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  • Speaking Up: A History of Language and Politics in Canada and Quebec by Marcel Martel, Martin Pâquet
  • Dustin J. McNichol
Marcel Martel and Martin Pâquet, Speaking Up: A History of Language and Politics in Canada and Quebec. Translated by Patricia Dumas (Toronto: Between the Lines 2012)

In this translation of Langue et politique au Canada et au Québec: Une synthèse historique (Montreal: Éditions du Boréal, 2010), Marcel Martel and Martin Pâquet offer the reader an authoritative discussion of language politics in Canada since the mid-16th century. The authors argue that language has always been contentious in Canada because it is bound up in symbolic politics of identity (vouloir-vivre collectif), unequal socioeconomic relations between different groups (devoir-vivre collectif), and questions of governance and management of social divisions (comment-vivre collectif). By measuring the interaction between language and politics, changes in Canadian political culture surrounding language can be identified.

The book’s analysis is divided into six chronological periods and rests mainly on a synthesis of existing literature, but also on the careful use of archival documents. Chapter 1 (1539–1848) discusses how language evolved from a colonial and religious question to a national-political issue at the turn of the 19th century. Following the 1837–38 rebellions, the ethnic concept of political communities took hold in English and French-Canadian circles, and the recognition of French as a language became synonymous with the destiny of the French-Canadian nation. Chapter 2 (1848–1927) analyses the first major political conflicts over language in Canada which arose from a political culture dominated by Canada’s anglophone bourgeoisie. Attempts to assimilate French-speakers via unilingual schooling were met with vigorous resistance which gave life to the French-Canadian nation and further solidified the link between language and nation. As Chapter 3 (1927–1963) shows, French-Canadian militancy was so strong that the anglo-Canadian model of one language and one nation was abandoned in favour of more peaceful relations between English and French-Canadian elites.

Language never disappeared as a political issue, however, and in Chapter 4 (1963–1969) Martel and Pâquet argue that the Laurendeau-Dunton and Gendron commissions were of major importance in undermining social polarization over language. The commissions also heralded in a new era of state intervention in language planning which is discussed in Chapter 5 (1969–1982). Both the Canadian and Québec governments opted for major legislative measures in language planning in order to foster respective visions of national unity and political harmony. As the authors show, Canada and Québec had fundamentally different philosophies and approaches in their legislation, and the differences in social context between Canada and Québec led to major variances in the trajectory of language controversies. Chapter 6 (1982–) explains how the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms began a new era of rule of law and court intervention in language politics. Here Martel and Pâquet give a thorough discussion of major language rights cases and their outcomes in both Québec and throughout the various Canadian provinces. They argue that recourse to law as a new way of managing language conflicts has led to a decline in mass mobilization around language. Rule of law has also undermined Québec nationalism because it affirms equality of cultures and languages over equality of nations. Martel and Pâquet conclude by reminding readers that language in Canada remains contentious and political, and can still be subversive insofar as languages other than English can be evoked in order [End Page 336] to resist global capitalistic hegemony and foster nationalism.

Speaking Up is grounded in an exhaustive synthesis of existing literature which spans a number of disciplines and research fields on language politics in Canada. Martel and Pâquet have skilfully brought together a wide array of works on colonial and world history, intellectual history, social history, sociology, law, and political science. Chapter 6, for example, draws from scholarship on the Charter, Meech Lake Accord, language legislation, linguistic vitality, demography, and institutional completeness, in addition to citing major legal decisions such as Mercure and Mahé. Martel and Pâquet also make use of...


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pp. 336-337
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