QUEBEC — A new report from Quebec's language watchdog notes encouraging signs for the health of French in the province but raises an alarm about increased use of the bilingual "bonjour/hi" greeting in Montreal shops.
In 2017, Quebec legislators were so concerned about creeping bilingualism they unanimously adopted a motion calling on store clerks to stick with a simple "bonjour" when welcoming customers. The report published Friday offers little comfort on that front.
The Office quebecois de la langue francaise found that between 2010 and 2017, use of "bonjour/hi" in Montreal doubled, representing 8 per cent of all greetings in 2017. Exclusively English greetings also increased, occurring 17 per cent of the time in 2017, up from 12 per cent in 2010.
French greetings remained the norm, but they were down to 75 per cent from 84 per cent over the same period.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante made a pitch Friday for merchants to stick to French when greeting customers. "What I encourage is for our merchants to use 'bonjour,' period," she told reporters at city hall. "Because everyone understands 'bonjour,' everyone likes it, it is something that brings people together."
The report notes that once the greeting is out of the way, French remains by far the predominant language spoken in Quebec stores. French was the language of service 96 per cent of the time, meaning incidents where someone could not be served in French were rare.
And politicians' concerns aside, the report notes that Quebecers — especially the younger generation — are increasingly indifferent to the language in which they are served. In 2012, 23 per cent of francophones aged 18 to 34 said it did not bother them to be served in a language other than French. By 2018, that figure had risen to 40 per cent.
Both anglophones and allophones — those whose first language is neither French nor English — are more able to converse in French than was the case 20 years ago. In fact, 94 per cent of Quebecers reported they were able to hold a conversation in French in 2016.
The report says workplaces have become more bilingual. Provincewide, 80 per cent of people used French most often at work in 2016, down slightly from 82 per cent in 2011. The percentage of employees using only French at work fell to 56 per cent in 2016 from 60 per cent five years earlier.