Official Language and Social Prestige in Speaking and Writing
Few of the indigenous languages in Canada have a developed system of writing other than transliteration into the phonetic alphabet, contributing to their lack of official status (Norris). French and English are both still used on government forms, literature, and websites, but the levels of prestige these languages carry vary greatly from region to region within the country (StatCAn 2009; Healy 2007). The varying prestige of these languages is both evidence and cause of underlying nationalistic problems existent in the country. Immigrant or heritage languages are not widespread enough to have caused major shifts in linguistic patterns or prestige levels, and the same is unfortunately true for most indigenous languages (Harrison 2000; Allen; Norris).
Language Use in Schools and Language Planning
The languages being taught and used in schools is also a source of great contention for many Canadians. Not only do the descendants of the indigenous tribes press for greater funding for programs in the many indigenous languages, but many French Canadians feel that their children and their language are being under-served in the provinces of Ontario and, to a lesser degree, in New Brunswick (Abalo 2009; Healy 2007). Meanwhile, certain English-speaking citizens and parents in Quebec are having the opposite problem, and feel that their children's instruction taking place predominantly in French under Quebec law limits their ability to have their own language and culture, despite federal bilingualism having official status (Allen).
Language planning has taken place on several levels, and on numerous occasions over the recent decades. The move to official bilingualism was meant to achieve a certain degree of national unity, and to implement certain provisions for the preservation of the minority French language (Canada-United States Law Journal 2000). This attempt has largely failed, however, or at least has shown some severe deficiencies and cracks, as the disquietude between Quebec and French-speakers in other provinces and the rest of English-speaking Canada has only increased in pitch (Allen; Cardinal 2004). Language planning for the native languages has actually been more measurably effective, but the number of speakers that each language was starting out with made the situation more dire and the scope of the planning projects much smaller and more easily defined, which likely contributed to their success (Norris).
Nationalism and Language
The Canadian linguistic divide, specifically that between French- and English-speakers, shows a curious mixture of "ethnic" and "political" nationalism as defined by Penalosa (pp. 160). Though the French-speakers in Canada do make up something of an ethnically isolated group as evidenced by the continued concentration of their demographic, they are also acting out of a centuries-old nationalism that opposes the British and all things English, and due to the historical circumstances of French Canadians in particular still consider themselves essentially an unwillingly colonized people (Cardinal 2004). This makes them similar to a colonized entity demanding freedom from their colonizers, yet in the main they are a separate group of people within a nation that is attempting to assert and maintain linguistic independence.
Canada's language development has been somewhat unique in its extended history of two competing European languages that have also forced out indigenous languages in their process of establishing dominance. The increased awareness of linguistic heritage that the competition of the two European languages brought to Canadian politics and to the public seems to have benefited the indigenous people at least to some degree, as language preservation methods here have been more effective than in certain other countries in the Americas.
Abalo, P. (2009). "The contribution of French as a second language to human factor development: A case of York University students at Glendon campus." Review of human factor studies, 15(10, pp / 83-102.
Canada-United States Law Journal. (2004). "Discussion following the remarks of the Hon. Mr. Pierre-Marc Johnson."
Cardinal, L. (2004). "The limits of bilingualism in Canada." Nationalism and ethnic politics 10, pp. 79-103.
Harrison, B. (2000). "Passing on the language: Heritage language diversity in Canada." Canadian social trends, Autumn, pp. 14-9.
Healy, J. (2007). "Preserving and protecting the French language in Canada." Multilingual March, pp. 40-3.