In a letter published on May 13, professors Pierre Fortin and Gilles Grenier enjoin us to use the correct figures in order to be able to understand the decline of French relative to English in Quebec. Like many observers and analysts of the linguistic situation, they consider that the accent must absolutely be placed on the language spoken at home since not only is it the one that is transmitted to the children, but it is above all the one that will be used in public space.
We should therefore deduce that French will be the common public language in Quebec when everyone speaks it in the family sphere. For example, this seems self-evident since 95% of Quebec workers who speak French most often at home use it most often at work or equally with English. And too bad for the approximately 400,000 workers who speak English or a third language most often at home and yet use French most often at work or equally with English, or 44% of them .
In their way of presenting and interpreting the data, they not only ignore the fact that close to 666,000 Quebecers speak a third language most often at home, but also that close to 30% of them regularly speak French at home in addition to their main language. They obliterate from their field of vision the fact that approximately 80% of Quebec workers who regularly speak French secondarily at home in addition to their third language work mainly in French. And in addition to adults who are not part of the labor force but use French in the public sphere, many young people who speak their third language most often at home spend a large part of their day using French at home. school or college.
The relationship between the family sphere and the public sphere is not unidirectional and, among third-language immigrants, it is above all the language used in the public space that gradually penetrates the family sphere.
Professors Fortin and Grenier rightly point out that recent immigration (permanent and temporary) has influenced the relative shares of French and English in the province, which leads them to say that the Minister of Immigration, Christine Fréchette, must make every effort to ensure that immigrants “make the right language choices”…read: in the family sphere.
In fact, data from the 2021 census show that it is not so much the language spoken at home among newcomers that exerted the strongest influence on the presence of French outside the family sphere, but rather its knowledge, both among recent immigrants and among temporary immigrants. It should be noted that a large proportion of these newcomers who know only English come from India, China, the Philippines, Iran, Nigeria and Syria. A high proportion of them work in key dynamic sectors of our economy. In the 2016 census, 83% of recent immigrants and 73% of temporary immigrants had knowledge of French. In 2021, these proportions were 76% and 69%, respectively.
The following graph presents the proportion of immigrant workers who mainly used French at work in 2021 according to their immigrant status and period of immigration. In one case, only the population with knowledge of French is taken into account (98% of non-immigrants and 85% of immigrants) while in the other, the entire population is considered. It is easy to see that, among workers who are able to carry on a conversation in French, the main use of French or the equal use of English at work is very widespread and, except among immigrants who arrived before the adoption of the Charter, it fluctuates slightly. On the other hand, this usage is much lower when taking into account all workers, including the 60,000 unilingual English workers who have been added to the labor force since 2016, compared to the increase of only 5,000 during the previous intercensal period.
As the philosopher Jocelyn Maclure pointed out more than 15 years ago, the Quebec integration model, as opposed to a still widespread assimilationist vision, has the virtue of allowing a plurality of relationships with the French language while requiring respect for the privileged status of French and the public policies put in place to promote its influence. A positive relationship with the common public language develops first through its learning and valorization and then through its use, sometimes gradually, in the public sphere. And if it penetrates the family sphere, so much the better, but it is not and should not be the objective of Quebec language policy.