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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 2 page 10


One of the first objectives of the Académie would be to reduce as far as possible the differences between the two languages. A number of strictly visual adjustments would at least bring the written languages closer. For example, the French suffixes -isme and -iste (as in le capitalisme and le parti communiste) correspond to the English -ism and -ist. If we drop the e from the French versions — it has only an imaginary impact on pronunciation anyway — then there will suddenly appear a whole range of French words spelled exactly the same as their English counterparts.

Of course our proposed hybrid language has to remain receptive to contributions from other languages besides English and French. Future circumstances may boost the importance of third languages, including not only the speech of new arrivals from the four corners of the Earth but also the neglected tongues of native peoples. As just one example, we might find it useful to appropriate some of the famous multiplicity of Inuit words for different types of snow. According to Serge Pageau’s French-Inuit dictionary, sitillugak is snow dure comme pierre (“hard as stone”), mauja is snow dans laquelle on enfonce (“in which one sinks”), and pukak is snow granulated comme du sucre (“like sugar”).

Canada is a young country, at the best time of life for acquiring a new language. The achievement of a new official language would be a unifying force in itself, a determinant of national character.

To Anglos in particular, this unique language would provide a chance to secure a meaningful culture. In Europe it used to be the habit of nations to build their railways at different gauges in order to prevent their use by invading troop trains. The English language is an open railway offering unobstructed access into Canada by outside forces. Long ago it was understood that if Canada is to survive overwhelming economic and political subordination, it is crucial to have national control of the internal means of communication. A uniquely Canadian language would carry that notion to its logical conclusion.

As for francophones, this hybrid language would allow them their full and rightful share in the national dream. But more than that, one must ask, what future has French on the North American continent otherwise? Whether united to, or separated from, the rest of Canada, francophones must still struggle to preserve their language against the surrounding sea of Anglos. As Victor Barbeau says, «L’indépendance du Québec ne nous serait, du point de vue linguistique, qu’une vaine armure. Le français ne s’en porterait pas mieux parce qu’il resterait soumis aux mêmes pressions que dans la Confédération.» (“Independence for Québec would be, from the linguistic point of view, no more than a futile armor. The French language would be no better off, because it would remain subject to the same pressures as within Confederation.")

One would have to be hopelessly starry-eyed not to realize that linguistic matters get more complicated than I have explored so far. Each language has its own grammatical complexities, its internal relationships and categories and so on; and in addition we have to contemplate the inevitability of human intransigence on both sides of the fence. People will cling to the old languages as though their souls were at stake. Achieving Canadian Anglo-French would be a long and arduous project. But the advantages to be gained are tremendous.