L’accent d’Amérique

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.

8 thoughts on “L’accent d’Amérique”

  1. In 1861, 40 percent of the Québec city’s inhabitants used English as their primary language (1881 : 24,6% ; 1901 : 15,7% ; 1931 : 7,4% ; 1971 : 3.5% ; 2001 : 1,7%). English people can easily move in North America to follow economic dynamism and work. Montréal is currently in the same way, inhabitants speaking only french grow and inhabitants speaking only english decrease. During Toronto became the Canada’s economic center and Western Canada developed, the country polarized. In Québec, french language increases and english follows the same process in the rest of Canada, except Ontario’s and New-Brunswick’s regions bordering Quebec.

  2. Cher Neil, J’ai été très touchée par ton texte à la fois audacieux et empreint de si belles valeurs.Je suis très fière de la présence d’un Américain comme toi à Québec et au Québec.Encore une fois une chronique qui sait nous interpeller profondément.Félicitations!

  3. Unfortunately, this trend also means that most of the non-speaking French immigrants during the last decades don’t settle in Quebec City and often prefer to move towards another Canadian (even Quebecker) city like Toronto, Calgary, but also Sherbrooke or Gatineau… Statistics unfortunately show that Quebec City population is getting older and immigration will soon be a major economic issue. Will we be able to take them in openly…. DL

  4. I agree with you about your opinion. Just wish people from Québec would understand how lucky they are to have all of this richness. I think I am very lucky to be among this culture and language. It’s a great challenge. Thank you Neil for just being who you are and sharing your precious thoughts.

  5. After traveling through Quebec City and Montreal, we became aware of the French language with its beautiful sounds. We enjoyed listening to people speaking French. We also enjoyed trying to read the road signs. Most of the students in American schools around seventh grade have a choice of studying either Spanish or French. Spanish is the language of choice for the majority of students. If I could go back in time, I would choose to study French this time. French is certainly a classy language. Rodney and Karen Rich

  6. Valle L. Brokes

    We enjoyed being immersed in French when we visited Quebec City and other Canadian provinces on a recent cruise on the St. Lawrence. We were awed by the places we visited and felt welcomed in a French- speaking world. I studied French in high school, college, and further, so I have a good basis on which to enjoy it. My speaking accent is less facile, but I love being in a French-speaking environment so close to home in the US.

  7. merci Neil de ce magnifique témoignage d’ affection pour ta ville d’adoption….chérissons l’ héritage de nos pères qui ont fièrement respecté leurs racines, tout en conservant l’ ouverture d’ esprit envers les autres! merci du partage et de cette double richesse que tu transmets à ton tour à ta fille! Amicalement, Colette

  8. I’m a native Spanish speaker that learnt English as a 2nd language, and now I look forward to learning French. Please keep Quebec City French! Québec City is definitely North America’s best kept gem.

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