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La langue et la vie économique

La langue et la vie économique

Otto E. Thur

Volume : 23-3 (1968)


The Impact of Language on our Economic Life

My considerations on this problem shall be centered on three main topics : our educational system and the desires it gives birth to, our language and the present economic structure and finally the future status of French in Canada.


Since a few years, education is a priority in the province of Quebec. One immediately derives from this remark two different questions of equal importance. Will there be enough jobs for all the future graduates ? Will there be enough jobs in French in order that our collective effort of education will not be wasted ? One can note that both questions have in the same time an individual and a collective dimension.

For the individual, more of the best education is essential to his progress, his freedom and his security. If adequate jobs exist, our effort of education will have a positive effect on the individual.

The problem changes when we touch the collective aspect of the question. As we all know, the existence of a large number of individuals well educated and trained to assume the many responsibilities of a developed and thus complex economy is the condition for a real economic growth. If there is not enough jobs created for French speaking individuals, the asymmetry will eliminate one language in favor of the other.

The educational take off gave birth to rising expectations to the Quebec population seeing in it a powerful means of social and economic ascension.


The first thing one must note when considering the economic structure of Quebec is that the share of French is excessively low. Nobody will deny the influence of the economic power of the United States on our province. It is then not surprising to see that decision-making centers are far from being even a little bit ours. Let us consider what kind of economic power we have in Quebec :

a) First one finds subsidiaries of giant American corporations particularly in the mine, oil, chemestry, electronic and automobile industries. It is almost impossible for local governments to change such a situation since these companies have a Worldwide scope and since they are installed in major economic fields where research stands first.

b) In the second place, Canadian firms have a certain amount of economic power in Quebec. Can we ask them to move away thus creating important unemployment ?

c) Then comes the governmental sector where decision-making is shared by the federal and provincial governments.

d) Finally, one will find many small and average sized firms where the working language varies depending upon the owner and the management.

So is the structure of our economic power. Even if we create enough jobs for our future graduates it is far from being sure that these youngsters will work in French.


This is a controversial issue which raises oppositions and differences.

The solution brought forward by many well-intentionned associations, the so-called law on unilinguism, remembers me of those who pretend solving all economic and social problems of a country by adopting a new constitution. When economic and social factors are not sufficiently prepared by a systematic political action for the achievement of definite objectives, the law cannot rule reality. Can one reasonnably wish that legislation is the mean to change the language at work in our firms when the solution of this problem depends as much upon abroad as upon us all?

Can we risk the economic future of our society by such a legislation?

Does this mean that we must loose hope considering the use of our French and keep things as they are ? No. Allow me to make three proposals, of which the first are two fundamental and the third one accessory.

a) Our educational system must produce youngsters able to understand the other language.

b) Both languages must be used in our biggest institutions.

c) The teachers must get youngsters to speak a very precise mother language.


The vanishing of English in our province is a myth not because we are member of the Canadian constitution but because we are a minority on the continent. To change our political regime cannot change our fundamental socio-economic dependance.