publications & papers
as applied to Canada"
(with reference to Russia)
Brief submitted to the
Royal Commssion on
Bilingualism & Biculturalism
(page updated 8 July 2002)
brief (along with an addendum on bilingualism in the then Soviet Union),
written in November 1963, was submitted to the federal Royal Commission
on Bilingualism & Biculturalism during their public hearings in Vancouver
in 1964. The brief emphasises the importance of providing opportunities
for exposure to the second language outside the classroom as an indispensable
support for any bilingual education programme in Canadian schools.
Following his submission, JW was briefly interviewed (in French) on Radio-Canada
(the French network of the CBC). Even though the brief was written
almost 40 years ago, the points it raises are still valid considerations
today for Canadian bilingualism (and, yes, multilingualism).
as applied to Canada"
[For footnotes please click on corresponding underlined links]
In making such a brief report as this,
I am conscious of having left much unsaid. There are, of course,
many factors involved which have not been taken into consideration here,
the most notable, perhaps, being the many other minority groups in Canada
whose native language is neither English nor French. Their language
and their culture is by no means to be forgotten; in fact, it provides
a valuable source of enrichment to our own, to our nation's heritage.
Yet the word bilingualism has not come to such importance in our
language without a reason. Historically, the original settlers of
what is now Canada were the English and the French, and these two languages
were established as the official ones long before the nation itself was
born. Others have entered since, but French and English are most
strongly ingrained in our nation's history, its culture and its everyday
life, and cannot be easily uprooted. Thus for practical purposes
I have written this report on the basis of these two languages only, fully
recognising, however, that many others must not be forgotten in formulating
any definite views on bilingualism in Canada.
bilinguisme a plusieurs acceptions différentes."1
With these all too true words begins Hermas Bastien's Le bilinguisme
au Canada. But the word bilingualism, besides possessing
many other connotations, is today used in two fairly distinct ways.
This is evident from the two definitions of the word bilingual given in
New World Dictionary, namely: "of two languages" and "using
or capable of using two languages,2
where the first term may be applied generally to the inanimate or to a
collectivity of animates, while the second is to be applied specifically
to an individual person. Dr Paul Christophersen of the University
College in Ibadan, Nigeria, gives an illustrated elaboration of this point
in a published lecture on the subject of bilingualism, where he says [1948:
The word is used in at least two different
senses. A country like Belgium is sometimes called bilingual, because
it has two languages, French and Flemish. But that does not mean
that all the inhabitants speak both languages equally well. Most
Belgians are unilingual and speak either French or Flemish, although they
have some knowledge of the other language of the country, which is taught
as a second language in the schools. The same is the case in Finland,
where both Finnish and Swedish are spoken. But here, again, most
of the inhabitants have only one mother tongue, although they know something
of the other language. Canada is another bilingual country, while
Switzerland is even trilingual; but comparatively few Canadian and Swiss
citizens are bilingual, let alone trilingual, speakers. Bilingualism
among individual citizens is quite a different thing from national bilingualism;
it may occur sporadically even in unilingual countries.
I should like to deal first
with the latter subject, that of bilingualism as applied to individuals,
since then we shall be able to better examine the greater concept, i.e.,
the general, in the light of what we shall have learnt from the specific.
In his lecture Dr Christophersen
treats this specific in some detail. Following his definiton
of bilingualism as given above, he goes on to deal with the problems of
becoming bilingual, -- the advantages and disadvantages of bilingualism.
He states among other things that it is almost impossible for a so-called
bilingual speaker to achieve 100% efficiency in both languages. "If
the languages are kept level," he says, "neither will probably reach more
than 95 per cent. efficiency. If the emphasis is shifted on to one
of them, it may reach 100 per cent., but the other language will automatically
drop a considerable distance, perhaps to 85 or 70, or even lower" [1948:
8]. His criterion of complete efficiency or perfection in a language
consists, among other things, of knowing the words and phrases "for every
little detail of life" [1948: 7], of being entirely at home in the
language. Such perfection in both languages is apparently lacking
in nearly all bilingual speakers, and indeed is almost impossible to achieve.
Except in a few extraordinary cases,
true bilingualism, according to Dr Christophersen and others, must have
its roots in the stage of early youth, after which it becomes increasingly
difficult to adapt one's speech organs to a second set of linguistic grooves
that constitute a language. The "few extraordinary cases" are those
specially endowed individuals who actually think without the use of language,
whose thought, according to a quotation from J.G. Weightman's On
language and writing, "is a kind of indefinable mental substance, made
up of images and feelings and an almost spatial sense of the links between
ideas" [1948: 5]. However, since such cases are extraordinary
and extremely rare, let us rather take a look at the average bilingual,
the person who learns two languages from his early youth.
According to Dr Christophersen,
"keeping up two languages can sometimes be a strain, even if one has known
them both from childhood..., [1948: 2] and he later adds as one of the
disadvantages under which a bilingual person labours, the "greater mental
effort required in handling two linguistic media..." [1948: 10] This
gives rise to a second disadvantage which he mentions, namely, the "risk
of considerably reduced efficiency in both languages" [ibid.].
Such a problem can arise even at
a very early age. A German family whom I know fairly well, and who
have lived in Canada about ten years, wanted their young son to be as fluent
as possible in both the English and German languages. Thus they spoke
German to him at home, while at school the atmosphere was completely English.
The result was that he soon began to confuse the two, and it was not long
before he was unable to speak in either without a considerable stutter.
As soon as this came to the parents' attention and the boy was free to
speak English in the home as well, the stutter disappeared. Now of
course such a case as this is considered an exception to the rule, since
most children generally do not have nearly as much difficulty in learning
to speak two languages concurrently; in fact many find the task extremely
It has been found that a child's
schoolmates and school life actually have far more influence upon his speech
and language habits than do his parents and the home atmosphere.
Dr Christophersen notes, for example, that "children of Danish parents
in Greenland learn Eskimo before they learn Danish" [1948: 3] and tells
of an experiment in an Istanbul kindergarten where young children of fifteen
different nationalities, taught exclusively in English by an English teacher,
in a short time came to speak the language with perfect ease, although
in their homes they continued to converse each in his or her native tongue.
Thus is the task not a difficult
one of acquiring a speaking knowledge of two different languages, provided
that both are given constant use. However, as one language is accentuated
and given primary consideration and concentration, the other is automatically
shifted to second place in one's mind, and in some cases even tends to
be forgotten. But if a person is truly bilingual, that is, from his
childhood up he has not merely grafted one language upon another, not merely
associated words of a second with words of the first, but has at all times
directly linked the words of both languages with the objects or concepts
they express, then, even if he has temporarily forgotten one language through
a period of disuse, he still is, as Dr Christophersen puts it, "generally
able by a conscious effort to keep it alive or to revive it" [1948: 7].
Now that we have covered the subject
of bilingualism in the individual -- albeit in small degree, let us look
into the concept of bilingualism on a much wider scale, so wide,
in fact, as in some areas of the world to have developed into a major national
problem involving both the social and political spheres of the life of
a country, with overtones in the religious and economic fields. The
Webster definition in this respect, namely, "of two languages", is sufficiently
vague to be of little or no use, but the corresponding definition of the
Russian equivalent dvujazychie, as given in the four-volume
of the Russian Academy of Sciences, states the situation somewhat more
succinctly, at least for our present purposes. Here the word is defined
as "sovmestnoe ravnopravnoe sushchestvovanie dvukh jazykov v strane",
or "the joint existence of two languages with equal right within
Bilingualism in this sense I should now like to discuss with you as it
applies to Canada, bearing in mind what we have alredy learnt in our brief
study of bilingualism in the individual. But first, let me give you
a short background to the question of bilingualism in Canada.
Bilingualism has been a subject
of much controversy on the Canadian scene for many years. The existence
of such a phenomenon at all in the country is due at least in part to the
kindly attitude to the French-Canadians on the part of the British governor
James Murray at the time of the Treaty of Paris in 1763. Murray
did not follow precedent and attempt to impose the English language upon
the French, but allowed for the preservation of the French language among
its native speakers. As Abbé Arthur Maheux of the Royal
Society of Canada has well described in a series of radio addresses
given on the CBC entitled Pourquoi sommes-nous divisés ?[1943:
Lorsque Murray quitta Québec en
1766, la question de la langue française était réglée
pour toujours au Canada. À ce moment les Canadiens français
étaient depuis sept années en possession de parler leur langue,
même dans les affaires officielles. Cet usage incontesté
consituait déjà, selon la coutume britannique, un droit,
même à défaut de tout texte de loi.
And he adds:
Chaque fois qu'un groupe anglais a voulu
s'attaquer à ce droit acquis, l'attaque fut une défaite.
Thus historically the French language
has been firmly established in Canada, and may still today be counted an
official language of the dominion, although Section 133 of the British
North America Act tends rather to limit its officialdom to the
federal parliament and the legislature of Québec, [1950:
and accordingly in other parts of Canada there are still those who would
prefer to dismiss it altogether.
One such proposal came from the
religious field. In a brief submitted to the 1950 Ontario Royal Commission
on Education by the Inter-Church Committee on Protestant-Roman Catholic
Relations, we find the recommendation: "That the attempt, which has been
almost completely successful, to split the educational system of Ontario
into two distinct divisions, -- one English, one French --, shall not only
be checked but that the dual system of education shall be entirely eradicated."
[1950: 436] Another brief puts its complaint in more gruesome
terms, referring to bilingual shcools in Ontario as "a fungous growth on
the school systems" [ibid.].
Somewhat more reasonable, though,
is the so-called "moderate" French-Canadian point of view, well epitomised
in a brief submitted to the Commission by the Association canadienne-française
d'education d'Ontario [1950: 430]:
We do not think that our English-speaking
who are reputedly imbued with the principles of British fair-play, will
begrudge the measure of liberty that we enjoy of teaching our children
their mother tongue. We do not wish to force on anyone the teaching
of French. Our only wish is that our children learn their own language
in addition to the language of the majority. For English-speaking
Canadians, the study of French is not only a cultural enrichment but also
a means of fostering national unity. For the French-speaking Canadians,
it is the exercise of a right which they will never forego.
Let us consider then this concept
of bilingual education (education being one of the greatest factors
underlying the whole social and political life of a nation), and let us
keep in mind what has been said earlier about individual bilingualism.
For here we have a situation in which the meaning and implciation of Dr
Christophersen's statements is strongly apparent: we begin to see more
clearly that "bilingualism among individual citizens is quite a different
thing from national bilingualism", for this national bilingualism "does
not mean that all the inhabitants speak both languages equally well", but
only that "most of the inhabitants have only the one mother tongue, although
they know something of the other language" [Christophersen 1950: 2].
Concerning this last point, the
Ontario Royal Commisison made a fairly thorough investigation of the so-called
bilingual schools mentioned above, to find out just how much their pupils
knew of the "other language". Among French-Canadian children conversational
English was introduced in Grade 2, with reading, writing, grammar and composition
following in successive grades. In general it was found that the
increasing proficiency in English over the school years was highly favourable,
although, as is stated in one report [1950: 434]:
The success with which English is being
taught varies considerably. In good schools in districts where both
English and French are heard on the streets there is great success; in
poorer schools, in districts where English is rarely heard outside the
schools, there is little success.
This statement in no way conflicts
with Dr Christophersen's observation that a child's language is influenced
more by his schoolmates than by his parents, for the Commission also reports
that "in the majority of cases, even for children in higher grades, French
is the language used on the playground; for only a small number of classrooms
was it reported that English was generally used" and, in the school itself,
"the language used in giving school directions is more frequently French
than English and in a number of classrooms, even in higher grades, only
French is used" [1950: 433].
Thus it appears that the actual
speaking of English was in some cases limited to classroom exercise, and
no attempt was made to treat it as a language of daily conversation.
Yet in the cases where English was heard outside the classroom, and therefore
more likely to be used outside the classroom -- on the streets,
among school friends, in general conversation, "great success" in English
proficiency was reported. French was still the pupils' 'mother tongue',
since French was also taught in the schools, as well as being spoken at
home, but English came a fairly close second.
Here then is a situation where,
as was brought out earlier, the empahsis is on one of two languages: in
this 100% efficiency may naturally be achieved. But the other, even
though it may stay only at the 80% level, is not very far behind, and may
certainly be regarded as 'adequate' in terms of mutual understanding between
the French- and English-speaking people of the same province, or even of
the same nation. Such bilingualism among individuals, Dr Christophersen
implies, is entirely feasible. And Maheux [1943: 34] declares that
it is not l'hérédité but la volonté
upon which such bilingualism depends.
The Ontario Royal Commission recommended,
among other things, "that, in addition to English as a subject of study
and language of instruction and communication, a local education authority
be authorized ... to make provision for French as a subject of study and
language of instruction and communication in a public or separate elementary
school or classroom under its jurisdiction..." [1950: 439].
Here is one step of a much greater
concept. But cannot this step now be expanded to include more than
just one part of the educational system of one province, an even samller
part in terms of the education of the nation?
Could not an exchange of teachers
and even pupils be arranged to help spread the greater concept of bilingualism
throughout the nation? Could not the teaching of both languages be
improved by having each language taught everywhere by a speaker
of that language? Could not such a change come about gradually, if
not all at once?
But even if all this were accomplished,
it would still be sadly incomplete in terms of achieving any real degree
of bilingualism. All the French or English one learns in the classroom
is of little use if it is confined there, and theory is of little use without
practice. If you will remember, the Commission observed that English
teaching in districts where little of the language was heard outside the
schools met with relatively poor success. And poor success will attend
any plan for bilingualism in which the out-of-school problem is left unsolved.
We already possess, however, even
if we are not aware of the fact, the means to solve these problems, only
as yet these means have not been developed along the needed lines and channels.
Already there exists an institution known as Visites interprovinciales
in Ontario and Québec, whereby French- and English-speaking schoolchildren
exchange visits to each others' homes -- visits which, according to Maheux,
"favorisent efficacement la pratique de la conversation en langue seconde"
[1943: 34]. And he goes on to to enumerate the other means at our
disposal, among them the press, radio (no doubt including therein television),
and private initiatives, saying that "tout est à mettre en branle
pour former rapidement une vaste élite bilingue, capable de mieux
diriger et de bien pacifier le pays" [1943: 36].
But keeping to more modest terms,
if an English-Canadian were given the opportunity of good teaching by a
French-speaking teacher, French also used as a language of instruction,
and the opportunity of reading interesting news in a local French newspaper,
of listening to a good programme on a French radio or television station,
of staying for a visit with a French-speaking family and actually speaking
French in daily conversation, and if a French-Canadian were given similar
opportunities in regard to the English language -- both really making
use of these opportunities, they would find very little difficulty
in adequately understanding each other, in becoming reasonably bilingual.
For what is bilingualism, at least
as far as Canada as a nation, and as a community of fellow human beings,
is concerned? Perhaps -- and strangely enough, some may say -- the
answer is best expressed by a French-Canadian describing what he believes
he should expect from his English-speaking neighbours. In the words
of Abbé Arthur Maheux [1943: 34-35]:
Nous ne leur demandons pas de parler
le français comme Bossuet ou Chateaubriand ou Poincaré.
Mais nous voulons pouvoir causer avec eux dans les salons, dans les salles
à manger, dans les hôtels, dans les trains, les navires et
les avions. Nous voulons qu'ils lisent nos journaux, nos revues,
nos livres, comme nous lisons les leurs. Nous voulons échanger
avec eux des lettres qui soient écrites en français aussie
bien qu'en anglais.
In other words, the French-speaking
Canadian wants only to communicate with his English-speaking compatriots
on an equal language basis, a basis which provides "not only a cultural
enrichment but also a measn of fostering national unity" [Ontario Royal
Commission 1950: 430]. Thus bilingualism in Canada may be said to
be an expression of a mutual understanding between members of the same
community of individuals, the individuals themselves being they who, united,
form a nation. Such an understanding cannot be one-sided, but such
an understanding, brought about first in its literal (or lingustic) sense,
fosters the growth of the deeper understanding of the heart, not merely
between peoples but between people themselves, the understanding
on which true union must be based.
20 November 1963
(submitted at Royal Commission public hearings, Vancouver, 1964)
© John Woodsworth, 1964.
(on bilingualism in the Soviet Union)
By way of comparison with the state of bilingualism in
Canada as described above, I should like to briefly discuss the use of
two languages in those republics of the Soviet Union (USSR) where
Russian is not spoken by all inhabitants as a native language. Native
speakers of Russian are generally in the minority (with the exception of
one or two areas such as the Kazakh Republic), but everywhere, except in
some rural districts, the study of Russian is obligatory in the schools,
as is the language of the republic. In non-Russian schools, speaking,
reading and writing of the Russian language are taught for a period of
usually six years. This gives the student a fair degree of fluency
in the other language, and enables him [or her] to communicate and be understood
to a considerable extent with other speakers of that language. Taking
this to be a satisfactory criterion for bilingualism in our own country
-- i.e., some ability to communicate in either language, let us
examine the factors leading to such bilingualism in the various non-Russian
republics of the USSR, bearing in mind the possibility of corresponding
steps in our own nation. I should make such comparisons only on the
level of language, exclusive of the differences in the political situations.
While most of those who teach a language to non-native
speakers have the same mother tongue as their pupils, they have had close
contact with the other language from childhood, and are able to use
it fairly freely. This close contact is made not only in the classroom,
but in the community as well (which, as I mentioned in my brief, is a necessary
factor in achieving any degree of bilingualism). News media are constantly
available in both Russian and the local language of the republic, even
in the most remote areas; in addition to separate radio and television
stations in the larger cities, many local stations carry at least one programme
a day in the other language. Films in both languages are shown throughout
each republic, and many cities have theatrical companies operating in both
(even where Russian is in a pronounced minority, a city will have at least
one Russian theatre). At the universities of the different republics,
lectures and courses may be delivered in either language, and although
elementary and secondary schooling is usually given in one language only,
there are a number of schools where both languages are used.
Not only are there many opportunities to hear and to read
the other language but, far more important, speaking and daily conversation
in the other language are fairly common, especially in the populated centres.
Children whose mother tongue is Russian very often have friends and playmates
of another language, and as a result there is frequent use of both languages
in everyday life, from quite an early age.
As was brought out in the brief, such communication is
essential if any real bilingualism is to be attained, and it is best begun
in childhood, for reasons both physical and psychological. It was
pointed out that (according to Dr Christophersen) one's speech organs can
be very easily adapted to any number of language sounds in youth, but second-language
acquisition is hindered in later years by the hardening of the linguistic
grooves; furthermore, a child will be more willing to express himself freely
and unhesitatingly with his playmates, without the hindering self-consciousness
which often characterises the adult learner. It is largely this kind
of contact with language that produces bilingual speakers in the Soviet
republics, that results in bilingualism anywhere, including Canada.