The official language of Québec is often confused with the official languages of Canada. While Canada is officially a bilingual country (French and English), Québec is officially a unilingual province; the official language of Québec is French.
Similar to the situation in the US, where national and state laws sometimes differ from one another, so it is also with the provinces of Canada. Officially, Canada is a bilingual country, which means that all governmental services have to be available in both official languages of the country. However, in the Province of Québec, the local, provincial law overrides the national law. Officially, Québec only has one language, and it is legally only required to offer governmental services in French. In practice, there are regions of Québec where many English speakers live, and English speakers who do not speak French are not left stranded every time they need official paperwork.
The Province of Québec is just one of the many French speaking areas of the world where French is an official spoken language.
Bilingualism in Québec
While only about 7.5% of English-speaking Canadians are also fluent in French, some 40% of Québec's French-speaking population is also fluent in English. This discrepency is sometimes cause for debate.
In Québec, where the official language is French, many citizens, especially those in the metropolitan region of Montréal, become bilingual. This is not only a result of living in a metropolitan area where both languages are prevalent, it is also the case that residents of this region can have difficulties finding a job if they are not officially bilingual. In more rural regions of Québec, it is much more common to come across native French speakers who are not fluent in English.
Rules on the Official Language of Québec
In the 1970s drastic measures were taken to further protect the French language within the Province of Québec. Since Québec had been able to hold on to the French language for so long (since Britain took over Québec/Canada from France), the Quebecois were not willing to lose their language after hundreds of years of protecting it. The French language is a crucial element of the French Canadian culture, and the majority of the citizens of Québec were eager to protect the language. For this reason, an official law was put into place in 1974, followed by a revision in 1977, which made the following requirements on language use in Québec:
- French is the official language for signs: While signs may have other languages on them as well, all signs must be in French, and if an additional language is added to the sign, the French text must be larger than the other language
- French is the official language of business: An English native speaker must become bilingual so that he can participate in business in French.
- French is the official school language (through high school graduation): All children in Québec must attend (public) schooling offered in French. Only children who have one (or both) parent(s) who also attended an English-instruction primary school are allowed to choose for an English primary school. This means that an American English-speaking immigrant would have to attend a French-speaking school.
- French is the official language of government and law and all laws and governmental dealings are officially required to be in French
While these are only officially four rules, they encompass many aspects of life in Québec. The laws are disputed by some, but heavily protected by the strong desire to protect French as Québec's one and only official language.