The language practices and identities of multilingual new migrants in Montreal.

Patricia Lamarre

Université de Montréal

WS170: Multilingual societies, identities and globalization: rethinking language, migration and identity

Montreal today is undoubtedly a much more French city than it was just thirty years ago. Montreal is, however, by no means a unilingual city, having the highest rate of bilingualism and trilingualism in Canada, a phenomenon on the increase among its younger population. In North America, Montreal offers a unique language context given its history of language contact between two strong communities: the use of language legislation to reverse a language dynamic and improve the status of French; its workplace in which French-English bilingualism is of strong value; and an immigrant population likely to learn two new languages rather than one within the process of social and economic integration.

Despite the growing bilingualism and trilingualism of the population, little attention has been paid to how Montrealers are drawing on their language repertoires in their everyday lives as they move through the city and position themselves within different social networks, situations and interactions. Current research leaves many significant questions unasked: Why does a multilingual choose to use French in one situation, English in another, choose bilingual or trilingual codeswitching among friends or even customers and coworkers, and then adopt much more conservative unilingual practices in other settings or interactions? What are the stakes underlying these different situations? How are these stakes understood and evaluated by speakers and how do these representations reflect on the decisions they make about language use? When do speakers feel free to express their bilingual and multilingual identities through hybridized forms of language (codeswitching, “parler bilingue”)? What do young multilinguals have to say about how they live their identities and position themselves on this level in different contexts?

In this study, we examine the language practices of young adults in Montreal (18 to 30) - a generation referred to as the "children of Bill 101" since they have grown up in the wake of Quebec's language policy. The study is situated within the theoretical framework of critical sociolinguistics and proposes an ethnographic approach, drawing on a number of strategies for data collection. We follow a small number of young multilingual Montrealers (n=8) through their daily lives, observing and recording how they draw on their linguistic repertoires in relation to different settings, social networks and situations. Participants were asked to audiotape natural interactions at different moments in the day. Participants then transcribed extracts of recorded data and were asked to comment on their language use. Data was also collected through serial interviewing and journal writing, in which we asked participants to explain how they perceive their linguistic repertoires, their use of languages and their identity. Finally, participants in the study were brought together for focus-group discussions.

Our approach to data collection is nonstatic, following participants through the city into different contexts and social networks, rather than being bound within the stakes and power relations of specific sites, as is usually the case with ethnographies and even multisite research.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Multilingual societies, identities and globalization: rethinking language, migration and identity
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 02