For once, good news for both anglos and francophones

StatsCan figures give both groups good reasons to cheer

Recensement 2006 - Langue française

Only in Montreal: Yesterday, an anglophone got into a cab whose driver spoke with a Spanish accent. And they spoke to each other entirely in French.
Something extraordinary has been happening in Quebec. Immigrants to North America and people whose mother tongue is the dominant language not only of the continent but of the world have been adopting French as either their second or even first language.

As a result, there now are more people in Quebec, in both absolute numbers and proportion, who can and do speak French than at any time since shortly after the British took Canada from the French 143 years ago.

Tuesday should have been a bad day for alarmists in both of Quebec's major linguistic communities, but a good one for everybody else. That's the day Statistics Canada released its data on language from last year's census.
And for once, anglophones and francophones got good news about the language situation on the same day.

For the first time since 1976, the number of anglophones in Quebec went up in the five years from one census to another instead of down. There were 16,000 more people whose mother tongue was English, and 40,000 more who spoke English most often at home. That's because the number of anglophones leaving this province was also the lowest in 30 years.

Similarly, while the last census showed Quebec with a net loss in interprovincial migrations even among francophones, this one had it gaining more francophones from the rest of Canada than it lost.
So much, then, for Quebecers bailing on their province.

Since good news is no news, much of the media appeared to have written French-is-losing-ground stories in advance and needed only to fill in some supporting numbers.

So they played up the angle that for the first time since 1931, the proportion of Quebecers whose mother tongue is French had fallen below 80 per cent.
Even so, this is not because more people spoke English, since the proportion of anglophones remained stable. Rather, it was because of an increase among allophones, immigrants whose mother tongue is neither French nor English.
For a long time, language transfers by allophones to either English or French were the only demographic-linguistic factor favouring anglophones over francophones in Quebec.

But the trend has been in favour of francophones, and on Tuesday, Statistics Canada reported that for the first time ever, more allophones have adopted French than English as their home language.

This forced the defenders of the French language, who have long emphasized the transfer factor, to worry instead about the supposed decline of French on Montreal Island, where the proportion of people with French as their mother tongue has slipped below 50 per cent.

Well, so what? Even at that, francophones outnumbered anglophones on the island by more than 2-to-1. And the real Montreal - that is, the census metropolitan area, which includes Laval and the South and North Shores - remained safely francophone at 69 per cent by home language.

Francophone Longueuil, which isn't on the island, is larger and closer to downtown Montreal than anglophone Dorval, which is on the island. In the 21st century, the rivers surrounding the island are no more an uncrossable barrier than is an expressway or a rail line. And every day, thousands of francophones swarm across the bridges and through the tunnel to occupy the public space of the city.

And those aren't the only reinforcements for the supposedly beleaguered francophones of Montreal. There are those allophones - and even the anglophones - who increasingly are adopting French Nearly seven out of 10 anglos at least claim to be able to speak French, and even if they exaggerate their fluency, it shows that French enjoys high social status.

So maybe it's time that allophones and anglophones who speak French, regardless of the language they speak in the privacy of their own homes, should be seen as allies of French instead of enemies.

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