Monday, June 24, 2013

La Fête nationale du Québec: The Languages of Quebec

Today is the National Holiday of Quebec, or La Fête nationale du Québec as it is called in French, Quebec's only official language. It is also the Catholic holiday of St. John the Baptist Day, and it's no secret that there's a good historical and cultural significance of Catholicism when it comes to the Québécois, French Canadians, and French Americans.

Despite the legal status of the French language, Quebec has had its fair share of controversy when it comes to the influence of EnglishAround 80% of the population speaks French as their first language, and over 97% of those in the province can speak the language.

The Parliament Building in Quebec City
Even though English is clearly the minority language with less than 8% of those in Quebec speaking it as a first language, many concerns have arisen as it is believed by some that the French language is at risk from the ever-encroaching English language that represents a tiny minority. The "pastagate" scandal has raised some eyebrows, but that's not what Quebec is about.

After the battling between Canada's two most prominent languages is over, Quebec is left with a respectable number of Arabic, Spanish, and Italian, speakers. After that, there's Chinese, Berber, Portuguese, Romanian, Vietnamese, and Russian, though none of these languages have huge numbers of speakers in Quebec.

The native peoples in Quebec account for around 71,000 people, of which nearly half speak an Aboriginal language as their first language. The languages spoken by this group are mostly from the Algonquian language family, a group of languages that originally covered a large portion of North America, from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains through what is now Canada and the northern states of the US.

A smaller number of natives speak Iroquoian languages, which originally were found in areas around southern Quebec, Ontario, and in the US, from what is now Upstate New York to further afield, including modern-day Maryland, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Of course, this was all before European contact and the colonisation of North America, so the distribution of these languages has changed quite considerably since then.

On the Northern side of the province one can find, unsurprisingly, Eskimo-Aleut languages. Currently there are relatively few speakers, while the pre-colonial distribution of these languages reads like a map of places you wouldn't want to go if you prefer to spend your holidays on the beach sipping a margarita.

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