Quebec leads the battle for French. French-speakers fight to keep their language alive
``If the battle for French is lost here in Quebec, the battle is lost,'' says Louis Dassault, director general of the Secr'etariat permanent des peuples francophones, a Quebec-financed organization dedicated to promoting and supporting French in North America. It was here, in 1759, that British general James Wolfe won his historic battle with the French forces of the Marquis de Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham, now National Battlefields Park. This was a victory that ensured British conquest of New France, and thus the dominance of English on the North American continent.Skip to next paragraph
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It is here today that the heirs of those French colonists are continuing their struggle to save their language.
English-speaking peoples do little consciously to promote the use of their language in the world. English has spread naturally as it became the dominant means of communication in commerce, science, and, nowadays, diplomacy.
That's not the case for French. The governments of both the Province of Quebec and of France spend large sums to encourage the usage of French outside their own domains.
``We are now at a stage which I could call `last-chance Francophonie,''' states Jean-Marc L'eger, the province's general commissioner to Francophonie and honorary secretary of the Agence de coop'eration culturelle et technique, a Paris-based international organization developing cooperation in culture and technology in French-speaking countries.
Mr. L'eger says that ``the pace of history has stepped up so greatly and the rising perils, particularly in the cultural sector, are so evident that if we Francophones cannot develop a true movement of progress and solidarity and set up mechanisms for mutual understanding, reciprocity, and development in the years ahead, there is a great risk that this will be impossible by the end of the century.''
This city was the site for the second Francophone summit in early September, bringing together the leaders of 38 countries in which French is spoken. It was also the location in June for the 10th Assembly of Francophones of America, with 600 delegates from Francophone groups in various parts of the continent.
It was organized by Mr. Dassault's group, with financial help from the province and the federal government. Dassault is now busy organizing a similar meeting of Francophone organizations from around the world - Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America - for next fall. This one is expected to bring together as many as 400 heads of what Dassault calls ``the French movement.''
The 60,000 French settlers in the New World in 1769 have since multiplied enormously, and many have retained their language. There are about 5 million French-Canadians in Quebec today.
Moreover, French-Canadians spread throughout the continent during the 19th century from Quebec or Acadia on the Atlantic Coast. Today there are about 300,000 in Acadia (New Brunswick or Nova Scotia), 500,000 in Ontario, and smaller numbers in western Canadian provinces.
In the United States there are 3 million Franco-Americans, of whom about 900,000 speak French. They are concentrated in New England, Louisiana, and California (some whose ancestors joined the gold rush).
Between 1860 and 1870, almost one-third of Quebec's population moved across the US border. Commented a high official in Massachusetts at that time:
``With some exception, the Canadian French are the Chinese of the Eastern States. They care nothing for our institutions, civil, political or educational. They are a horde of individual invaders, not a stream of stable settlers.''