Lingua Franca

A bilingual stop sign in Quebec. Photo via Kids Brittanica.

Language is one of the most important aspects that make up a society’s culture. The language that people use helps to define them as a group of like individuals that differ from those of another language. A prime example of how language defines a group of people compared to others is shown in Samuel Victor’s article “Lingua Franca English, qu’est-ce que fuck!”

The province of Quebec, Canada is the only official unilingual French speaking province in the entire country. The province, and the city of Montreal especially, have historically set the stage for “linguistic territoriality” and breakthroughs in language law throughout Canada. The Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) is Quebec’s greatest language achievement which enforces the predominance of the French language in the public sphere. Quebec has gone to great lengths to ensure that the province sticks to its French roots, however the province is in constant battle with its English speaking neighbors.

The English language is becoming what many see as the world’s first “Lingua Franca”, or a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different. However, with the English language becoming more and more dominant around the world, what will be the future of the minority languages? Victor states that “as English continues to pick up momentum as history’s first globally shared language for economics, diplomacy, and even culture, more and more communities, language groups, and even whole nations are being pushed to live alongside it, if not intimately incorporate it into the fabric of their societies”. The English language has the potential to create a political and cultural hegemony of Anglophone countries that would destroy the cultures of many countries and societies that speak minority languages. So if we do not want English speaking countries to have all of the power in the political and economic spheres, what’s the solution?

In 1887, a man named Ludwik Zamenhof dreamed of such a solution “where the language one spoke would neither oppress others nor oneself”. This dream of his eventually came to fruition in the form of Esperanto, a lab-made language that was offered to the world as a Lingua Franca in which every country would be equal and neutral. Unfortunately, the language never took off and few know of its existence. But the idea that originally created this language is one that is felt by many, including Quebec. No country or society should have to be forced to give up or assimilate its language and culture just to communicate with other more dominant nations. We all have the right to speak the language we wish to speak.