Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The four premises that underly the Parti Québécois' views on language

Rousseau trumps Locke in Quebec
When Pauline Marois matter-of-factly told reporters during the campaign that candidates for municipal or provincial office should be subjected to a language test, she was criticized for such an extreme measure. What was most shocking to me is that she didn't seem to realize that this idea that this might be perceived as offensive. She was probably as shocked by the reaction as people were shocked at her proposal.

When I disagree with some seemingly intelligent adult on some issue, I like to try to understand how they arrived at it. That is, assuming we agree on the same facts in the world, how did we end up at different conclusions.

People's beliefs are supported by basic premises that are not often stated. For instance, people who believe that women should not be restricted from aborting a fetus during pregnancy have as a premise that a fetus a few months old may be alive, but it is not really a baby. Those who oppose abortion have a different underlying premise. This explains the difference of opinion between pro-choice and pro-life supporters.

So what is Pauline Marois' premise? There are at least four. They are the following:
  1. French is the only legitimate common language of Quebec and other languages are illegitimate.
  2. The presence of English speakers in North America (including in Quebec) is a clear and present danger to the use of French as a common language in Quebec.
  3. The government must legislate to ensure that French remains the common language of Quebec.
  4. Collective rights trump individual rights.
French is the only legitimate common language of Quebec and other languages are illegitimate.
Marois and the Parti Québécois believe that French is the only legitimate language of Quebec. In much the same way as the Catholic Church labelled people as illegitimate, Marois believes English not legitimate, in spite of the number of people who speak it. Given its lowly status, it is entirely reasonable to, say, censor English words, give language tests to would-be politicians or people calling a government help line.

The presence of English speakers in North America (including in Quebec) is a clear and present danger to the use of French as a common language in Quebec.
In spite of the fact that more people speak French today in Quebec, including as a second or third language, the threat to French is ongoing. It's like the now discarded terrorist threat level in the United States. It's always set to high or near-high. Even if all parts of the province were entirely French-speaking, the threat would continue.

The government must legislate to ensure that French remains the common language of Quebec. 
Quebec is a nanny-state ("gouvernemaman") so the idea of interfering in the way a business operates is acceptable to many politicians (not just Pauline Marois). However, when the interference has to do with the French language, interference is not just permissible, but required. 

Collective rights trump individual rights. 
Pauline Marois knows the group is the fundamental unit of political society, not the individual. That's why Pauline Marois can so easily support preventing adults from choosing their preferred CEGEP. The collective, represented by the government, knows best and will decide.

Conclusion: If you believe, as does Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois in these four premises, then there is nothing controversial about censoring words from storefronts, violating international agreements on access to public education, or limiting those who can run for public office.

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