Forces of Attraction in Quebec

by Translation Guy on November 26, 2012

“The force of attraction of the English language keeps going up,” says Mario Beaulieu, president of the Movement Québec français. Immigrants to Québec are choosing to speak English at home instead of French, because English is the language in demand in the workplace. And English thrives despite Bill 101, the law that makes French the language of work in Québec. So, officials are looking to force the attraction of French with new laws and stricter enforcement.

“Bill 101 is a flop,” claims French language booster Charles Castonguay. “It should have brought the Anglos around to the idea of working in French with Francos. The whole objective of Bill 101 is to make French the common language.” Instead, Castonguay says, French speakers tend to use English in the workplace even when they don’t have to.

If Québec goes bilingual, that will prove that Bill 101 has not done its job to protect the dominance of the French language in Québec, say critics. So while stricter laws are in the making, many retailers are already outraged over a crackdown on non-French branding and signage.

Brands are supposed to be different in Québec. Colonel Sanders stands his ground at PFK, not KFC (PFK as in “Poulet Frit Kentucky.”) Staples goes by “Bureau en Gros” meaning “Office Wholesale.” When the brand name has been translated into French, it embodies the spirit of the Québec language law that French shoppers will not feel like strangers in their own land.

Yet Costco, Walmart, Best Buy, Pizza Hut and many other famous American brands remain defiantly Anglicized in Québec.

For the last 35 years, the Québec language authorities had tolerated English language trade names on signage.  But those authorities have now reversed policy in the face of growing bilingualism. So, retailers are now suddenly required to add French phrases and taglines to those Anglophonic trade names, where formerly they could get by without them. Six major American retailers have taken the province to court as a result, reports the New York Times.

The law permits the use of trademarks for branding, regardless of language of origin, as long as there’s enough French in the brand or associated French-language tagline so that a French speaker will be able to understand what the store sells. So “Walmart” becomes “Le Magasin (store) Walmart” and thus, in some unimaginable way, helps to preserve the Francophone culture of Québec. There is a great graphic on the L’Office québécois de la langue française website, illustrating how a retailer called “Daily Living” can meet the legal naming requirements. (Note that the website address translates to “respect for the law.”  These guys mean business!)

Ian Austen interviewed Martin Bergeron, a language agency spokesman, who acknowledged “that it had until now “tolerated” signs containing nothing but trademarked names in languages other than French. But he said that a growing influx of retailers from the United States and elsewhere in the world into Quebec caused the agency to focus its attention on the issue about 18 months ago. Mr. Martin said that complaints to the office about signs had been steadily increasing and represented 46 percent of the 4,000 it received last year.

“This is not against any language,” Mr. Bergeron said. “English, Italian or Chinese, it’s all the same.” He added that the agency will even investigate signs containing names that are not related to any known language.”


  1. Nik Lever says:

    Bill 101 was never going to succeed, as far to many businesses in Quebec depend on customers who speak something other than French or reside outside the province.

    • Ken says:

      It really does seem futile.

  2. Sherry says:

    God, the French… could they be more annoying?

    • Ken says:

      Funny, we say the same thing about you Anglais… at least that’s something we have in common.

  3. Grace says:

    I think Quebec will always fail in this mission, as the proliferation of the internet and globalization where English is the dminant language creates too much pressure to effectively win this war.

  4. I can’t imagine why more companies have not fought Quebec on the changing of their branding, the brand is usually protected far more fiercely.

  5. Quebec can mandate whatever laws it wants, but the fact that English is the language of commerce and trade ensures that it will never win this.

  6. I can’t imagine there is anyone in Quebec who needs “Le Magasin”before Walmart to know what Walmart is, they are one of the largest companies in the world.

    • Ken says:

      The regulators need it.

  7. Conchita says:

    This is all down to the new premiere wh is a seperatist, and doesn’t realize this will damage the economy. Companies will just avoid Quebec rather than incur the millions it will cost them to completely rebrand in French for such a small market.

    • Ken says:

      Many argue that Quebec is already paying a steep economic price for a French-dominant society.

  8. Davida says:

    If more and more people are choosng English as the language used in the home, shouldn’t that let the Francophone language police that they can’t win this.

  9. NKenge King says:

    “Signs containing names that are not related to any known language”… What the hell does that mean?

    • Ken says:

      It means companies with made-up names like Sony and Walmart. Target and Staples are company names derived from English words.

  10. Bicky Carlra says:

    The sudden requirement of businesses with Anglophomic trade names to change ther ways is ridiculous, for over 30 years it was fine, but now we are going to damage your business with no debate allowed.

  11. I’ve lived in Canada a long time, and every time I think the Quebecer’s have finally reached the edge of madness, the step just a little bit further into the void.

    • Ken says:

      We have to make the world safe for poutine, Vicky.

  12. As a Canadian, I have always found the Quebcois language mission patently ridiculous, as they are constantly ensuring they annoy as many people as possible in trying to ensure their “survival”, which always seemed counterintuitive. Shouldn’t they be seeking to make French more attractive, rather than just a pain in the ass?

    • Ken says:

      Without a carrot, we have only the stick.

      Thanks as always for your comments, Muhammad

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