Did you know that Canada is a bilingual country, which speaks both French and English? Not only is it spoken popularly by the citizens, but both of these languages are considered the “official languages” of Canada. This fact is only known by a handful of people around the world, which is not entirely surprising as most countries tend to be monolingual. Then, for what reason does Canada speak English and French? As all things do, the answer to this question can be gained from the history of Canada and its past interactions with France.
In the history of Canada, there were mainly two countries that had colonised it. These were the British and French, in which the French supported Catholicism and had their own legal civil law, whereas the British supported Protestantism and followed a common law system. In terms of the timeline, France colonised Canada first and it remained a French colony until 1763. The first takeover by the French people pushed the indigenous people and their culture away while the language, religion, customs and other social components started to settle around the area. This can be said to be the major cause for the indigenous languages of Canada being endangered, as well as the result of only 0.6% of the whole Canadian population speaking the original language as their mother tongue.
However, the French colonies in the Maritimes and Québec were taken away by the British through different wars, including the Queen Anne’s War(1702-1713) and the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). In these circumstances then, some people might ask, why is French considered one of the official languages of Canada if the British had long ago conquered their colonies? The reason for this is that even though Britain managed to get hold of these territories politically, it failed to take full control of the social and cultural aspects of the colonies. At first, the British passed the 1763 Royal Proclamation, which forced British law and practices on the colonies. Then, in 1774, the British enacted the Québec Act, which allowed Catholic faith and civil law in private matters whereas matters related to public administration such as criminal prosecution were dealt with in the common law system.
Not being positive about the still-dwelling culture and social aspects of the French within the colonies, the British passed another act, the Act of Union, in 1841. This recognised that both the British and French existed side-by-side, but this was yet only superficial. The true intention was to entirely unify the society with the British culture, based on the perception that all religious, cultural, and legal dualism would not be able to be sustained further. However, because of the French characteristics of the local people from their roots, this act could not banish the French language and the Catholic religion.
Generally, although the British tried their best to suppress French culture and get hold of the colonies both in a political and a social way, they yet failed to gain full control of the colonies. Other acts in Canada, such as the Constitution Act (1867) which formally stated that both English and French were the official languages of the Canadian Parliament, started to develop and support the French language, religion, and culture to be more legally or politically accepted within Canada. In conclusion, as a result of the deep social impacts that the French colonization had spread, Canada was able to be a bilingual country with some remaining aspects of the French culture left behind from hundreds of years before.
Yeongjin (YJ) Yoo
Member of European Languages Society