Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Two Solitudes?

In 1945, Hugh MacLennan wrote the famous Canadian novel Two Solitudes. Since then, the term "two solitudes" has outstripped the novel itself in fame as a term symbolizing the traditionally strained relationship between English and French Canada, especially the lack of cultural understanding between the two groups.

In 2008, does the term "two solitudes" still apply? Or has, as Governor General Michaelle Jean said when she was appointed, the time of two solitudes passed? In the age of internet message boards, wikipedia, and widespread recreational travel, do the two cultures which make up Canada understand each other better or worse? Have equalization, language laws, the B&B commission, and the declining role of religion in everyday life done anything to improve communication between "Canadians" and "canadiens"?

Anglophone Quebec has always been an interesting case study of two solitudes. While it is true that anglos in Quebec, like any minority language group, tend to settle in clusters, they still live and work in an essentially French environment. According to Statistics Canada, the anglophone population of Quebec is declining, but still significant:
"In 2001, about 10.5% of the population in Quebec spoke English most often at home. While this was higher than the proportion of 8.3% who reported it as their mother tongue, the proportion using English as their home language continues to shrink."
StatsCan also reports that anglophones in Quebec have one of the highest rates of bilingualism nationally -- around 67% as of 2001.

Separatism has always been seen as possibly the biggest stymie to national unity. Wondering if this meant, as non-Quebeckers tend to assume, that separatists "hate anglophones", I composed a short e-mail to the folks at Le Québécois, a separatist newspaper, to ask them about whether anglophone Quebeckers would have a place in a Québec libre.

While waiting for their reply, I struck up a conversation with a francophone friend of mine on the topic. This guy is originally from Ottawa, currently studying at the Université de Montréal.
"Anglophones who insist on speaking English in Québec willingly refuse to integrate themselves," he told me. "They don't have a place in Québec. They're taking advantage of the benefits of living in Québec while still insisting to bring their English Canada with them. It's like a Muslim couple from Afghanistan who comes in Canada and the wife wears a burqa. Anglos who speak English in Québec don't truly believe they are part of the Québec nation."
"What about anglos whose families have lived in Quebec since before confederation?" I asked.
"They are British invaders, in a way," he replied. "Or the children of."
Interesting that he should think that anglos are unwilling to integrate into Quebec culture, considering their high rate of bilingualism, and the fact that according to StatsCan, almost one-third of anglo-Quebeckers had a franco spouse as of 2001, and the language transfer rate (i.e. anglophones who spoke French more often than English) was slightly above 10%.
My friend also complained about the rates of bilingualism between the two groups:
"The problem isn't that [anglophones] aren't learning French. It's that they don't care to." I pointed out that learning a second language isn't exactly easy, to which he replied, "It's not our fault if you guys aren't as intelligent as us and cannot learn two languages."
"Haven't you ever met a francophone who didn't speak English?" I asked, incredulously.
"I don't know a single francophone who doesn't know English, ever. In 22 years," he replied. He later conceded that he had met European francophones who did not speak English, but never a Canadian one. Interesting, considering that in 2006, only 42.4% of francophones in Canada spoke English. Granted, this is a much higher rate than the national 17.4% of bilingualism among Canadians, and among francophones outside of Quebec this number increased to 83.1%. Learning a second language is indisputably a difficult thing to do, especially when you have no chance for immersion -- as is often the case in most of Canada. Apparently, for some Canadians, the idea of two solitudes is still very much applicable today.

Finally, Le Quebecois responded to my e-mail. I was surprised to discover a response much more optimistic to inclusiveness.
"[...] je référerai au grand théoricien du nationalisme qu'est Anthony D. Smith. Feront partie du Québec libre ceux qui auront le sentiment d'en faire partie. Ce que cela signifie, c'est que les Anglos, les Allos et les Francos qui croiront faire partie de la Québécitude feront partie de cette nation nouvellement libre."
(I refer to the great nationalist theorist, Anthony D. Smith. All those who feel that they are part of a free Quebec are part of it. What this means is that all the anglos, allos, and francos who believe in Quebec-ness are part of this newly-free nation.)
Apparently, for other Canadians, even separatism does not necessitate two solitudes.


Vincent said...

Hey Rebecca

Two things:

1- It is difficult to read light blue on white.

2- It's worth noting that the proportion of people using french at home is also decreasing; it's actually below 50% in Montréal. In respect to each other, french and english remain in similar propotions.

Reb said...

I think this can probably be attributed largely to the number of allophones immigrating to Canada. Montreal is a very popular place to settle for both anglophones and allophones who move to Quebec.