Tag: Quebec

The Linguistic Revolution

The Linguistic Revolution


I have no intention of being objective in this essay. From the start, I want to make clear that I am resolutely in favor of multilingualism for every human being. In addition, I feel intense solidarity with all of the languages of the world, living and (for now) dead, those with many speakers and especially those with fewer. Furthermore, I am an enthusiastic supporter of linguistic diversity and insist that we must foster an appreciation for it. I will use facts, anecdotes, statistics, and stories- in short, the truth- to support my views. But I will not shy away from sharing what I believe and I think it is a disservice for writers to feign objectivity when no person can possibly be “objective”. In fact, when writers claim to be objective, they are usually serving the interests of the powers that be by faithfully repeating the talking points of haggard politicians. I will do no such thing- I am a politically active advocate and I will make a point of being clear and honest with you.

In that vein, it is important to note that the evidence I use in this essay is influenced by the languages I’ve studied and know best. This is not meant to exclude other languages- there is ample evidence from every continent for the ideas I put forth here. I just want to be clear that if I don’t have an all-encompassing or adequately diverse set of data from all around the world, it is not because I’m ignoring a particular region or language. Rather, it is because I’m drawing from what I know. I will continue to learn new languages to broaden my knowledge.

It is impo31656_580904605702_4019085_nrtant to make clear that I am a socialist, a progressive, a left-wing thinker and activist. I’ve spent many years advocating for a variety of left-wing causes including gay rights, immigrant rights, economic justice, healthcare for all, and more. I’ve grown frustrated with the “inside game” strategies of left-of-center politics and feel that the best thing I can do right now to make change is to write this essay. While politicians die and policy papers head to paper shredders, I want to write a piece that will outlast me and will inspire change for years to come. The ideas I present in this piece are intimately tied to my previous social justice work and will hopefully inspire both you and me to find new avenues for making social change in the future.


So now that I’ve explained the contours of this essay- why did I write it? In part, I am personally touched by the importance of languages in our lives. As of publication, I speak 7 languages: English, Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, Portuguese, Catalan, and French (and am studying Yiddish!). I enjoy each and every one of these languages and have found they’ve enriched my life greatly, exposing me to new friendships, travel, music, art, literature, politics, history, and ways of seeing the world. When you learn a language, you learn things you never would’ve seen in translation and you gain new, rich experiences because of it. I’ve seen firsthand the way a francophone from Senegal reacts when I speak French to him- the smile that goes across his face, the warmth that comes from knowing I respect his culture and honor one of the ways he communicates with the world. In college, I built an intense friendship with my friend Claudia in part because she’s Puerto Rican and I speak fluent Spanish. Of course we could have been friends just in English, but it would’ve been a poorer friendship for it, not to mention all the jokes that would’ve been lost in translation. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing my views with the world in different languages too, having been interviewed or quoted in Spanish, Hebrew, and Catalan media about my progressive political ideas. These ideas may never have made their way into those communities’ conversations were it not for the fact that I chose to reach out and meet them where they are in their own languages. I have many stories 7865320448_e1cd49bb53_blike this for all of my languages- the 80 year old lesbian couple I talked with for 2 hours in Montreal in French about their experiences growing up gay, the Palestinian woman I was able to talk with in Arabic about the future we envision for the Middle East, the Israeli 13-year-olds I learned Hebrew slang from while working as a summer camp counselor in Kfar Silver, the Brazilian friend whose questions about Judaism I can better answer because I speak Portuguese.

I firmly believe that multilingualism ought to be a tool for peace-building and promoting cross-cultural understanding.  When I learn a language, it is because I want to appreciate other cultures’ art, music, literature, traditions, thinking, food, and ultimately, people.  I believe learning a language is about fostering understanding and respect.  Therefore, I strongly disagree with the notion of learning a language to “learn about our enemies”.  This distorts the true purpose of language, which is to bring people together, and turns it into a weapon of capitalism and aggression.  My goal is to bring people together using language and therefore I will not promote the idea of learning languages in order to foster militarism and divisiveness.  Language is a tool.  Language can be used to promote understanding or it can be used to wage war.  This piece will exclusively be about how multilingualism can promote understanding. This is the correct and moral way to use languages and the one that aligns with most people’s desire to build a better world.

So I see the value of learning other languages and the cultural respect and creativity that comes with it. And therefore it concerns me that we live in a time in which 75% of Americans can’t speak a second language and when a language dies every two weeks, faster than endangered species. When I see how deficient much of our society is with respect to linguistic rights and diversity, I feel it is important to fix this situation and empower people to take action.

The purpose of this essay is to inspire people to start a linguistic revolution. This piece should serve as the ideological backbone to this revolution- a radical change in how we think and act with regards to language and our social structure. I’ve written an ideological foundation for social change, not a policy paper. If you’re looking for a series of policy proposals, this is not the tract to read, although I will suggest some short-term avenues for getting the revolution started. This work is focused on the ideas underlying language rights and social change, not on implementation. My hope is that the people who read this essay will start a larger movement that collectively can come up with the solutions in a democratic and inclusive process. If you want to think outside the box about how we can support multilingualism and linguistic diversity, then you’ve found the right place.

This commentary is not authoritative or all-encompassing- it is meant to be the beginning of a new discussion and a new way of thinking. I hope that people will build upon my work here and add their own ideas to the conversation. My overall goal is a society organized the needs of people rather than the pursuit of profit. While there are intermediate steps we can and should take to make things better, I think the only true long-term solution which fosters multilingualism and linguistic diversity is to create a society in which value is about what matters to us as rather than a number on a price tag.


Across the globe, there is a huge problem: linguisticide. I define this as a process by which languages, dialects, and accents are stigmatized and/or killed. This section will briefly address both processes, which are of course related.

First, let’s look at stigmatization. Many people grow up speaking a particular way- it could be a language, let’s say Navajo, or even an accent, say the Alabaman accent. Obviously the boundaries between what defines a language vs. a dialect vs. an accent are subjective and somewhat arbitrary, but for the purposes of this essay, let’s agree that these are all different forms of communication.

Let’s imagine that a Navajo job applicant enters an office in Washington, D.C., drops off his resume for a job, and then sits down to speak with the HR manager. The manager suggests they sit down for an interview, and the Navajo man follows him into the room. They sit down and the hiring manager asks “Hello!” and the Navajo man says: “Yá’át’ééh. Ąąʼ haʼíí baa naniná?” What happens next? The HR manager is likely to one of several things: 1) Ask him to repeat what he said 2) Ask what language he’s speaking 3) Tell him that English is required for this job or 4) Ask him to leave. How did it come to be that a Native American, whose languages predates English speakers arriving to the Americas by many centuries, is forced to speak English to get a job in almost anywhere in the United States?

The short answer is capitalNavajo_winter_hoganism. The Navajo language, whose roots go back to the Proto-Athabaskan language in 500 B.C.E., flourished before the arrival of Europeans to the Americas, spoken by many thousands of people. They were self-sufficient hunters and gatherers who later adopted agriculture from the Pueblos, planting corn, beans, and squash. The Spanish, and later the Americans, waged war on the Navajos. In 1864, the American military defeated the Navajo and forced 9,000 of them to march 300 miles to an internment camp, where they were starved.

The American government wanted Navajo land for settlement. Not that individual settlers made a great profit off the land, but the speculators and government officials in the pocket of the ultra-wealthy capitalists sure did. And while U.S. capitalism grew and grew and Navajo lands became the sites of industry and commerce and white settlement, what happened to the Navajo? In the late 1800s, they were forced onto reservations where over 250,000 of them still live to this day, with very high rates of poverty.

Let’s return to the language question. How does all of this impact language? Obviously dislocation, death, starvation, and economic deprivation are going to take their toll. In addition, knowing that linguistic diversity was a threat to American capitalists’ plans for dominating the Southwest, the Navajo were targeted for linguisticide. Many Navajo kids were forced to go to Christian boarding schools where they were required to only speak English and had their mouths washed out with soap for speaking Navajo. No wonder that many of these children, once they grew up, decided not to pass on their own language to their children, fearing the consequences. That is why although Navajo is the most widely-spoken native language in the United States, a full third of the tribe can’t speak the language. Out of 266,000 people, only 7,600 are monolingual Navajo speakers, and they are dying out. It is a language in danger of extinction.

So let’s imagine for a moment that instead of a Navajo man, a British woman came in for the same position and spoke to the HR manager. In her best posh London accent, the woman chats with him and delights him with her “how do you do’s?” The HR manager, self-conscious about his own Southern accent, tries to hide his “y’all’s” and drawls, and laughs along to her jokes. Little does he know that the woman is actually a working-class Welsh woman and putting on the posh accent because she’s too ashamed to speak with her own, let alone in Welsh. Meanwhile, the C.E.O. speaks however she wants and enjoys the show everyone else puts on to please her.

This is linguistic15065364000_a3d790bf9fide, the process by which capitalism does away with languages, dialects, or accents not “useful” for its own commercial purposes. In which diversity and multilingualism are a liability rather than an asset. And in which the very name Navajo is not even from the Navajo language, but rather an English derivation of what the Spanish called the Diné. That’s as great a metaphor for the U.S. Southwest as I’ve ever heard. And so here we are, in 2015, talking about linguisticide and we wouldn’t even know the name of the tribe we’re talking about if it weren’t in the language of the capitalists who conquered it.


The following are the principles of the linguistic revolution. They are not listed in order of importance- all of them are important. This list should certainly be seen as the beginning of a larger conversation in which other people who read this text could expand on the ideas delineated here.

  1. Everyone has the right to use the language of his or her choice.
  1. All languages are created equal.

Just as all people deserve to be treated with dignity just on account of being human beings, so too is it with languages. All languages are beautiful, important, and valuable. While languages may have different qualities that make them fascinating and worthy of admiration, no language, dialect, or accent is inherently superior to another.

The difference between an accent, a dialect, and a language can be fairly subjective and relative. While these terms may still be valid, it should only be for the purpose of classification and academic study, not for the purpose of devaluing a way of communicating. When teaching a language, students should be exposed to different varieties of that language (dialects, sociolects, accents, etc.) so as to familiarize them with different ways of communicating without judging people for sounding different. Even if a particular variety is emphasized for the purpose of facilitating study of a language, exposing students to different varieties of a language enriches the student’s experience and builds respect for different cultures and sectors of society. Just as all languages are worthy of dignity and respect, so too is it with accents, dialects, and varieties of a language. No dialect is superior to another, they are both simply different ways of communicating.

8951833608_343f227d68For example, many students of French (and sometimes the French people themselves) disparage the Quebecois French accent. This prejudiced view often includes implications that Quebecois French is “redneck” French, that it is ugly, that it is impure. All of these statements are wrong and morally repugnant. There is no such thing as an ugly accent- only ugly prejudices which make people believe such things. There is no inherently better way to communicate a language, therefore all accents are created equal. Each may have its own particular and unique aspects which make it beautiful, but they are all beautiful indeed. Much like when Americans disparage southern or African American accents because their speakers are often poor, when French speakers disparage Quebecois French, they are doing so not because of the actual sounds the Quebecois speak their language, but rather how they’ve been educated to perceive them. This prejudice is because of the socioeconomic, political, and cultural ideologies that poison some people’s thinking. In the particular case of French, it stems in part from the overbearing role of the capitalist French state in deciding which language is appropriate or not. Even within France, the Parisian accent is deemed the only acceptable way to speak French properly. Regional languages or dialects such as Norman, Catalan, Provençal, and others are treated with utter disdain by the state and their speakers have been systematically marginalized. Even people who simply speak with non-Parisian accents have internalized the idea that to speak with the Parisian accent is superior and more beautiful and have to suppress their own pronunciations.

To this day, France has not even signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML) which would protect its indigenous minority languages because the French constitution only recognizes French as an official language. This same ideology- this anti-diversity ideology- helps explain in part why Quebecois French, proudly spoken across the Atlantic, goes against the grain of this homogenous thinking. For to speak French with a different accent, and proudly, is to challenge the very foundation of the French capitalist state.

  1. Linguistic rights stem not from geography or nationality, but from the fact that as human beings, we are all entitled to equal rights no matter where we are

Up until now, most efforts for language preservation, for example within the European Union, have focused on the rights of minority languages within specific territories. However, as soon as a Welsh person, for instance, moves to France, those rights are no longer protected. Therefore, territorial rights are no guarantee of human rights. By linking language to territory rather than the individual, immigrants are often forced to forfeit their linguistic rights when they move to a new place. Instead, people should be able to speak the language of their choice simply because they are a human being, not because of where they live.

  1. The right to speak one’s language is not contingent on citizenship, nor should citizenship be contingent on learning a particular language.

26761_906009946649_2163373_nThe ability for someone to speak the language of his or her choice should in no way be affected by whether or not that individual is a citizen. Nobody has more or less right to speak his or her language. Ideally, in a socialist world, everyone would be a global citizen and therefore his or her ability to participate in civic life would not be conditioned on speaking a certain “official language”. Unfortunately, citizenship is often tied to language. In the United States, you cannot vote until you pass an English exam. While it is desirable for people to learn the languages of places they move to, their ability to participate in the political system should in no way be prevented because they speak a different language (or don’t speak the predominant local language fluently enough).

  1. Less-commonly-spoken languages deserve special protection and support.

French_workers_with_placard_during_occupation_of_their_factory_1968While there are benefits for global and international communication/solidarity for people to learn widely-spoken languages like English, French, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese, Hindi, etc., this should not come at the expense of other languages. There must be a balance between the two and we must promote multilingualism not only amongst minority language speakers, but also amongst those who speak the most widely-spoken languages. That is to say, a Latino immigrant to the U.S. would benefit from also learning English, but so too should American-born English-speakers take it upon themselves to learn other languages, meeting immigrants and people around the world “half-way”.

In addition to encouraging the people who speak widely-spoken languages to learn other languages, the latter need sustained support. This means enhanced education programs (both for native speakers and majority-language speakers), multilingual signage, access to public services in their languages, promotion of arts/culture/literature, access to media, access to technology such as phones and computers in Cofiwch_Drywerynone’s native tongue, and more. Welsh speakers, for example, have been fairly effective at reviving their language by using many of the tactics above so that a once almost-dead language now has nearly 600,000 speakers, the most of any Celtic language. Yet to the contrary we find the example of the Tibetan language, whose activists are regularly imprisoned by the Chinese government simply for promoting their language. Although perhaps less extreme, similar examples can be found to this day in how the French government treats regional languages and how the Turkish government has oppressed Kurdish language activists. It is unfortunately a story we see all too commonly around the world.

  1. All people have the right and responsibility to be multilingual.

The ability to communicate with people from different backgrounds and cultures is how we build solidarity and community. There ought to be an added level of requirements and emphasis for people who speak the most widely-spoken languages, as they are the least-likely to feel a need to speak another language. Minority language speakers are frequently already multilingual and often speak languages most in danger of disappearance. At a bare minimum, we should expect every single human being to be fluent in at least three languages by the time he or she is 18. Ideally, people should speak four languages or more by middle age. One of these three languages must be a language spoken by less than 10 million people in order to promote the survival of less-commonly-spoken languages. Language learning should also not end with high school. It should continue into college and into adulthood. This is not a pipe dream. In some countries, it is already a reality. For instance, in France, public school children learn French and two other languages during the course of their education. In this respect, the United States is far behind much of the world in giving its children a global and multilingual education.

Although some people would argue for one supranational language like Esperanto or choosing 2 or 3 of the most widely-spoken languages for everyone to learn, these would lead to a decrease in linguistic diversity. Linguistic diversity is in and of itself a richness and moral value which stems from the idea that we are all entitled to express ourselves how we want. By being able to choose the way in which we communicate, we are acknowledging the fact that human beings are different and that is a good thing. There is no reason to fear the immigrant speaking Spanish at a restaurant or the Indian man with an accent doing tech support for Dell. A socialist May_Day_'13,_strikers_in_Union_Square_-_19130501revolution must respect our right to be the people we want to be, including how we speak. By being able to speak the languages of our choice, our souls are nourished and we can find greater fulfillment, something that is important in addition to the material benefits revolution can offer.

Furthermore, a supranational language or forcing everyone to learn only the most widely-spoken languages are not tenable long-term solutions to increasing communication across the world. Because people are unique and communication changes with time, languages often develop into dialects and new languages.  Take, for example, Latin, which developed into French, Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Occitan, Portuguese, Romanian, Italian, and more.

  1. A majority-language in one country may very well also be a minority-language in another country.

So long as there are national boundaries, it is important to note that in some contexts, one language can be a majority language and in others, it could be a minority language in need of extra support in order to be preserved as a vibrant language community. For instance, in France, French is the only language recognized by the state and is in a position of heavy-handed strength. However, in Canada, although it is an official language, it is a minority language spoken by about a fifth of the population and thus needs additional support to continue its vibrant traditions. For this reason, I more often than not use the terms “widely-spoken languages” and “less-widely spoken languages” or variants of these when speaking of languages that have many vs. fewer speakers. When I use the term “minority language” I mean specifically languages which are spoken by minorities within a larger political boundary (e.g. Spanish in the U.S.- Spanish is a widely-spoken global language but within the U.S. it is a minority language).

Panneau_de_signalisation_multilingue_à_Issers_(Algérie)It is also worth considering that minority languages also have linguistic minorities whose rights they should respect. That is to say a Moroccan who immigrates to Quebec, while respecting the need to learn French, also has just as much right to speak his or her native Arabic and/or Amazigh. It strikes me as hypocritical for a Quebecois to (justly) protest Canadian treatment of French but then to expect the Moroccan immigrant to abandon his or her language. It would benefit Quebecois society to have bilingual French-Arabic (and other language) schools so that all languages are preserved. This solution could apply to other minority-language regions like Catalonia and Wales. To learn one language is not necessarily to lose another. This is not a zero-sum game. Rather than displacing a language, multilingualism is the solution to preserving all of the world’s languages.

  1. People migrating to an area that primarily speaks another language should (and already often do) learn the local language, while not being forced to abandon their own.

This is often already done through the educational system but should also be promoted outside of schools through community outreach programs and free classes. Classes should be free, scheduled regularly, convenient, and accessible. However, under no circumstances are immigrants to be discouraged from speaking their native languages regardless of where they live. Local residents should be encouraged to learn the languages of immigrant communities. Bilingual or multilingual schools must be established and required for all global citizens.

  1. While many widely-spoken languages grew through colonialism at the expense of less widely-spoken languages, it is not a reason to discard the language.

There is beauty in all languages, even ones that have gained immense power due to the bad policies of a small cadre of capitalists. However, measures must be taken to preserve or restore those languages that were displaced to ensure they also have a future and people can regain some of their history and culture. For instance, an indigenous Peruvian should continue to study Spanish as a national and regional language, but should also be educated in Quechua to preserve his or her local identity. Multilingualism is not a zero sum game of “either/or”, but it is true that if we are to create some sense of balance and justice, local languages must be fully recognized in addition to more widely-spoken languages. Language activists must realize that the true fight is not against Spanish, for instance, but against the wealthy capitalists who conquer and divide Spanish-speaking workers from Quechua-speaking workers. A society in which both of these groups learn and respect each other’s languages is one in which workers will build solidarity to challenge the forces that divide them unnecessarily. Diversity is a sign of strength, not weakness. The way to promote intercultural understanding is first and foremost by learning each other’s languages. While some nominally communist (but actually totalitarian) societies like the Soviet Union have viewed cultural and linguistic diversity as a threat, I think modern socialists ought to see it as an opportunity to promote a wide range of thought and discussion which can bring people together by respecting each other’s differences. The answer is not to erase people’s differences and forcibly homogenize people, but rather to celebrate and ultimately understand them by learning to communicate in other groups’ languages.

  1. Language and culture have always been transnational and always will be.

The long-term socialist goal of doing away with borders would actually help preserve cultural traditions. For example, Catalan is spoken in Spain, France, and Italy. If there were no political boundaries, this language community would have more opportunities to collaborate. The same could be said for Chicano and Tejano culture between Mexico and the Southwest in the U.S. Or languages that never had a state apparatus such as Yiddish and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish). Socialism would and should preserve diversity rather than demanding conformity.  The system I envision wouldn’t erase cultures, it would actually create more contact and understanding between them.


  1. Languages must be used for good purposes.

Languages can and should be used to promote intercultural understanding, worker solidarity, art, music, literature, culture, and peace. These things we ought to promote and celebrate. We ought to be wary though of those who use languages at the behest of capitalists and their allies, such as the CIA or the military. We must encourage these people to use their talents for good rather than cruelty. Furthermore, when teaching languages, we must emphasize that they should be used to good ends.

  1. Linguistic justice must be a part of a broader movement for social justice.

So long as we have an economic system based on profit rather than need, linguistic diversity will shrink. One cannot put a price tag on the value of a language- it is an entire worldview, a way of thinking, culture, music, art, and more. A capitalist system that treats languages as nothing more than vehicles by which to sell products cannot adequately address the needs of the 99% of the world’s population who are workers, especially those speaking less-commonly-spoken languages. In the never-ending search for profit, large corporations seek to unravel cultural differences and at best show only token respect for linguistic diversity. Large corporations use languages to promote their cruel agenda of exploitation rather than using them for their designed purpose- to communicate and build understanding and peace. Companies such as Coca Cola will never show a real interest in marketing its products in Hawaiian, Navajo, or Breton because it assumes and expects these consumers to speak the more widely-spoken languages and therefore it saves Coca Cola money if it doesn’t have to reach out to the public in these less-commonly spoken languages. In a socialist system in which the global citizenry can decide its own future, it can show due deference to the need to preserve languages without having to justify the “costs”. After all, this is a moral issue.


Languages are beautiful and valuable in and of themselves. However, in addition, they can also be a valuable tool for building solidarity across cultures to build a better, more progressive socialist society. Multilingualism offers people greater flexibility and empathy in thinking and therefore creates the potential for more innovative approaches to healing the world, resolving interpersonal and intercultural conflicts, and bringing about social change and peace.


This work outlines a progressive ideology about language and linguistic rights. Some of the values I discussed in this book will be more readily and sooner achieved than others. All are worth fighting for. That being said, if you’re wondering “Where do I start?”, here are some guidelines for how to make our society a more just place using languages:

  • Fight for economic justice and grassroots socialism. The closer we can get to a society oriented around need and people rather than profit, the closer the day will come when all languages will be protected and celebrated. A good start would be raising the minimum wage, but this should be only the beginning of our involvement in fighting for economic justice.
  • The more people speaking more languages the better. Advocate for schools to continue world language programs and insist on adding more language options.  The United States has always been multilingual and we should celebrate that.  Push school systems to add more bilingual or immersion programs in a wide variety of languages.
  • Write about linguistic rights, education, respect for immigrant languages, or any of the other topics covered here- could be a blog, a tweet, a letter to the editor, an op-ed.
  • Learn another language yourself- take a class, find a tutor, and immerse yourself in another culture. Invite others to join you or share your experience with family and friends to encourage them to do likewise. It’s never too late to learn! I learned French at age 29 and am continuing to learn new languages!
  • Start a discussion group in your community in one of the languages you speak. Use it as an opportunity to get native speakers and second-language-learners to interact and build bridges.
  • Start an advocacy group in your community to support linguistic diversity and education. This could be as simple as a Facebook group, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a formal non-profit.
  • Share this essay with your family and friends to get them thinking about these issues.
  • Create a group in which native-born residents and immigrants get together to teach each other/help practice each other’s languages. Invite the press to observe.
  • Advocate for multilingual signage in your community- contact local lawmakers to pressure them on this issue.
  • Help civil rights organizations advocate for multilingual government services – particularly the justice system and social services. If they’re not already advocating for this, explain to them why this is an important issue for the civil rights agenda.
  • Ask that local law schools require students to learn multiple languages in order to better represent the community.
  • If you have children, make sure they’re learning several languages in and outside of school.
  • Encourage schools to study multilingual literature, in the original and in translation when the students don’t speak the language.
  • Set up multilingual non-profit or co-op bookstores/libraries.
  • Demand that your local library purchase and carry more books in different languages.
  • Encourage local schools and lawmakers to celebrate a new holiday, “International Language Day”, in which there would be festivals, ceremonies, music, art, etc. celebrating linguistic and cultural diversity
  • If your mother tongue is not the official language, organize protests for recognition. You could stage a “speak in” in which you go to a government office and speak your language.
  • Ask that local businesses use multilingual signage and train multilingual staff. Businesses could band together to provide affordable language training to their staff.
  • Increase the use of different languages in the media. For example, petition public media (in the U.S., NPR and PBS, for example) to use a variety of languages to communicate with the public. In addition, start multilingual newspapers, blogs, community radio programs, etc. Create or participate in Facebook groups in different languages.

These are all suggestions to get you started, but none of them are written in stone. Take these ideas and run with them. Collaborate with your friends, family, and neighbors. The most important thing is to start making the case that all languages are beautiful, inherently equal, worthy of respect, and need to be incorporated into our lives wherever we live.


The goal of this essay was to spark a linguistic revolution. I shared with you the problem of linguisticide. I’ve outlined a variety of principles for this revolution and a variety of ways to get the process started. How do we make this revolution real? By joining the conversation, adding your ideas, and taking action. Only by coming together and fighting for what we believe will we be able to make this world a better place for speakers of all languages. To quote the phrase on a beautiful piece of art my mom gave me that’s now hanging in my dining room: ¡Sí se puede!


I encourage you to read my other blog posts at https://culturallycuriousblog.wordpress.com/ about language, culture, progressive politics, and more.  Thanks for reading my essay and please share it with your friends and family.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Mil gracias,


Un interview avec Québec solidaire

Un interview avec Québec solidaire

Québec solidaire est un parti progressiste au Québec.  Je trouve que c’est très intéressant et à certains égards un source d’inspiration politique pour mon pays, les États Unis.  J’avais eu le plaisir de faire cet interview avec Benoit Renaud, membre de la Commission politique de Québec solidaire et porte-parole pour la région de l’Outaouais. Aussi, il était candidat dans la circonscription de Hull aux dernières élections.  Merci beaucoup à lui pour faire cet interview avec moi.  Voici les questions et les réponses:

1. Il y a un débat au Québec sur l’immigration.  Quelle est votre perspective sur ce thème?  Est-ce qu’il y a une différence entre votre parti et le Parti Québecois?

Le nouveau chef du Parti québécois a déclaré, durant la course à la chefferie, que chaque année, avec les 50 000 immigrantes et immigrants qui arrivent au Québec, le camp souverainiste perd l’équivalent d’une circonscription aux élections (sur les 125 que compte notre Assemblée nationale). Il s’est rétracté par la suite, mais il avait exprimé ce que bien des nationalistes pensent depuis le référendum de 1995, soit que les nouveaux arrivants sont gagnés d’avance à la cause de l’unité canadienne.

À Québec solidaire, nous croyons au contraire que l’avenir du mouvement pour l’indépendance se trouve du côté des jeunes et des minorités, bref des personnes qui n’ont pas été convaincues par le discours nationaliste du PQ, mais qui pourraient se rallier à un projet démocratique, écologiste et de justice sociale. Nos résultats aux élections tendent à démontrer que nous sommes le seul parti capable de convaincre de nouvelles personnes de voter pour un parti indépendantiste.

2. C’est sûr que la langue est toujours un sujet important au Québec.  Comme parti souverainiste et aussi très progressiste, comment proposez-vous trouver un équilibre entre la préservation du français et les droits linguistiques des immigrants?

L’objectif de la Charte de la langue française est de faire en sorte que les membres de la majorité francophone du Québec (une minorité au Canada et une toute petite proportion de la population du continent) puissent vivre en français dans leur propre pays. Pour ce faire, il y a notamment des incitatifs pour que les lieux de travail de 50 employés et plus fonctionnent en français. Nous croyons qu’il faudrait abaisser ce seuil parce que bien des entreprises sont plus petites et échappent à la loi. Nous sommes d’accord avec le Parti québécois sur cette question.

En même temps, nous reconnaissons les droits historiques de la minorité anglophone de disposer de ses propres institutions (hôpitaux, écoles, universités, municipalités…) qui fonctionnent principalement en anglais. Pour ce qui est des autres groupes linguistiques, que nous appelons allophones (autres langues), nous souhaitons qu’ils apprennent en priorité le français et participent aux institutions de la majorité. C’est pourquoi les enfants d’immigrants doivent fréquenter l’école française.

Présentement, plus de la moitié des nouveaux arrivants parlent déjà le français à leur arrivée au Québec. Un autre quart apprend le français par la suite. Cette proportion de 75% de francophones et de francisés est presque suffisante pour maintenir l’équilibre linguistique à long terme. Présentement, 80% de la population du Québec est francophone, 8% est anglophone et 12% se partagent les autres langues. Il faudrait faire juste un petit effort de plus pour éviter toute crainte d’un déclin à long terme du français. Au lieu de cela, le gouvernement actuel a réduit les budgets des organismes qui s’occupent de la francisation des immigrantes et immigrants. Il devrait au contraire reconnaître l’apprentissage du français comme un droit et faire en sorte que l’offre de cours suive la demande.

La protection du droit de travailler en français est importante pour les immigrantes et immigrants allophones aussi. Autrement, on les oblige à apprendre deux nouvelles langues pour pouvoir obtenir un emploi, ce qui n’est pas raisonnable!

3. Aux États Unis, on a un système bipartiste.  Les américains de gauche on a peur de voter pour un troisième parti.  Comme parti de politique alternative, avez-vous quelques recommandations pour les progressistes américains?

Il faut être patient! Avant d’arriver à fonder Québec solidaire et à finalement faire élire un premier député nous avons passé par un chemin complexe de regroupement de forces politiques diverses qui a pris plus que dix ans. Aussi, il est primordial d’enraciner cette nouvelle force politique dans des mouvements de mobilisation populaire. Pour nous, il y a eu la Marche mondiale de femmes en 2000, le Sommet des Amériques en 2001, le mouvement contre la guerre en Irak en 2003, etc. Il faut donc combiner la convergence des forces politiques existantes avec l’émergence de nouvelles générations de militantes et de militants. Les jeunes et les femmes ont un rôle clé à jouer dans un tel processus.

Au Québec, l’argument à l’effet qu’il faudrait voter pour le PQ parce qu’il serait « moins pire » que le Parti libéral ne tient plus. Le PQ au pouvoir a fait « pire » que les Libéraux à plusieurs occasions, notamment avec des lois répressives contre le mouvement syndical ou avec sa proposition de « charte des valeurs » qui était une attaque à peine voilée contre les minorités religieuses et culturelles du Québec. J’aime bien l’expression de Michael Moore « the evil of two lessers », qui me semble résumer le problème.

4. Est-ce que vous vous inspirez de partis en dehors du Québec?  Par example, en Grèce on a le parti anti-austerité “Syriza” et il existe presque la même chose en Espagne – “Podemos”.  Ou peut-être est-ce que vous avez des amis politiques dans le monde francophone?

Nous entretenons des liens de plus en plus étroits avec diverses forces politiques de gauche ailleurs dans le monde. Au début, nos regards se tournaient surtout vers l’Amérique Latine, avec les développements au Venezuela, en Bolivie et en Équateur, notamment. Plusieurs de nos membres ont participé aux Forums sociaux mondiaux. Plus récemment, nous avons échangé avec des mouvements et partis de gauche en Europe, dont ceux que vous mentionnez, mais aussi Die Linke (Allemagne), le Bloc de gauche (Portugal), le Front de gauche (France), et Scottish Left project (Écosse). Beaucoup de militantes et de militants de QS peuvent discuter de politique en anglais ou en espagnol, ce qui facilite les liens avec ces groupes.

Lors de notre dernier congrès, nous avons ouvert les travaux avec un panel international qui incluait une militante écossaise et un représentant de Die Linke. On évoquait alors l’émergence d’une internationale de la solidarité, contre l’internationale de l’austérité. Des représentants de Québec solidaire ont aussi participé à des rencontres de ces partis et nous comptons multiplier ces occasions d’échanger et de collaborer.

5. Pourquoi est-ce important d’avoir un parti souverainiste comme le vôtre au Québec quand il y a déjà un parti indépendantiste – le PQ?

Notre vision de l’indépendance, tant sur le pourquoi que sur le comment, est très différente de celle du PQ. Nous croyons que l’autodétermination de la population doit être au cœur du projet. C’est pourquoi nous proposons l’élection d’une assemblée constituante qui aura comme tâche de proposer une constitution pour le Québec. Cette assemblée serait le résultat d’une démarche de démocratie participative sans précédent. Pour nous, c’est cette souveraineté du peuple qui peut donner un élan vers l’indépendance. Tandis que le Parti québécois est toujours pris avec le modèle monarchiste hérité de l’empire britannique qui consiste à concentrer l’initiative et le pouvoir entre les mains du premier ministre, pendant que le peuple joue un rôle d’appui passif.

Aussi, il ne suffit pas de réaliser une indépendance formelle, légale. Bien des pays sont en théorie indépendants mais sont pris au piège d’une dépendance économique. L’exemple récent de la Grèce est frappant à cet égard. Nous proposons un projet social, économique et écologique qui permettrait au Québec d’échapper, au moins en partie, à la dictature des marchés financiers et des entreprises multinationales.

6. Il y a maintenant une politique d’austérité très forte au Québec.  Comment proposez-vous confronter cette philosophie dangereuse?

Il y a déjà une mobilisation sociale d’envergure au Québec sur cette question. Comme parti politique, nous pouvons intervenir à plusieurs niveaux pour appuyer ce mouvement. Nos députés prennent la parole à l’Assemblée nationale pour dénoncer l’austérité à chaque occasion. Nous présentons aussi des alternatives à l’austérité avec nos propositions de politique économique. Enfin, nous organisons des échanges parmi nos membres sur la question de l’austérité et des mobilisations contre ces politiques.

Cette année, les 500 000 travailleuses et travailleurs du secteur public provincial sont en période de négociation de leurs conventions collectives. Les syndicats du secteur public constituent une force considérable qui est déjà en bonne partie mobilisée contre l’austérité. On peut s’attendre à une confrontation majeure cet automne avec le gouvernement. Québec solidaire sera du côté des travailleuses et des travailleurs dans cette lutte et nous souhaitons qu’elle se transforme en une mobilisation populaire large contre l’ensemble des politiques d’austérité, en s’inspirant de la grande mobilisation du printemps 2012 qui avait été provoquée par la grève étudiante.

Napoleon in America

Napoleon in America

No, Napoleon didn’t actually make it to America, though it would’ve been interesting to see what happened!  That’s exactly what Shannon Selin’s book Napoleon in America imagines.  What if Napoleon had escaped his captors and ended up in the U.S.?  I can’t recommend the book highly enough.  It was the first fiction book I had read in years and it was so engrossing, fun, and creative.  As an American who loves Spanish/Latin American history as well as French culture, I found so many of my interests satisfied and engaged.  Shannon graciously agreed to answer some questions of mine about the book below, so take a look!

1. It seems to me that historical fiction is a tricky balancing act- finding elements of fantasy and creativity that have to seem somewhat plausible and rooted in some historical fact.  How do you find the right balance between fantasy and history?

I think the physical setting, the social customs and the details of daily life have to be depicted with reasonable historical accuracy. This helps the reader imagine the period and gives the novel an aura of plausibility. Since all of the characters in Napoleon in America are actual historical figures, I also tried to keep their words and actions consistent with my understanding of their personalities, as gleaned from my research. Within this scaffolding, the plot can be as fanciful as one wants to make it.

2. What kinds of sources did you use for your research for the book and what are some elements of the book that people might be surprised to find are true?

I started by reading biographies of Napoleon and the other major historical figures featured in the book. I also read about Napoleon’s time on St. Helena, and about the post-Napoleonic War years in Europe and North America. I then turned to relevant letters, diaries, memoirs, travellers’ accounts and newspapers of the time. Basically I read sources that helped me:

  • identify the possibilities and constraints Napoleon might have faced if he escaped from St. Helena and went to North America;
  • select people and events that might have been affected by such an adventure; and
  • imagine what it was like to be alive in the early 1820s in the places where the novel is set.

I delved into more esoteric topics as I was writing each scene, e.g., early 19th-century medical practices, the history of voodoo in New Orleans, the diplomacy surrounding the Congress of Verona.

One of the things that surprised me was the extent of the Bonaparte family’s connections with the United States. Napoleon’s brother Joseph really was living in New Jersey in 1821. Napoleon had an American nephew, Jerome Bonaparte (the son of Napoleon’s brother Jerome), who – as happens in Napoleon in America – was considered a potential husband for Joseph’s daughter Charlotte. Another nephew who appears in the book, Achille Murat (the son of Napoleon’s sister Caroline), also moved to the United States.

A number of Napoleonic officers fled to the United States after Napoleon’s 1815 abdication, which explains why so many show up to help him in the novel. Also, France really did invade Spain in 1823, and a group of men led by Colonel Charles Fabvier really did attempt to subvert the French troops at the Bidassoa River.

3. Your book imagines how the Quebecois may have supported Napoleon’s return to power- to what degree was this based on historical fact?  Was there Quebecois support for Napoleon during his reign?

One of the things I learned when I was researching Napoleon in America (and, as a Canadian, and the daughter of a history teacher, I feel rather guilty about not knowing this before) was that in 1805 some French Canadians wrote a petition to Napoleon asking him to help free them from British rule. This was a minority opinion, however. French Canadians were largely loyal British subjects, pro-Bourbon and anti-Napoleon. It was only after Napoleon’s death that general sympathy for him began to emerge in Quebec. I wrote an article about this. I also wrote a couple of short stories set in Quebec during the Napoleonic Wars, including one about that 1805 petition.

4. This was the first time in a long time that I’ve delved into a historical fiction book.  Since I so enjoyed your book, do you have any recommendations for similar books I might try out next (while I wait for your sequel!)?

I’m a great fan of Penelope Fitzgerald and her four historical fiction books are marvelous: Innocence (set in Italy in the 1950s), The Gate of Angels (Cambridge in 1912), The Beginning of Spring (pre-revolutionary Russia) and The Blue Flower (late 18th-century Germany). If you’d prefer to read more about Napoleon, see my blog post about Napoleon in historical fiction.

5. You’ve said that you’re in the middle of writing a sequel to the book.  Without giving anything away, can you give a hint of what we can expect next on Napoleon’s adventure?

Let’s just say that I’ve done a lot of reading about Mexico in the early 1820s, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, the diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing surrounding the Monroe Doctrine, and the 1824 US presidential election.


Historical fiction writer Shannon Selin is the author of Napoleon in America, which imagines what might have happened if Napoleon Bonaparte had escaped from exile on St. Helena and wound up in the United States in 1821. Shannon blogs about Napoleonic and 19th century history at shannonselin.com. She lives in Vancouver, Canada, where she is working on the next novel in her Napoleon series.

A Short History of Quebec

A Short History of Quebec

Recently I had the pleasure of reading A Short History of Quebec by Brian Young and John Dickinson.  It’s a great introduction to the history of the region and is filled with social history (the role of women, first nations, labor movement, etc) that may be overlooked by books more focused on politics.  Special thanks to Professor Young for granting me this interview:

1. If I’m correct, I believe both of you are anglophones.  How does this background influence your understanding of the region’s history?

Being ‘anglophones’ is just one factor in our makeup as historians of Quebec. John and I are of a generation born in the 1940s, we are males from middle class families, are parents, and we studied in the particular intellectual ambiance of Toronto. English speakers by birth both of us have been deeply involved in francophone society. John is perfectly bilingual, his children have French as their first language, and he spent his career in French at the Université de Montréal. In retirement, John lives in Brest, France. I trained first as a political historian with my consciousness of Quebec dating from the Pierre-Elliot Trudeau phenomenon of the 1960s. I taught at McGill University in Montreal from 1976, an institution that can be seen as a sort of litmus test of linguistic relations in Montreal. After my PhD and teaching in the U.S. of post Vietnam for six years, I came to Quebec to participate in a progressive, social democratic society, unique in North America, and one in which French was the ‘official’ language. I have been less at ease with events in Quebec since the second referendum on independence in 1995 and the ‘ethnic’ and conservative turn in Quebec politics.

2. As an American, I came in with the stereotype that Quebec had a definitively more progressive history than ours.  Yet in your book, you give a fascinating and nuanced picture of Quebecois society.  For example, women could vote in the early 1800s, but were then disenfranchised mid-century.  And taverns were restricted to men until 1979.  What is the most common misconception people have about Quebec’s history?

Whether one is referring to women’s, legal, or political history, Quebec has a distinct history that most North Americans ignore royally. Certainly, Quebec, historically dominated by the Catholic Church and a traditional elite, was, until the mid twentieth century, behind other North American jurisdictions in its labor, educational and social policies. In the past half century, it has leapfrogged on social issues like the welfare state, the environment, gay rights, women’s equality, right to die, low university tuition etc. Deindustrialization, dependence on equalization payments from more prosperous parts of Canada, periodic bouts of ethnocentrism, and the decline of Montreal, have hurt Quebec’s reputation. Americans have profound misconceptions about Quebec and Canada. Their neighbors to the north are certainly not dull. On their very doorstep, Americans can experience Quebec’s linguistic, cultural, and social experiment.

3. Your book details many economic/social issues (which I had known less about) as well as the better-known linguistic ones.  What is the relationship between language and the fight for social justice in Quebec history- how has one affected the other?

This question is at the very root of the Quebec question. Is a nationalist movement with a fixation on language inevitably conservative and prone to ethnic centrism? My own feeling is that Quebec vacillitates between a rich history of tolerance, ‘bonne ententism’, vibrant reception of immmigrants, and social justice and periodic episodes of nativism, fear, and mistrust of the ‘other’.

4. Your book reviews some of the pro-independence movements and politicians in Quebec.  Has there ever been a movement to reunite Quebec with France?  If not, why do you think an independence movement developed but not a reunification one?

The cession of New France to Britain in 1763 acted as a firewall isolating Quebec from the French Revolution, republicanism, and France’s vigorous assertion of laicitiy. As a result, Quebec developed in very different ways from France. Quebecers, although singularly secular, seem quite at ease with a crucifix over the speaker’s chair in the National Assembly and a dual educational and hospital system that reflects historic Catholic and Protestant communities. A strong independence movement has long existed in Quebec, Quebecers were enchanted with Charles de Gaulle’s ‘Vive le Québec libre’ declaration from the balcony of the Montreal City Hall in 1967, and sovereignty referendums were held in 1980 and 1995. In the latter, the ‘Yes’ received 49.2% of eligible votes and through the Parti Québécois independence remains a strong option. Visits to Paris and to the proverbial French ‘cousins’ remain a favorite destination. However, free trade with the United States, a ‘National’ Hockey League largely composed of American teams, Celine Dion who made her career in Las Vegas, and the attraction of Quebec ‘snowbirds’ to Florida rather than the Riviera, are indicative of Quebec’s integration as a North American society.

5. While the book focuses on Quebec, it also touches on the fate of francophones in the rest of Canada.  Are you optimistic about the survival of French-Canadian culture outside Quebec?

The future of linguistic minorities is hard to predict. Of the 1,067,000 Canadians of French mother tongue outside Quebec, most live in Ontario and New Brunswick where they represent sizeable minorities. Although they benefit from various federal and provincial programs in the educational, social, and cultural sectors, their survival in an English world is perhaps precarious. Two of my grandchildren are in francophone schools in the Toronto region: their schools are well-funded and excellent and they will become part of a bilingual citizenry.

6. I’m headed to Quebec this summer with my partner for vacation.  Besides this fantastic book, what other ones would you recommend I read to learn more about Quebec?  And for our trip, what are some “must-see” historic sites we should include on our itinerary?

How about a novel or two to set the stage for your trip to Quebec. In English, the works of Mordecai Richler are probably the best known but for popular life in francophone Montreal try Michel Tremblay’s The Blue Notebook or for an historical classic try Anne Hébert’s Kamouraska. Quebec films are another useful introduction to Quebec. Why not sample, Claude Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine (1971); Deny Arcand’s Decline of the American Empire (1986), or Xavier Dolan’s recent Mommy (2014). For more academic treatments of Quebec history, I enjoyed Jack Little and Peter Gossage, An Illustrated History of Quebec and Denyse Baillargeon’s A Brief HIstory of Women in Quebec. The museums, historic sites, restaurants, and night life of Montreal and Quebec City make them the principal tourist destinations. In addition, why not get off the beaten track (see the Quebec government’s web site http://www.bonjourquebec.com/qc-en/accueil0.html) and travel along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City visiting the quarantine station at Grosse Île and the Reford Gardens (Jardin de Métis) at Grand-Métis. Close to Vermont, the region of the Eastern Townships around Sherbrooke has hidden historical treasures, delightful inns, and good food.

A native of Winnipeg Manitoba, Brian Young taught the social and institutional history of Quebec at McGill University, Montreal. Retired, he now divides his time between Montreal and Nice. His most recent book, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press (2014), is Patrician Families and the Making of Quebec The Taschereaus and the McCords.

photo Briaan promenade cyclistesnm

Un interview avec “Le Vent Du Nord”

Un interview avec “Le Vent Du Nord”

Merci beaucoup a mes musiciens québécois préférés pour faire cet interview avec moi.  J’ai commencé apprendre le français il y a 2 mois et leur musique c’est une raison!  Voici son les questions et les réponses:

1. Qu’est-ce que c’est les caractéristiques de la musique québécoise folk/traditionnelle?

Le chant à répondre, la puissance des voix, le tapement de pied sont de grandes caractéristiques de la musique traditionnelle du Québec

2. Comment ont changé votre musique et la dynamique de votre groupe après 13 ans ensemble?

Beaucoup dans le son, les textures sonores plus denses, la précision de l’exécution en spectacle et l’organisation des tournées!!!

3. Quels musiciens ont influé votre musique?

La Bottine Souriante, Daniel Lanois, Manigance, Les Charbonniers de l’enfer, Hommage aux ainés, Vasen, Ale Moller et Lena Willemark, etc.

4. Qu’est-ce que c’est votre inspiration?  Avez-vous l’intention de partager un message (culturelle, historique, politique, etc.) avec vos audiences au travers de votre musique?

Nous désirons présenter une facette de qui nous sommes au Québec, notre façon de vivre, notre façon de résister, de rire et d’exister. Et d’éduquer un peu le public de certains aspects historiques qui ne sont souvent pas ou plus enseignés.

5. Est-ce que c’est une expérience différente jouer en concert pour une audience francophone que pour une audience anglophone?  Pourquoi?

Bien sur, les anglophones (hors Québec disons) prennent le groupe comme un groupe exotique et fascinant, sans références de liens historique. Les québécois partent avec une idée déjà préconçue de cette musique et de ce qu’elle représente. En France, c’est aussi différent, ils nous prennent comme de lointains cousins, descendants de leurs ancêtres. C’est un peu drôle!

6. Je visiterai Québec (Montréal, la ville de Québec, peut-être des autres villes) avec mon partenaire Peter ce juin.  Qu’est-ce que c’est vos endroits/activités préférés dans la région?

Charlevoix, Tadoussac, le fiord du Saguenay (camping SEPAQ et marche en sentiers), et notre festival chants de vielles .com  la dernière fin de semaine de juin!! et on joue le 18 juin à Montréal au Francofolies à l’astral (lancement de l’album à Montréal)

Une chanson magnifique!

Plus information sur le groupe (selon le site officiel):

Non seulement considéré comme un ambassadeur francophone incomparable, Le Vent du Nord est un moteur du mouvement folk progressif québécois, ainsi qu’un groupe phare dans le mouvement de renaissance de la musique traditionnelle du Québec. Depuis sa fondation en 2002 il a connu une ascension fulgurante qui ne cesse d’étonner! Il a réalisé plus de 1200 concerts sur 5 continents, a fait paraître 7 albums et été récipiendaire de nombreux prix prestigieux dont un GRAND PRIX DU DISQUE CHARLES CROS (France), deux JUNO AWARDS (Canada) ainsi qu’il a été primé ARTISTE DE L’ANNÉE tant dans les réseaux North American Folk Alliance que celui des Prix de Musique Folk Canadienne! Ses qualités d’interprète, d’arrangeur et de composition tout autant que sa très forte présence scénique empreinte d’une profonde générosité sont dorénavant reconnues à l’échelle mondiale.

Aujourd’hui formé des chanteurs et multi-instrumentistes Nicolas Boulerice, Simon Beaudry (depuis 2003), Olivier Demers et Réjean Brunet (depuis 2007) le groupe interprète des œuvres tirées du répertoire traditionnel ainsi que des compositions originales. Une musique qui, sans aucun doute, est bien de son temps.

Les juifs québécois: An interview with Professor Pierre Anctil

Les juifs québécois: An interview with Professor Pierre Anctil

My partner Peter and I are headed to Québec this summer to visit a close friend of his and also to just explore the region. I’m also excited to practice the French I’ve been learning in my lessons here in D.C.! I had the privilege recently to connect with Prof. Pierre Anctil of the University of Ottowa who specializes in the history of the Jews of Quebec. A lot of my questions were based off my reading of his article “A Community in Transition: the Jews of Montréal“. I am grateful for his time and thoughts, which you can find below:

1) A high percentage of Quebecois Jews go to Jewish Day Schools. What is the language policy of these schools and has this changed over the years?

In Québec access to school is regulated by the language in which the parents were educated – in Canada. So the following rule does not apply to Jews educated outside of Canada.

If educated in English in Canada – which is the case of most Ashkenazi Jews in Montréal, parents may send their children to English language schools in Québec. Jews who arrived in Montréal in 1978 – rarely Anglophones – must send their kids to French language schools. So each Jewish private school in Montréal has a French sector independent from its English sector.

All immigrants since 1978 must send their kids to French language schools.

2) This is a creative question, so feel free to speculate. How might history have been different if Jews had been placed in Francophone schools instead of Anglophone ones when they immigrated to Quebec?

History would have been indeed quite different. In such a situation I do not think that the like of a Mordecai Richler would have existed. Richler felt threatened by the rise of Francophone nationalism because he had been educated entirely in English in the Protestant school system of Montréal and could not communicate in French to his own Francophone compatriots. Today, the gap between French Canadians and Anglophone Jews has been bridged. But this would have taken place much earlier otherwise, say before WWII as opposed to during the eighties.

3) How has Sephardic immigration to Quebec changed the Jewish community (internally) and its relationship with the rest of Quebec (externally)?

A great deal. Sephardim were not perceived as Jews initially by French Canadians because they spoke their language. Sephardim also pushed the otherwise Ashkenazi Montréal Jewish community to open itself to the French presence, if only for their own sake. They also served as médiators between Anglo Jews and Francophones, and often found integration into Francophone Québec quite simple and easy.

4) Now that the Quebecois Jews are more likely to be bilingual (or even Francophone), do you see relationships building between the community and other Francophone Jews around the world (e.g. France, Belgium, Switzerland, Morocco, etc.)? If they haven’t done this yet, is this an opportunity they should take advantage of?

Yes, there is this tendency, definetly. There is also to be expected, because of the recent events, the likelyhood of a French Jewish immigration to Québec, a place where it is possible to be Jewish in French and have a career in that language.

5) I imagine there must be some smaller Jewish communities outside of Montreal in Quebec City or small towns. How are these communities different from the one in Montreal?

97% of Québec Jews live in the Montréal region. I will soon publish a book on Québec City Jews, celebrating 400 years of Québec City Jewish history, but their numbers was always very small – never more than 500 individuals.

6) Over the past 10 years there has been an increase in antisemitism in France leading to Jewish emigration. How has this impacted the Quebecois Jewish community?

See my answer on point 4. I am convinced that this will lead to an increased immigration in the long term, not to mention more interest for Québec on the part of French Jews.

7) What do you see in the future of the Quebecois Jewish community? Are you optimistic?

I am quite optimistic. There will always be a Jewish community here in the foreseeable future, but it will be quite different from the one that existed say 25 or 50 years ago.

Jews will be more integrated into the fabric of Québec francophone society. As I said in my article, Montréal is the only city in North America where organized Jews negotiated with the outside world in a language other than English. Perhaps in contradiction with other parts of North America, it is also my impression that Jews will be more religious here – although not visibly so to the outside – than elsewhere.

8) I’m visiting Quebec this summer with my partner for the first time- what are some “must-see” Jewish sites, experiences, or people?

Yes, you should visit the Jewish “campus” on Côte-Sainte-Catherine, where many Jewish cultural institutions are housed. I will be glad to be your guide. A tour of historic Jewish Montréal on Plateau Mont-Royal would also be worthwhile.


Pierre Anctil is a full professor at the department of history of the University of Ottawa, where he teaches contemporary Canadian history and Canadian Jewish history. He was the director of the Institute of Canadian Studies at the University of Ottawa from July 2004 until July 2008. Before that date, he was president of the Conseil des relations interculturelles of the Government of Québec, 2002-2003, and has held different positions in the Québec civil service in the domain of immigration (1991-2004). He was a guest researcher in 1999-2000 at Musée Pointe-à-Callière, for the conception of an exhibit on boulevard Saint-Laurent (2002) and for an international exhibition on the Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls (2003). He was also director of the French Canadian Studies Program at McGill University (1988-1991) and researcher at the Institut québécois de recherche sur la culture (1980-1988).

He has written at length on the history of the Jewish community of Montréal and on the current debates on cultural pluralism in Montreal. Among his contributions are translations from Yiddish to French of memoirs written by Jewish immigrants to Montréal in the first half of the twentieth century. For the period of 2008-2010, he was awarded a Killam fellowship by the Canada Council of Arts for a research entitled: “Parcours migrant, parcours littéraire canadien, le poète yiddish Jacob-Isaac Segal”. He has published Trajectoires juives au Québec (Presses de l’Université Laval, 2010) and, in collaboration with Ira Robinson, Les communautés juives de Montréal, histoire et enjeux contemporains (Septentrion, 2010). In 2011 he co-directed with Howard Adelman a book entitled : Religion, Culture and the State, Reflections on the Bouchard-Taylor Report (University of Toronto Press). He has also authored a book entitled: Fais ce que dois. 60 éditoriaux pour comprendre Le Devoir sous Henri Bourassa, 1910-1932 (Septentrion, 2010), plus two others on the same topic. In the Fall of 2013: Soyons nos maîtres. 60 éditoriaux pour comprendre Le Devoir sous Georges Pelletier, 1932-1947 and in the fall of 2014 : À chacun ses Juifs. 60 éditoriaux pour comprendre la position du Devoir à l’égard des Juifs 1910-1947. He is also the author of a literary biography, that of Montreal Yiddish poet Jacob-Isaac Segal, entitled Jacob-Isaac Segal (1896-1954), un poète yiddish de Montréal et son milieu (Presses de l’Université Laval, 2012).