Are you just an -ophone?

Post 2 – Maxime Lavallee

Why do we use the words Francophone, Anglophone, and Allophone in Canada? I hear these used all the time and even tend to use them myself without really thinking about the impact of such words. I’ve employed them quite often in my writing as a student and have used these words to discuss a variety of education-related topics. After some reflection, I realized that in Canada and Quebec these words have developed a variety of connotations, positive and negative, and have essentially become restrictive labels.

Such linguistic labels can be very inaccurate and unrepresentative of the individuals they describe. They also reduce people’s identities to language rather than the various other aspects that make up someone’s identity. I’d like to understand the effects of this type of labeling in Quebec society. I’ve had people ask me if I was francophone, or if I was Anglophone. I never really know how to reply, other than with a “well, I speak more than one language.” Then they will often explain that they actually wanted to know if I was a Quebecois who grew up speaking French, or one who grew up speaking English. In these instances, the labels have nothing to do with speaking ability in a language, but rather cultural belonging.

I feel like in many countries around the world, the reality is that people speak more than one language, and yet they are not ascribed linguistic labels.

Why do we not use -phone terms for any other people of other countries who speak other languages? We either refer to them as Mexican, Chinese, or Indian, or we refer to them directly as a speaker of a specific language.

I think the answer is that in Canada, the -phone terms are extremely politically charged. They came about during political unrest in Quebec and the rest of Canada as a way of categorizing the people who lived in those places. Curdt-Christiansen (2009) looks at the language choices that Chinese immigrant families make for their children. These children usually grow up speaking a minimum of two languages, sometimes three. They would be referred to as allophones, even though they speak French or English just as well as the other kids. To me, this distinction clearly shows that the -ophone words connote more than simply language.

I have a small anecdote to illustrate what I mean by unrepresentative labels and their negative effects. Someone I know grew up in a small town to the north of Quebec in an overwhelming French-speaking neighborhood. Her father came from a predominantly French-speaking family, but her mother from an English-speaking one. Consequently, she grew up speaking English at home. Because of this, she and her family members were labelled as Anglophone outsiders by the French-speaking neighbors. Her whole life, they never associated with French-speakers due to a growing mutual dislike. Today, her family, in my eyes, is for all intents and purposes culturally the same as their French-speaking neighbors. The one difference lies in the language they speak. They consume the same media, go to the same stores, make the same foods, and live in the same neighborhood. In turn, her family refuses to identify as Quebecois, rather calling themselves English Canadians. I understand that this situation stems from much deeper issues with language and identity in Quebec.



Curdt-Christiansen, X. L. (2009). Invisible and visible language planning: Ideological factors in the family language policy of Chinese immigrant families in Quebec. Language Policy, 8(4), 351–375.

Van Herk, Gerard (2012). What is sociolinguistics? Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell. (Chapter 13)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.