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  • Cited by 53
  • Print publication year: 1995
  • Online publication date: June 2012

8 - Code-switching and the politics of language

Summary

It's not always how you play the game, it's how you use the rules

Introduction

In 1977, the government of the province of Quebec passed Bill 101, a law to affirm and support French as the official and dominant language of the province. This law was a key element in Francophones' strategy to overcome two centuries of domination by English-speakers, and it touched on many domains, notably government, education and the workplace. Among other things, it required practitioners of certain professions (such as pharmacy, nursing, engineering) to demonstrate adequate knowledge of French in order to be licensed to practice. For some, this meant passing tests of French proficiency created and administered by the government.

In 1978, an English-speaking gentleman arrived at the office where these tests were administered and presented himself at the front desk, where the receptionist was chatting in French with a co-worker. He asked the receptionist, ‘Could you tell me where the French test is?’ The receptionist responded in French, ‘Pardon?’ The man repeated his request in English, ‘Could you tell me where the French test is?’ The receptionist asked, ‘En français?’ The man replied, ‘I have the right to be addressed in English by the government of Quebec according to Bill 101.’ The receptionist turned to her colleague and asked, ‘Qu'est-ce qu'il dit?’ (‘What's he saying?’). In the end, both parties won: the man got his information without having to speak French, and the receptionist was able to show him the right direction without having to speak English.