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September 11, 2001. Twenty years ago

By , B. Ph. U. de Montréal, Doctorat U. de Lille.
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Yes, I remember it well.

A group of like-minded linguists, political scientists and researchers met in Monterey, California. Our deliberations began on September 10, 2001, at the Institute of International Studies under the chairmanship of Professor Steven Baker, who was then MIIS’s Vice Provost.  His intent was simple: to bring together experts from several states around the world to map international trends in language policy. 

The agenda was far-reaching: national policies, migration, indigenous peoples, language security, language rights, foreign policy, and foreign language learning. The exchanges were to be very rich, especially since the participants represented quite a gamut of language planning systems hailing as they did from Australia, China, Ecuador, Germany, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Québec, South Africa, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom.

Our work came to an abrupt halt the next day when we heard the news. We left the meeting room and gathered in front of a television screen in the Institute’s  main lobby where we witnessed in disbelief the magnitude of an attack carried out on the other side of the country in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. We made a few calls to check on our loved ones. Then, we went back to work. We had plenty of time, because we were grounded for ten days. Not only did the experts get to present their work, but we were able to talk with each other for days! In the end, everyone was able to make their way back. Yet the memories were unforgettable. We discovered what we had in common in terms of our humanity and our efforts at language planning. The Institute subsequently published the proceedings.[i]

It is in this context that Guy Dumas, the then Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for the application of Québec's language policy, noted that “more than twenty years ago, Québec’s National Assembly adopted the Charter, the goal of which was to reaffirm the will of the majority of Quebeckers to make French the common and customary language of work, education, communication, trade and commerce[ii]”.

And still today, twenty years after 2001, Québec "affirms that the only official language of Québec is French. It also affirms that French is the common language of the Québec nation.[iii]

In point of fact, Guy Dumas foresaw the need for this reaffirmation when he concluded his remarks by saying that the pressures on the French language will not subside and that future Québec governments will have to remain vigilant and continue to monitor the sustainability of the official language. He put it quite simply.  “This is why the law is still, and will remain a necessity[iv]”.

What is at stake in this saga? Have the challenges that Québec faces changed?

One fact remains unchanged.  Since the adoption of the Charter, linguistic vigilance is an ongoing requirement.  In light of evolving realities, several reforms both big and small have been and will be needed.[v]

Indeed, what is at stake for Québec has not changed much in the some forty years that have elapsed between the first draft of the law and the bill before the members of the National Assembly today.

Immigration and the integration of new Quebeckers are key issues, because they affect a whole series of measures whose objective is to ensure the survival of French. This perspective is in line with demographer Jacques Henripin’s findings.  He clearly stated in 2001 that the francization of immigrants is a measure that can “turn the tide in favor of language and cultural maintenance and possibly language growth and expansion[vi] ”. But, as we explained in Monterey, the francization of immigrants cannot be achieved without the involvement of other stakeholders from both government and civil society. The notion of a social contract has never been far from all reforms big and small.  To date, this remains one of the most important issues in the redesign of language planning as proposed by Bill 96.

In retrospect, the big questions have not gone away. How does one deal with heterophobic attitudes, linguicism, marginalization, assimilation, mastery of the language of the professions and so on?  Insofar as people still face - twenty years after twenty years - a future vision of society and a desire to promote harmonious relations, everyone is involved. There is no way out.  Not only should discussions take place in the National Assembly; people should talk about these issues in their homes, in the institutions they frequent, in their work environment, in their union or professional meetings and so on.

The major reforms in language planning proposed by the current government are everybody's business. They are not just minor policy adjustments.  Be sure of that.  This is Quebeckers’ land; this is their future. Every rightful citizen or resident needs to get involved.

I invite all those who will read these lines to familiarize themselves with the future vision of society that the minister responsible for the French language is proposing and to take the civic responsibilities that are required in memory of the path Quebeckers embarked upon more than forty years ago.


[i] Baker, Steven J., Ed. Language Policy: Lessons from Global Models. MONTEREY: Monterey Institute of International Studies, 2002.

[ii] Dumas, Guy. “Québec’s Language Policy: Perceptions and Realities”. In Baker, Steven J., Ed. Language Policy: Lessons from Global Models, p. 156. MONTEREY: Monterey Institute of International Studies, 2002.

[iii] Assemblée nationale du Québec. Projet de loi no 96, Loi sur la langue officielle et commune du Québec, le français. QUÉBEC : Éditeur officiel du Québec, 2021.

[iv] Dumas, p. 163.

[v] Archibald, J. “Immigrant Integration: The Ongoing Process of Reform in France and Québec”. In Baker, Steven J., Ed. Language Policy: Lessons from Global Models, pp 30-58.

[vi] Ibid., p. 37.  See also: Henripin, J. La langue française au Québec, son passé et son avenir. QUÉBEC : Commission des États généraux sur la situation et l’avenir de la langue française, 2001.

September 23, 2021

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Archibald, James
By James Archibald

James Archibald holds a doctorate from the University of Lille, France. He taught at McGill University from 1985 to 2021.  Since the beginning of the academic year 2021, he has been a visiting professor in the Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures... (Read next)

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