Montreal, Identity, Language, and Isolation

Maxime Lavallee – Post 3

I had an interesting discussion with someone the other night on the subject of English-speakers in Montreal. We were speaking about Quebecois theater and movies, and fell into a discussion about English-speakers in Montreal. We had found that a significant portion (not all of them!) of individuals we know, who had grown up in English-speaking families in Montreal, are completely disconnected from Quebecois culture. They don’t have French-speaking friends with whom they speak French, they don’t listen to French music, they don’t read French literature, they don’t watch French movies, or partake in any other Quebecois French cultural activity. We found it interesting that these individuals, most of whom are able to speak French, seemingly make no attempt to connect with French-language culture. Why is it that in a city, surrounded by so many French speakers, they haven’t made those connections?

Just to reiterate, I haven’t seen this with all English-speaking Montrealers I know, but many nonetheless! Furthermore, the reverse is also quite true, where French-speakers know nothing of English culture. However, this feels like a different situation to me, as the French-speakers are the majority. As Van Herk (2012) explains, speech communities can be isolated for a variety of reasons. In Montreal (where the majority of English speakers are), the isolation seems to be mostly social, as they are usually able to speak French.

So I wonder about English-speakers, do they self-segregate/self-isolate? Is it segregation by French speakers? I assume that, while of course being fully aware that there are many more complex factors at play, it is in part one of the two. There are a number of historical linguistic factors which play into the current language profile on Montreal. Upon speaking to a friend who is a representation of this ‘isolated Montreal English speaker’, we could still not pinpoint any specific factors which played into this.

Thinking further, I found it interesting that this was the case because, of all our traits, language is one of the few fluid ones. We can’t change our gender, race, or sexual orientation, but language can definitely be changed. Why is it then that many English-speakers in Montreal don’t integrate? Is it because it’s impossible to do so? Is it in part due to the French-speaking population excluding them? Are they excluding themselves?

Is this a trend unique to Montreal because of the status of English? Are there other English-speaking ‘enclaves’ within other countries that behave in a similar manner?

 

 

Van Herk, Gerard (2012). What is sociolinguistics? Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell. (Chapter 3)

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