• The Low Down

Will I have to die in my second language?

I am increasingly saddened by the advent of the inevitable new language law.


And following an excellent article by Dan Bilefsky in the New York Times on Oct. 16, I offer my random concerns stimulated by his reportage.


It’s one thing for a government to grant a right that needs to be promulgated and enshrined. It’s another matter for a government to remove a right that already exists.


And I fully understand the fears about French becoming marginalized at work and in the corridors and communications of government. However, robbing Peter to pay Paul will not solve the problem.


There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation, said Pierre Trudeau. I would say, there is no place for the state in the computers and cell phones of the nation. Because that is what is being planned to ensure compliance. We will become a nation frightened of inspectors.


I am a spiritual and metaphysical counsellor with private students and clients. When will the doorbell ring and my cellphone and records be impounded for inspection? How will the inspector know I am only a volunteer with clientele and readers around the world - unless they probe me, my phone, and records thoroughly? Or will Revenu Quebec and Bell Canada be sharing suspicions?


I can understand the need to protect a language within a multilingual society. But excluding another language does not necessarily achieve your objective. Bilingualism should be your aim. And this has been achieved in many countries and communities. By making the Celtic Welsh language an official language in Wales in 2011, the number of Welsh speakers since then has increased from 19 percent to 29 percent. The two languages live side by side and both are official. I spend a lot of time in Wales.


The Quebec Bill 96 aims to make French the language of working life. But it will raise the bar for companies that want to hire people who speak a language other than French; and limit the number of Francophones and Anglophones who can attend English-language schools and colleges. And according to the New York Times, many young people will feel deprived that they cannot walk onto the world stage fully equipped to speak the language of Jeff Bezos. And so, the second language will be learned by default, have little government support, and will effectively disenfranchise a large percentage of the population from the world stage, let alone jobs in Ottawa for monolingual locals. Stigmatizing bilingualism is self-defeating in an increasingly interconnected world.


The cry many years ago was, “Why can’t you speak French if you live in Quebec?” And we all buckled down. Now the cry will be, “Why can’t you speak English if you live in Canada/The World?” At my age, with monolingual voting information, and monolingual covid information in my mailbox, and monolingual signage in the hospital, I suppose my greatest current interest is the question of, “will I be permitted to die in English? Or will I have to die in my second language? “I had better brush up on the nuances of the word pain. Silence, however, is bilingual.


Andrew Salkeld is a spiritual counsellor who focuses on “The Journey of the Soul.” He lives in Wakefield, Quebec.