Saturday, November 7, 2015


Some summers we go to Trieste, in Italy, on the Adriatic, where the Slovenian minority is still hanging on. This summer, we went to Knowlton, in Canada, on Lake Brome, where the English minority is. It was reminiscent.
In "(Knowlton)"— the English in parentheses is from the road sign — we're driving up from the ailing lake. We bathed in it until it started to set. The disease is folklorically called the lake in bloom. Thus have we seen the bay where we swim outside Trieste, algae-strangled.
Halfway up Tibbits, two deer jump us. Ready for just such a meeting, I drove slowly, and now I stop as the first waits for his friend while unshyly leaning on my car. Then, pretty soon, there is the English schoolhouse at the corner of Tibbits and Centre.
If you stand in the yard behind and listen carefully, you can still catch the children's English voices from 200 years ago. That isn't static it's coming through; it's cicadas. This is the most beautiful view in the lovely Townships. Next year we will propose it for a ribbon at the Brome Fair.
On the door of the stone schoolhouse is a handsome, bronze, bilingual tablet. The two languages, the English of the settlers and the French of the later-comers, are still of equal size, for it was posted for Canada's centennial in 1967. 

A recent, chintzy, officious affiche on the front lawn tells us about the school in long-winded French and, below, in after-thought-size English. Is that really the règlement or merely somebody's toadying, for surely Bill Whatever cannot be petty enough to demand that a historic English school be described in English only sotto voce. But there it is, the French sitting atop the English like a schoolyard bully.
Because English once lorded it over French here, and because English is now the world's lingua franca, or its pidgin, it is hard to think of English as threatened. But the English of the Townships is menaced despite the stellar bilingualism of the Knowlton IGA. That isn't just incense burning in sparse Holy Trinity in Iron Hill. The past is going up in smoke. And the little window that once announced  occasional services at St. Michael and All Angels instead promises rezoning.
Here's why I notice. I  get regular reports from the world's minority languages conferences and am amazed that the Townshippers do not send delegations. I get these reports — here's  your multicultural moment — because I worry about the Slovenian minority in Italy. This year, the Italians are having another go at the Slovenians, this time the argument is efficiency, by amalgamating Trieste's Slovenian suburbs into a greater Trieste. Slovenian is not endangered in Slovenia, but it is in Italy. English is not endangered in Canada, but it is in the Townships. So where are the Townshippers, a small people, at the small-peoples' conferences?
But who in these tough times can finance such a delegation? The answer in Quebec is obvious, for we are fortunate. Who is more sensitive to threats to a minority, more skilled in fending off such threats, than the Office québécois de la langue française?  All we need to do is change the name slightly by dropping the exclusive française. Let's simply have an Office québécois de la langue. Surely the menaced should unite. The OQLF, so sensitive that it feels French disappearing when it isn't, surely knows of the plight of the English and would want to help, if only asked. With French flourishing, they must have time on their hands. Imagine what PR it would be for the OQLF if, as the OQL, it championed the Townships English!
Tom Lozar is a retired CEGEP professor. He lives in Outremont.

Montreal Gazette

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