“Hi.” One word. Two letters. So much power.
Who knew that a modest greeting could undermine the established social order, threaten a culture, destroy a language — and command the attention of over one hundred politicians who, doubtless, have more important things to do?
In Quebec it can — when paired with the word “Bonjour,” at any rate. In a unanimous motion last week, members of Quebec’s National Assembly reaffirmed French as the official and common language of Quebec, recognized that 94 per cent of Quebecers understand it and urged “all merchants and their employees who have contact with local and international clients to warmly greet them with the word ‘Bonjour’.” Not “Bonjour, hi.” Just “Bonjour.”
Why? To hear politicians and pundits talk, you’d think “Bonjour, hi” is the linguistic equivalent of a North Korean nuke. PQ leader Jean Francois Lisée called it an “irritant and example of galloping bilingualism.” Sociologist and writer Mathieu Bock-Côté tweeted, “From one stage to the next, French fades away. And with that, the Quebec people fades away.” Eric Bouchard, director of the Mouvement Quebec Français, went even further, using the occasion to rail against hospital elevators programmed to make bilingual floor announcements.
I’m a Quebecer born and bred, and I lived through the waxing and waning of the Quebec separatist movement. It hurts my soul to see this divisive debate being reopened now.
Yes, the use of French in the workplace has declined by 4 per cent in the last decade, according to Statistics Canada figures. Yes, Quebec’s ‘francisation’ program for new immigrants appears to be an expensive failure. And yes, the manager at an Adidas store recently made a giant faux pas when he apologized for using French at a store opening — in a province where the official language is French.
There will always be government targets unmet, and people who act out of ignorance. But to extrapolate from these failures a trend involving millions of people who use a two-letter word is not the answer.
Making people afraid to utter the word “hi” by National Assembly fiat is risible, sad and petty. It recalls past incidents of Quebec making itself an international laughingstock through bureaucratic overreach — like the infamous “pastagate” incident of 2013, when an Italian restaurant was told to change its menu items from the language of Dante to that of Molière.
Read the full article on iPolitics.