“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, http://www.respectdelaloi.gouv.qc.ca/ 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.”