From French as “right” to French as “value added”:
from politics to economics in Canada
Discourse about language has changed a great deal in Canada. For much of Canadian history, language was thought of as one dimension among others serving to make distinctions among cultural or “racial” groups, distinctions which were harnessed to social stratification in the colonial economy. It became the central terrain of struggle against economic marginalization of francophones in the middle of the twentieth century. Québécois nationalist claims made French-English bilingualism a central value associated with the rights and obligations of Canadian citizenship starting in the 1960s. In this period, French is understood as a collective right. This discourse still exists, especially within the agencies of the Québec state, but starting from around 1990, it is replaced in the discourse of the federal government, as well as in the institutions of francophones in the other provinces, as well as among some Québécois, by a discourse emphasizing the importance of the francophone market,, the value of French and of authentic francophone cultural identity understood as commodities in the globalized new economy, and the collective economic development of francophone communities. In this article I will describe this discursive change, drawing on ethnographic work in the central institutional spaces of production of discourse about what “francophone” and “French” mean in Canada. I raise questions, finally, about what these changes mean for the ways the category “francophone” may remain a principle of the organization of labour in Canada.
Keywords: nationalism, commodification, Canada, French, linguistic policies, economy
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