The Imagination of a Language

Kunyao Kuang

In the last class, I leant a lot about the Quebec language policy on Dawn Allen’s (2006) article Who’s in and who’s out? Language and the integration of new immigrant youth in Quebec. I found that the language policy could be interestingly linked to theories from imagined community: Reflection on Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1991) written by Benedict Anderson. Although I am an outsider of the French language policy of Quebec, either a stakeholder or a “victim”, I would like to share my thoughts on the language policy, based on the power of “imagination” that Benedict mentioned in his book.

From Dawn Allen’s article (2006), I basically learnt about the intention of accueil program in Quebec, which is to complete the integration of the new immigrant youth and Quebec society. With the increasing immigrant population, language policy has become a main method for Quebec government to deal with the integration.

In Quebec, French is prerequisite not only for the new immigrant youth, but also for the whole immigrant population. Although the “French fact” has been a no surprising phenomenon here, I am still wondering: Why French is imperative in Quebec? Why is language that matters?  What’s the relationship between common language and integration of new immigrants in a community?

Then I started to seek out the indications of French among people within Quebec. When someone refers to Quebec people, the first reaction would probably be Quebec French – a large group of French speakers in Canada, like an isolated French island in the English speaking ocean. Quebec French is so special that it has more or less become a symbol of Quebec.

More specifically, Quebec French is symbolic for the reason that it is related closely to the fascinating history of Quebec, acting as a reminder of the historical memory of Quebec, including its origin, ancestors, prosperity, independent movements and all the other cultural associations. The common memory of French colonial history and the French ancestors has rooted deeply in Québécois people’s mind, having the influential impacts on identity construction. Here, French is a historical, cultural and even political carrier far more than a communication tool. Lots of imagination and associations take place through a single language. 

With imagination of the sharing memories and historical or cultural associations, people tend to view themselves as a part of the Quebec community. In this case, people complete their identity construction. This also could be an explanation of the imperative French language policies here, which could be interpreted as an attempt to impose the similar historical and cultural memories into new immigrants through language acquisition. Thus, French acquisition is not only for communicative purpose but also a mark of people who admit and identify Quebec history, culture and common values, which forms a significant step of integrating both the new immigrants and the Quebec community.

However, the reality and imagination is always not as ideal as I mentioned above. Identity construction and integration processes are bi-direction in individuals and society. The imagination of French language for individuals can be various. The acquisition of language may not be sufficient for people to identify and share the common values with the whole community. More pragmatically saying, for the new immigrants, French learning may be just one of the compulsory procedures for immigration. They may not imagine any further, and they may not feel any association with the community like the traditional citizens do. Like Dawn Allen indicated in her article (2006), the accueil program may not facilitate the integration for some people. It seems that language acquisition is not enough to form the strong cultural or social associations among new immigrants here. Other additional cultural products may help.

To sum up, I would like to hear more thoughts from you on this topic. What is the role of language for integrate the new immigrants in a community? Did you use imagination to complete your own identity construction?



Allen, D. (2006). Who’s in and who’s out? Language and the integration of new immigrant youth in Quebec. International Journal of Inclusive Education. pp. 251-263.

Anderson, B. O’G. (1991). Imagined Community: Reflection on Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.



4 thoughts on “The Imagination of a Language”

  1. Hi Kunyao,
    I love this line: “Lots of imagination and associations take place through a single language.” I think you’ve captured really well why integration through a common language is so complex and multifaceted. It is a much deeper process than simply acquiring words. It is a process of becoming and defining belonging. Thank you!


  2. Emmanouela Tisizi: Great post Kunyao! I think that you are correct in implying that language plays a significant role in people’s attempts to self-identify and find their place in new communities- as do other factors of course. I feel that even though taking up a language is not always a fast or an easy process, as cultural elements are embedded in languages and people often have to challenge long-held views and habits while getting accustomed to a new context, it undeniably expands people’s horizons and facilitates their communication and integration.


  3. Hsinhua Wu,

    In Quebec, you need to be able to speak the language (French) to get a job unless you don’t need to communicate with any French speakers at work. Language is the tool of communication,so it truly has an impact on how well immigrants integrate socially in their workplaces and communities, but neither language nor knowledge of history and culture can let you fall in love with the country. The friendship and family are the keys.

    I firstly arrived in Vancouver; I stayed there for 1 month and decided to come to Montreal to experience “ French life”. As a Canada Federal Skilled worker (Canada immigrant, not Quebec immigrant), I never thought to learn French. Speaking English helped me get the first job in a financial institution, but in order to make friends with my francophone co-workers, I registered for a French course. Quebec always fights against its language right, so I have high expectation for the government funded classes. However, the teachers in my French class didn’t have any qualities good teachers should have. Once the teacher saw me taking notes in English, she told me to use Mandarin to learn French, next day, she printed out a 200-page French grammar book for Chinese and gave it to me. Soon, I left the school. It wasn’t the first time to be blamed for using English or not being able to speak French. I am wondering how many immigrants failed to learn French because of poor learning environment. It looks like there is a shortage of certified personnel to run the program, each school has autonomy from the federal government, so that the French program seems to be poorly managed due to the lack of monitoring and intervention. To sum up, knowing the language opens the door to job and friendships, but the responsibility of the integration rests with many groups, such as immigrants themselves, the government and the society. I personally hope the society can appreciate the effort we put into French learning, don’t give us ” you just have to do it” attitude.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Hsinhua. Nice sharing! I do agree with you. Friends and family are alway the most significant for people to get integrated into a new place. They could be the most powerful motivation for people to start and master a new language, which makes people to become a successful learner. Moreover, I am thinking that people should have their own freedom to choose what language they use or learn. As for Quebec, if they adopt a more humanized but not compulsory way to advocate French, such as providing more high-quality and low-cost French program for new immigrants, offering job guidance or opportunities for the new French learners, things might become better.


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