On the struggle of francophones in Penetanguishene to retain their language

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quai de la baie de Penetanguishene

Le Devoir has an article on the struggle of the French-speaking residents of Penetanguishene to maintain their language in spite of being located in Ontario. Apparently there was a battle back in the 1970s and 1980s by the francophones there to retain a public school as a bilingual one, which I think was going to become an English-only school. Here's what the numbers have looked like since then:
Quelque 20 années plus tard, les francophones de Penetang sont toujours aussi déterminés à résister à l'assimilation. À la fin des années 70, environ 40 % des 6000 habitants de cette petite ville utilisaient le français comme langue première. Aujourd'hui, ils sont 19 % de ses 10 000 habitants à toujours le faire. Jeudi, la Cour suprême reconnaissait leur prétention voulant que l'égalité en matière de services linguistiques, pour être réelle, doit reposer sur des services de «qualité égale».
"Some 20 years later, the francophones of Penetang (French name of the town) are still determined to resist assimilation. At the end of the 1970s, around 40% of the 6000 inhibatants of this small city used French as their first language. Today, 19% of its 10000 inhabitants do this (speak French as a first language). On Thursday, the Supreme Court recognized their claim that equality of linguistic services, to be real, must be based on "equal quality".

I assume that part of the problem is something like this, the town's website which, besides a single Bienvenue à at the top, doesn't seem to have any French at all.

But taking into account the increase in population, the number of francophone speakers has only declined from 2400 to 1900, not quite as bad as the percentage which has dropped to half.

The article concludes with:
Les Franco-Ontariens représentent à peine 5 % de la population de l'Ontario, mais ils sont tout de même plus d'un demi-million à y vivre. C'est la plus importante communauté francophone en dehors du Québec. Les forces d'assimilation sont très fortes, mais la volonté de résistance l'est tout autant. Ils mènent des batailles sur tous les fronts: éducation, santé et maintenant économie. Il faut saluer la détermination des francophones de Penetanguishene qui nous rappelle celle de certains Gaulois. Plus forts seront-ils, plus forts serons-nous au Québec.
Franco-Ontarians represent barely 5% of the population of Ontario, but there are nevertheless more than half a million people living there. It's the most important francophone community outside of Quebec. The forces of assimilation are very strong, but the will to resist is as well. They are engaged in the battle on all fronts: education, health, and now the economy. One must salute the determination of the francophones of Penetanguishene that reminds us of certain Gauls (I assume they mean Asterix & friends). The stronger they are, the stronger we are in Quebec.

By the way, why does French always compare itself to the Gauls when even at this moment Breton is fighting against assimilation against French itself? I know Asterix was originally written in French but it's still a pretty weird comparison to make when the language of which you are extolling the struggle of is actually engaged in the exact same thing against the very people from which the comparison derived.

One other comment: they might want to start by working on the Wikipedia page for the town, which has almost no information in French.

Okay, one more comment: I love this comment on the site:
Félicitations aux Franco-Ontariens. Est-ce que cela veut dire qu'ils vont finalement arrêter de refuser de me parlez en français?
Agree 100%. If you want more people to use your language, then use your language with them if they clearly are interested in using it. Even if they suck at it.

Quick story: a long time ago back in Vancouver before I had any interest in French (was studying Japanese at the time) I happened upon some tourists with a map open looking for a street, and I asked them if they needed any help. The reply was: "Non, non. Très bien." Damn! That was great. I had no idea how to answer that so I just smiled and said okay, but that was probably the first time I ever felt part of a bilingual country in my life. Learning a bit of French in school and having friends attending French immersion still didn't convey anything as direct as hearing that bit of French on the streets of Vancouver that one day.


Learn Canadian French said...

Some francophones in Ontario will resort to English when speaking with people who've learnt French as a second language. It's not meant to be offensive, or a comment on the other person's French. It's a result of conditioning. And as long as francophones in Ontario live in a minority situation, this won't change.

In Ottawa, however, most francophones will continue speaking in French with those who speak French as a second language - if it's clear that's what the learner wants. Why? French has a less minority-like profile in Ottawa than in some other communities in Ontario.

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