Language & Identity Conference

Hello One & All !

Yesterday I went to a conference in London. It was my first time attending a conference  and so I thought I would share some thoughts on it.

Why did I go?

My reasons for going were as follows:

  • It posed as the perfect opportunity for me to learn more about Canada.
  • I wanted to learn more about the relationship between language and identity within Francophone Canada.
  • I have been thinking about whether I want to do a PhD after my MA and I thought that through listening to the findings of researchers that chose that educational path, that it would give me an insight into the extent of the research they conduct even after completing their PhD.
  • Last but not least, I wanted to practise speaking French and expose myself to dialects from other Francophone areas within Canada minus that of the Gaspé Peninsula which I had become comfortable with during my time in Canada.

What was it about?

There were 12 speakers (but I only heard 11) that discussed their findings on the topic of Language and Identity in Francophone Canada whilst all tackling the subject from different and interesting angles.

Here is a copy of the programme:




What did I learn? / What did I find interesting?

Matthew Hayday (University of Guelph)
Elements of distinctiveness: The French Fact and English-speaking Canada’s identity politics since the Second World War

  • What I found quite interesting was the progression of language changes within the government and how that played out in the day to day lives of Canadians. The Official Languages Act (Loi sur les languages officielles) came into force in September 1969 which gave French and English equal status in the Canadian government. This meant that all federal institutions had to start providing services in English or French on request.

From this act being implemented, it was interesting to be presented with examples of how people tried to incorporate the two languages into children’s tv and also into songs. For example, in the late 1980’s, 3 Canadian muppets were added to Sesame Street. One of those muppets was French-Canadian Louis (pronounced Louie) the Otter, making the show bilingual.

“All Canadians should capitalize on the advantages of living in a country which has learned to speak in two great world languages” – Pierre-Elliot Trudeau.

  • What also intrigued me was the uproar that came after the Act was implemented. The word “racism” was used by Anglophones within Canada who felt that French would end up having a higher status than English, which would disadvantage them within the workforce.

From my understanding, a lot of work has been done over the years to give people a chance to take advantage of the bilingualism in Canada. An example that illustrates this is the fact that more schools offering French from an early age. Despite this, in the grand scheme of things, in Ontario for example (which is where Hayday is based), only 11.2% of the population can speak both English and French. So after 49 years, there is still work to do in order to help both sides of the community to profit from Canada’s bilingualism.



Panel 1 – Canada overall / Le Canada dans son ensemble:
Valérie Lapointe-Gagnon (Université de l’Alberta) Ces anglophones qui sont montés aux barricades: la défense de la dualité linguistique canadienne par Gwethalyn Graham, Gertrude Laing et Scott Symons, 1950-1970.

Lapointe-Gagnon spoke again on the idea of Canadian dualism and the fact that in the 60’s, the government recognised the fact that dualism exists within Canada and that they needed to “remake”/”reconstruct” a new Canadian identity that encompassed both parts.


Rachelle Vessey (Birkbeck, University of London) French and English language
ideological debates in Canada: Evidence and examples from the media.

One of the main areas of discussion for Vessey was the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission and how they have dealt with bilingualism. It was mentioned that at one point CRBC attempted to have a bilingual radio station but then people started listening to American radio instead. Throughout this presentation, Vessey also touched on the fact that from her research, the English language tends to be used for more functional purposes in articles and seems to be slightly taken for granted. In contrast the French language articles seemed to use more “emotional” language.



Panel 2 – Canada overall / Le Canada dans son ensemble
Jean-Pierre Corbeil (Statistique Canada) Le recensement canadien et la
construction sociale, politique et scientifique des identités francophones
au Canada.

Corbeil discussed several interesting things on the basis of the relationship between statistics, the categorisation of people that fall into the same racial (language) group and the characteristics of those groups. He also mentioned that there is this variation between how people are being defined by the state and also how they personally identify so: external categorisation VS personal identification. This is something I want to delve into more in the future so that I can truly unpick it because it seems the state has over simplified it by stating that there are Anglophones, Francophones and Allophones (people that speak another language that isn’t English or French) but it’s more complicated than that.


Panel 3 – The West / L’Ouest
Catherine Levasseur (Université de Montréal) Être bien plus que francophones: expériences de mobilté et de transnationalité de jeunes en contexte minoritaire au Canada.

One of the main things Levasseur touched on was how children view themselves. She mentioned that oftentimes, their identities are based on that of their parents or their grandparents so for instance, a child with a Hungarian mother and a Canadian father may identify as Hungarian despite being born in Canada. This could be due to the weight that this part of their identity holds socially within their day to day lives.

To close, it was a very interesting conference which definitely pushed me to think more about the complex relationship between language and identity, along with the struggle to equally represent the identities of those in Canada.


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