers is the only province in Canada with a majority of non-English speakers (Wardhaugh 2006; Healy 2007). There are also sizeable French-speaking minorities in New Brunswick, Ontario, and in pockets in other provinces and territories, as well (Healy 2007; Cardinal 2004). The dispersal and varying concentrations of French-speaking Canadians between and within the various provinces and territories has made the true implementation of official bilingualism unwieldy and ineffective, according to some, while others maintain precisely the opposite and claim that the ineffectiveness of the programs has led to the increased isolation and dwindling of French-speakers (Healy 2007; Cardinal 204; Allen).

A similar yet reverse situation is occurring on a smaller scale within the province of Quebec itself, which in 1974 passed an act declaring French the only official language of the province, in contradiction of the federally mandated bilingualism (Healy 2007). Several other provinces passed English-only laws in obvious retaliation, and the divisiveness has only increased since (Cardinal 2004; Allen). In 1977, Quebec passed the Charter of the French Language, which went even further by declaring French "the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business" (Healy 2007, pp. 40). This has caused no small amount of consternation for English speakers in the province, which make up roughly the same proportion of Quebec's population as French-speakers do of Canada's population as whole (Allen; Healy 2007; Cardinal 2004). The language differences between French- and English-speaking Canadians have exacerbated nationalistic issues, and vice versa.

Canada's federal government had often stated a principle of not differentiating federal policy from province to province, but the regional dispersal of different languages has made this impossible (Cardinal 2004). This leads to accusations of favoritism or of ignoring certain issues, which carries over into other areas of society and government such as energy policy and general education policy (Canada-United States Law Journal 2004). The situation is not made any easier by the fact that Canada is still a member of the British Commonwealth and still officially recognizes Queen Elizabeth II of England as the sovereign of the State, which is particularly especially abhorrent to many of the native French-speakers in the country (MILTECH 2005; Healy 2007). Canada's language complexities do not end with this issue, however.

The French/English language issue has been raging since Europeans first arrived in Canada, but a more recent development in the country's language differences is the increase in international migration that has brought a host of people to the country who speak neither English nor French as a native language, let alone one of the indigenous languages. Many first-generation Canadians still learn another heritage language (Chinese, German, etc.) as their mother tongue, with English and/or French being acquired as second or third languages (Harrison 2000). Surprisingly, subseuquent generations of Canadians are also… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Country for Study of Language Use Canada.  (2009, September 29).  Retrieved December 14, 2018, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/country-study-language-use-canada/759063

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