Quebec Studies

Language Knowledge and Attitudes Toward Québec Among Canadian University Students

Quebec Studies (2009), 47, (1), 73–94.

Abstract

73 Language Knowledge and Attitudes Toward Québec Among Canadian University Students Scott Piroth, Bowling Green State University David Jackson, Bowling Green State University 1 This article explores factors that structure attitudes toward Q u é b e c in the rest of C a n a d a ( R O C ) using a survey conducted in 2004 of college students at English-language universities across the country. Public opinion re­ garding Q u é b e c in the R O C is important because the country's long-term future m a y depend on h o w the R O C can deal with the challenge of Q u é b e c nationalism. Concessions to Q u é b e c that might undermine the appeal of sovereignty to Q u e b e c e r s will require public support in the R O C , and posi­ tive attitudes toward Q u é b e c increase the possibility that such concessions can be made. Conversely, the ability of the R O C to maintain a tough line against separatism in the event of a third referendum m a y b e enhanced b y negative attitudes toward Q u é b e c in the R O C . We expect that attitudes toward Q u é b e c in anglophone C a n a d a will be influenced b y the a m o u n t and the quality of the contact that anglophone Canadians h a v e with C a n a d a ' s Francophones. T h e contact hypothesis holds that "more contact b e t w e e n individuals belonging to antagonistic social groups tends to u n d e r m i n e negative stereotypes and reduce preju­ dice, thus improving inter-group relations b y making people more willing to deal with each other as equals" (Forbes, ix). T h e contact hypothesis sug­ gests that contact a m o n g m e m b e r s of different groups leads to greater com­ munication either through living side-by-side or b y having the linguistic ability to communicate, and such contact improves inter-group relations. Studies have found that anglophone Canadians w h o live in regions with m o r e French speakers and higher levels of bilingualism evaluate French Canadians more positively than do those Canadians living in re­ gions with fewer French speakers (White and Curtis 1990, Curtis and W h i t e 1993). Although it is not clear from these studies whether personal bilin­ gualism or simple proximity explains m o r e positive feelings, meaningful c o m m u n i c a t i o n is not likely to take place w h e n m e m b e r s of different groups speak different languages and are unable to converse in the lan­ guage of the other group. O f course, c o m m u n i c a t i o n occurs even w h e n people do not understand each other, but the level of contact is almost cer­ tainly higher as oral c o m m u n i c a t i o n abilities rise. The m a i n objective of this article is to e x a m i n e the influence that k n o w l e d g e of the French language h a s on the attitudes of anglophone Canadians toward Q u é b e c . Official bilingualism is often cited as a source of national unity, b u t prior studies h a v e not c o m p a r e d the political atti­ tudes of those a n g l o p h o n e Canadians w h o are able to speak and under­ stand French with those w h o cannot. We r e v i e w the efforts of the Canadian g o v e r n m e n t to p r o m o t e bilingualism and test the hypothesis that Québec Studies, Volume 47, Spring/Summer 2009

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Author details

Piroth, Scott

Jackson, David