The conflict in Canada between the people who speak French and those who speak English can trace its roots to Colonial times. Since Canada was originally a French colony, the majority of the people originally spoke French. In 1760, during the French Indian War, England gained control of Canada. This led to a large number of English speaking settlers who eventually became more numerous that the original French speaking settlers. Two distinct cultural groups evolved the French, mostly in Quebec, and the English in the other provinces. Initially, there was very little conflict between the two societies as they lived under the rule of the English crown.
At the time of the Confederation in 1867, most Canadians wanted to establish a distinctive Canadian national identity, a kind of Canadian nationalism. Since the English Canadians were now the majority, they were the dominant forces in creating the political and cultural aspect of the independent Canada. They relied on the democratic government of England and to some extent to those of the United States, which guaranteed equal rights. Their vision of national identity included English as the primary language and the English culture as the standard for all of Canada.
Two different types of nationalisms were then formed. The first was an ethnic nationalism in which French-speaking citizen felt that they owed their loyalty to the French community. The second was a civic nationalism in which the English-speaking citizens felt that they owed their loyalty to the entire nation of Canada (Conlogue, 21). The civic view of Canadian national identity allowed its citizens to choose their own language and their way of life. However the English language was preferred in business, education and politics, and the English culture was considered more sophisticated that the French way of life. This tied wealth and social advancement to the English culture in area outside of Quebec.
In Canada, linguistic intolerance was part of the culture of the English settlers. Twice before the time of the Confederation, English settlers attempted to pass laws forcing their language on their French neighbors. The French responded with an uprising in 1837 in a futile attempt to break free of the English rule. They could not achieve their objective by force ...
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...lusively in French. This effectively eliminates the bilingual model that most English Canadians presume is part of their national culture.
The language issue is not confined to Quebec province. In retaliation for the language regulations passed by the province, local governments in other provinces are passing laws mandating the exclusive use of English. When Sault St. Marie’s city council mandated exclusive use of English, Quebec’s Premier immediately called the move “utterly deplorable'; (qt. In Brimelow, 20). The year before, the same Premier had supported legislation to make Quebec uni-lingual. The effect from this was to further polarize the French and the English over the issue of language.
For both the English and French of Canada, the language conflict is a symptom of the underlying clash of culture and views of national identity. Quebec seems firmly committed to becoming an independent state exclusively using the French language and culture. English Canada is still trying to integrate this concept into their vision of national identity in which all Canadians are citizens of a predominantly English-speaking nation.
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