Assessing the linguistic outcomes of language contact in Quebec English

Principal Investigator: Shana Poplack
Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada
Research Grant #858-2006-0016 [2007-2008]

Among the many fears linguistic duality provokes is the spectre of language attrition. Is it possible to maintain a native language in the face of diminishing opportunities to use it and intense pressure from a ubiquitous majority language? If so, can the “quality” of the minority language be retained? In the Canadian context, these questions have traditionally been raised with respect to French, the minority language in most of the country. But over the past 30 years, the striking success of Quebec’s language laws and the resulting “anglophone exodus” have fundamentally altered the position of English in the province. In its minority-language guise, Quebec English (QcE) has become the subject of discourse which characterizes it as threatened and distinctive. To date, however, there has been surprisingly little scientific evidence to support these assertions.

The overall objective of this research is to document the mechanisms by which contact-induced change comes about in a situation of intense contact. We seek to establish whether  Quebec English has in fact changed, and if so, whether this can be ascribed to contact with  French. We will also pinpoint what, if anything, has changed. An important byproduct of this research is an assessment of the effect of the Language Laws on the maintenance and quality of the English language, an aspect which this research is the first to address.

Previous study of the Quebec English Corpus has revealed that the inference of change is vastly over-emphasized. But the perception of difference may also arise when the minority language fails to change in tandem with the benchmark. To determine the extent to which Quebec English is participating in ongoing linguistic developments in (Canadian and other) mainstream varieties of English, and concomitantly, the extent to which linguistic isolation constitutes a barrier to the spread of linguistic change, we target linguistic variables known to be involved in change in progress, and determine whether these changes have diffused to Quebec. This work out will place us in a unique position to characterize fully the effects of language planning, language contact and minority status on Quebec English.

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