The protection of languages: a right and a duty
On a Paris-Toronto flight I recently had the opportunity to watch a documentary –or shall I say 6 short documentaries- about Canada and more specifically about Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. Those six short documentaries inspired by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms taught me a lot about Canadian culture(s) from Indigenous rights, to citizenship, languages and multiculturalism. What I especially liked about it was the short little introductions based on Canadians’ opinions. They had to answer basic questions like. Black or White? Favorite color? Rights or Freedom? Masculine or Feminine? Basic questions but important questions that define who we are. The reflective approach to the project was absolutely beautiful. Self-critical, poetical and heartbreaking. Let me tell you about the documentary called “L’inspecteur” which deeply resonated for me as a language teacher and language lover.
L’inspecteur, mixes up the stories of three Franco-Manitobans women telling their experiences as young students and teachers. The three now elderly women reflected on their past in Manitoba’s education system a couple of decades ago. They had vivid recollection of their school days and especially of the “Inspecteur”. At the time French was prohibited in schools. A law had been in place since 1919 and all education had to be in English. Obviously, Canada had and still has a fair share of Francophones but at that time and until the 1980s all education was supposed to be done in English. The point was to assimilate the Francophones through the eradication of their language. The way these women were telling their stories was absolutely heartbreaking. You could easily imagine them as young girls terrified by the classroom inspector who wanted to break the teacher and detect any possible trace of language speaking. And how about the teacher? How did she feel when being inspected? It was also the story of a community who tried to resist and rebel, the story of a community whose main crime was to hide French books. The documentary mingled humour, a sense of community, and hope. A must-see.
This retrospective made me think about all the minority languages that don’t have their voice heard in the world. Not long in France I was told that people-now in their late 40s- from Brittany were not taught their own language (Breton) as they would have been sneezed at otherwise. How about my own students who speak Quechua but don’t dare to show their language skills because they fear to be laughed at? Languages are all beautiful and they have to be protected a human heritage to preserve cultures but also to give ourselves a chance to understand each other.