The ongoing repositioning of French and English minorities in the Canadian Navy

Michelle Daveluy

University of Alberta, Canada

WS129: Language as social practice in the globalized new economy

In Canada, the armed forces are legally bound to the country’s official bilingualism (DND &CF 2003). As a result, the language policy of the Canadian Forces incorporates French and English minorities in terms of 1) recrutment and 2) language use during work activities. As in most military contexts in the world though, matters pertaining to operationality and security take precedence over language principles, however they may be formulated.

Research conducted in the Canadian Navy (Daveluy 2007, Asselin 2007) documents how the language policy of the Canadian Forces is actually implemented considering the stated constraints of the military context, and its impact on daily social and linguistic practices. Results obtained so far show that Canadian militaries and their families are to a great extent uprooted, delocalised and relocalised within their own country, in a similar fashion to migrants crossing geographical and/or symbolic borders. Language identity and discursive practices illustre the complexity of their life as transient individuals belonging to communities in flux.

This paper is specifically based on fieldwork conducted onboard the NCSM VILLE DE QUÉBEC. It focuses on the relationships between French and English native speakers expected to work primarily in French. How unilingual English speakers negociate this linguistic market is of particular interest. Differences among French native speakers are also highly relevant. Pending on their origin (Québécois, Acadians, etc.) and their degree of bilingualism, diverging views emerge regarding the benefits, and costs, associated with the use of French onboard the frigate. Current war activities in the world and the tendency towards international joint operations also influence the practices of the various speech communities forming the crew. The NCSM VILLE DE QUÉBEC can then be viewed as a microcosm of Canadian official bilingualism where both local and global language issues are played out in daily practice. Finally, language use and discourse illustrate how civilian values are omnipresent in the Canadian Forces and call for a reassessment of the exclusively militarised ideology the institution tends to promote about itself and many scholars often endorse in their analysis of Canadian militaries.

Asselin, Gabriel. 2007. Ni civiles ni militaires. Les familles francophones de la base des Forces Canadiennes Esquimalt, en Colombie-britannique. Master’s Thesis. Departement of Anthropology, University of Alberta.

Daveluy, Michelle. 2007. Communicating among linguistic communities onboard a Canadian Navy ship. In Harry, Margaret & Beaudoin-Lietz, Christa (eds.). Proceedings of the 2006 APLA conference at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, NS.

Department of National Defence & Canadian Forces. 2003. 2003-2006 Official Languages Strategic Plan.

Session: Workshop (part 2)
Language as social practice in the globalized new economy
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 03