The presence in Canada since before Confederation of various aboriginal cultures, two major European linguistic cultural groups and ethnocultural groups is recognized as an added feature of Canadian identity, as opposed to the more common principle that a nation is carved out from one or more dominant cultures. Although the preoccupation with linguistic diversity is not a new concept, the debate has taken really on significant proportions in the last few decades. Many infrastructures and institutions have had to adapt and adopt new models in order to accommodate the changing dynamics of Canadian society.
The debate on bilingualism is pervasive and has become a constant political, educational and sociological preoccupation. This paper focuses on various aspects related to bilingualism in Canadian Society. First it discusses the historical background. Then bilingualism is examined from the numerous points of view. Finally, some conclusive remarks are presented. Historical Background Why is Canada bilingual? The confederation of the British North American colonies in 1867 involved a complex set of trade-offs to protect the new colony’s language and religious minorities.
In Quebec, English Canadians were a minority, but they dominated the province’s economy and the city of Montreal. Outside Quebec, most French Canadian communities were small and isolated. Federalism emerged from the Confederation debates as a way of protecting the autonomy of the new country’s various communities. Beginning in 1960s, however, French Canadians outside Quebec became strategically important to the national government and their legal status improved. During the 1960s, a new Quebec nationalism emerged and made a number of political demands.
These included a reformed federalism giving the Quebec government special powers over education, language and economic development it could use to protect the French language. According to the new Quebec nationalism, Quebec was the primary home of French-speakers in North America. These developments directly threatened Quebec’s English speaking minority. As the new Quebec nationalism gave rise to secessionist movements, it began to threaten the interests of the entire heartland (Newman, 2004, p. 208-209).
First under Pearson and then under Trudeay, the federal government acted to thwart the new Quebec nationalism. According to Trudeau “Not only did Quebec francophones have to see the federal government as their government, they had to see Canada as their country and they would do this only if there were a meaningful francophone presence outside Quebec” (Weaver, 1999, p. 129). Thus Trudeau instituted a policy of official bilingualism thereby enabling francophones to enjoy federal services in French anywhere in the country.
He further constitutionalised the rights of the French-language minorities in the provinces outside of the Quebec, thereby placing them under federal protection. These two aspects of Trudeau’s policy – official bilingualism and the protection of linguistic minorities – flow directly from his desire to submerge Quebec nationalism within a strong, uncompromised federal; state and national community. Bilingualism program was electorally useful because it demonstrated how diverse people could live together.
Since Trudeau realized that provincial government could still block the national bilingualism, he decided to include the bilingualism as a part of the constitution that included a detailed strategy for judicializing the dual-language policy (Newman, 2004, p. 209-210). How is Canada bilingual? Canada has been officially bilingual since the Official Languages Act of 1969, revised and updated in 1988, the main thrust of which was institutional bilingualism and the provision of official services in both French and English.
No individual is required to be bilingual – apart from civil servants – although personal bilingualism is seen as desirable and to be encouraged. Provisions are made for official minority-language children to be educated in their mother tongue wherever number warranted. The implementation of this particular addendum to the policy, however, has proven to be contentious (Wright, 1996, p. 24). The Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, whose deliberations in the 1960s gave rise to the Official Languages Act, has closely examined the so-called personality and territorial principles.
In the first, linguistic rights are seen to be inherent in individuals, wherever they may live in a state, and the linguistic arrangement is commonly a type of twinned unilingualism, as is the case with Canada. The francophones outside Quebec and the Anglophones within it have undergone language shift. Dreams of a bilingual country have faded, and there is a continuing emergence of twinned unilingualism mechanisms in Quebec and the rest parts of the country, with a bilingual belt in parts of Ontario and New Brunswick (Wright, 1996, p. 25).
As a policy, Federal bilingualism – bearing in mind its peripheral status – has received passive acceptance, although resentment against its manifestations has always been apparent in some quarters, particularly in regions further removed from Quebec. Quebec, of course, has steadily supported French dominance, and recent crisis have made bilingualism a representation of the Quebec-Canada conflict (Wright, 1996, p. 25). How is bilingualism seen today the in Canada? Canada’s current policy on official bilingualism responds to the two challenges of citizenship and safety.
The policy is grounded in the contemporary discourse on the management of ethnolinguistic diversity. Because linguistic assimilation serious harms one’s identity, it is said, linguistic minorities ought to have special rights to maintain their language as opposed to having to assimilate as a condition of full and equal citizenship. Morover, these guiding principles of determining language policy are set in the context of Quebec nationalism, which constitutes one of the main threats to the stability of the Canadian state.
The architects of official bilingualism were driven not only by a conception of what historical justice requires, but also by the need for counter-measures with the rising secessionist movement in Quebec (Kymlicka, Norman, 2000, p. 273). Official bilingualism is only one component of Canada’s language rights regime. The division of powers between the federal and provincial government means that no one level has full authority over language policy.
Each of the various provincial language policies interacts with official bilingualism in complex ways to that one cannot fully understand the language rights regime in Canada by looking at a single policy isolation. The federal nature of the constitution and the different philosophies that underlie each approach to state language planning has led to a patchwork of language policies rather than anything resembling a uniform system. Official bilingualism at the federal level has roots in a number of laws and finds its essential principles guaranteed by the constitution.
The movement for bilingualism came from the top, but it cut deep into the Canadian psyche. However, the general population is unsupportive of official bilingualism. In the west perhaps 65% would like to see it scrapped (Kymlicka, Norman, 2000, p. 274). Bilingualism At the first instance bilingualism might seem as a simple word which is a homogenous and well-defined goal that can scarcely cause confusion of any kind. However, this is not the case: there are as many definitions of bilingualism as there are scholars investigating it.
Every researcher uses the definition which best suits his/her field of enquiry and the corresponding research aims. In this sense all definitions are arbitrary. There are many other reasons why bilingualism is not an easy concept to define. First of all, there are no precise means of assessing language knowledge on a scale and even if there were a competent judging body is a myth because language usage is completely dependent on dialects as well as the context and places where would be used.
For instance, one might define bilingualism as the complete or less complete command of at least two languages, speaking, hearing, writing and reading them. However, there are many bilinguals who can speak two languages fluently but cannot write one or the other properly and grammatically, or neither. The problem can in this case be attributed to illiteracy in its most common sense, rather than designating the people as non-bilingual (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1981, p. 80). However, this too does not cover the extent of the problem of defining bilingualism.
This is because bilingualism is not only concerned with individuals. That is to say bilingualism can be discussed as the characteristic of an individual or as a phenomenon in a society. In many countries, there exist two living language side by side or even more than two. In these cases – such as Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, South Africa etc – the societies involved are affected by this type of bilingualism. Their culture, their education, their social affinity are all affected. Hence, bilingualism on its own makes little sense.
This is why the next section starts with the major types or categories of bilingualism, which would then make it easier to understand the concept of bilingualism as a whole (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1981, p. 82). Individual bilingualism Individual bilingualism is generally defined as “the establishment, maintenance and use of two languages in an individual either on more or less equal term with each other or with one language being the dominant but with the other strong enough for the individual to function in this language”.
Individual bilingualism can be defined in many different ways depending on which criteria are used as the basis of the definition e. g. when or how the languages were acquired, what functions and uses the languages serve, or what degree of competence is reached. The ability pr psychological state of an individual to communicate in two languages alternately is referred to as bilinguality. Bilinguality is hence the idea of examining the concept of bilingualism as the possession of the individual.
The concept is the study of various research topics and subjects usually based on the sociological affect. This is because popular research and even common knowledge of the society has shown that bilingual individuals are usually found in groups or are at least part of some group. Such groups may be located in a particular region, for instance Basques in Spain, or may be scattered across communities, for instance the Chinese in US. Bilinguals may form as distinct language group as a majority or minority.
For example, linguists study how the vocabulary of bilingual groups change across time, geographers plot the density of bilinguals in a country, educationalists examine bilingual educational policy and the provision for minority language groups etc (Baker, 2006, p. 2). Recent trends in defining individual bilingualism are moving away from the idealized notion of someone who is perfectly fluent in two languages usually called as a balanced bilingual. Definitions, now try to reflect the complexity of life with two or more languages and highlight such things as:
1. Degrees of changing competence in speaking languages
2. The different situations which prompt the use of one language rather than another
3. the range of literacy skills in different languages
4. The effects of changes of country of residence, and other upheavals, on an individual’s bilingual capabilities. (Whitehead, 2002, p. 109)
In contrast to individual bilingualism, societal bilingualism refers to “the phenomenon found among communities where two languages are habitually employees by a considerable number of its members, though not necessarily all of them”. In bilingual communities, there are always individuals who are mainly monolingual in either of the two languages involved and who rely on group’s bilinguals as interpreters in a broad sense. There may be a geographical and/or historical link with the location of such a community, as is the case among many of Europe’s old, indigenous minorities, for instance in the Welsh-speaking parts of Wales.