The City of Québec recently unveiled a new slogan, one that will – they hope – efficiently sum up the special character of this capital city. The slogan they chose: l’accent d’Amérique – the Accent of America. Although critics of the new slogan have questioned its ability to communicate the desired message, there is absolutely no doubt about the basic premise that underlies it: Ça parle français ici!
In this part of the world, spread out across the provinces of Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, there are just under 7 million people who speak French at home. This phenomenon is the legacy of a nearly 500-year history of the French language in the St-Lawrence River Valley and surrounding areas.
Within the city of Québec, the strength of the French language is even more noteworthy. Approximately 95 percent of the city’s inhabitants use French as their primary language. There are other languages spoken in the homes of Québec City – English, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese– but you’ll have to look hard to find them; they represent an extreme minority. On a percentage basis, Québec City has more native French speakers than Paris, France.
It is extraordinary that in the 21st century this enclave of French continues to thrive on the North American continent where it is surrounded by 300 million English speakers. The strength of the French language today is a testament to the Quebecers of yesterday who refused to give up their language and culture; and it is a testament to the Quebecers of today who recognize the value of their unique idiom.
In answer to the perennial tourist question – Why isn’t English spoken here? – I can easily explain the historical reasons underlying the persistence of French. More difficult to make others truly appreciate is the simple truth that the French language is the strength of this place; it is the beauty of this place. And it is, in my opinion, to be cherished and defended. Québec City is indeed the Accent of America.