Hands up! It’s the Language Police!

Oh no, you have not misread the title. This specialized office has the remarkable duty of, for example, fining restaurants that inaccurately call their pasta ‘pasta’ or those who give away plastic spoons with only English writing on it. Where on earth, you might ask yourself, does the police involve itself with such surreal and seemingly trivial practices?

Dictating the way one expresses itself at this day and age seems farcical, yet it is happening closer to home than you might realize. It will come as a surprise for many that the country we are discussing, although mostly known for its maple syrup, moose and ice hockey, is in fact Canada.

The OQLF (l’Office Québécois de la Langue Française) mandates its existence from the 1977 Charter of the French Language and originates from the original mission “to support international French, promote good Canadianisms and fight Anglicisms”. The OQLF’s supporters see the office as a savior of the French language in Quebec, while protesters see it as a violation of their human rights and some just treat it as a mockery.

The OQLF is support to promote international French and good Canadianisms and fight Anglicisms

Nevertheless, the fines that the OQLF is handing out are real. A point-Claire pastry shop-owner from Montreal is experiencing that first hand and is now awaiting the verdict on whether or not his touristic signpost with 35 languages is a violation of Bill 101. This bill states that other languages on signage are allowed, as long as French is “markedly predominant”.

The French protectionism in Quebec must be seen in the light of Canada’s unique history. From the superiority that was felt by the first Canadian settlers over the aboriginals (see “First but Forgotten”, C&B: 9/3/2013) to today’s French nationalism, Canada continues to experience internal division, struggle and separatism.

So, is Canada’s past so unique that we cannot or should not identify ourselves with the situation at hand? Throughout the EU, even in the Netherlands, fairs have been raised that global communication has the potential to destroy linguistic diversity. Being unable to put globalization on hold, are we getting closer to a language police of our own?

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