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...
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 JOHN WOODSWORTH
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"On bilingualism,
as applied to Canada"
(with reference to Russia)
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Brief submitted to the
Royal Commssion on
Bilingualism & Biculturalism
Vancouver, 1964
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(page updated 8 July 2002)
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..
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PLEASE NOTE:

The following 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).

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"On bilingualism,
as applied to Canada"
.

John Woodsworth

[For footnotes please click on corresponding underlined links]
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Preamble
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.

*          *          *

"Le 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 Webster's 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: 2]:3

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 easy.

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 Dictionary 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 a country".4  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 Sir 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: 31]:5
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: 428]6 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 compatriots, 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.

John Woodsworth

Vancouver
20 November 1963
(submitted at Royal Commission public hearings, Vancouver, 1964)

© John Woodsworth, 1964.

 
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ADDENDUM
(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.

J.W.


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...
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"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you... 
Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

-- John 14:27
.

 

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