Jean-Paul Baillargeon, editor - The Handing Down of Culture, Smaller Societies and Globalization


The Giddiness of Descending.
Handing Down in Spite of Uncertainty

Guy Mercier*

1. acknowledgment

If I have the honour of addressing you today, it is not because I am a well known expert in the field of Québec and Canadian studies. Nor am I a specialist on the question of globalization and its impacts on the cultural evolution of smaller societies and minorities. I am truly concerned about those questions but I have no special authority about these matters which would result in my being invited to this prestigious gathering. I have accepted the responsibility of talking to you, because I received a friendly request from the former Dean of the Faculty of Literature of Laval University, Jacques Desautels, who was kind enough to wish to see me among you. I think of my presence here as a way of thanking him for all he has done for me.

2. motivation

If friendship has been a good pretext to be here, this gives me no particular competence on the topics of your colloquium. Short of competence, I take the liberty of using personal experience as a basis for making some observations. As a matter of fact, the subject of this colloquium is a central preoccupation, not of my professional life as a geographer, but rather of my family life. So, instead of delivering the commentaries of a specialist, you will hear a rather personal testimony. That testimony will be largely coloured, of course, by the papers presented at this colloquium, but it remains essentially about direct influence of personal experience. I simply hope that my reflections will be interesting enough to be forgiven for having so egoistically taken on this closing speech.

3. position

The roots of my reflection are to be found in my condition as an ordinary citizen living a life that can be called “minority.” I was born and I am living in Québec City, where, with my wife who was born in Vancouver, I am raising two small children in French and English. Put differently, living in an environment that is essentially francophone, I experiment in my daily family life with bilingualism and perhaps, as far as it exists, biculturalism, to reuse an expression that was previously used to describe the Canadian project.

I concede that this way of being a minority is somewhat paradoxical, as it permits our children to be, somehow, twice parts of a majority, whether in Québec or in Canada. My wife and I are very conscious that our linguistic choice is an asset that most of our children’s friends are deprived of. But this interpretation is challenged, as some people see a danger in raising children this way: the danger of not being sufficiently familiar with either language, the danger of “identity destabilization,” to paraphrase an expression of Serge Proulx.

This experience of bilingualism, which is a factor distinguishing us from the majority of people we know, is a constant source of questions, if not doubts. And, in our case, the bilingual handing down of culture (or the culture handing down two languages) is not an obvious thing to do: it is not a “natural” process, to use John Meisel’s wording. That was not part of my wife’s or my family’s traditions, that we would introduce an innovation whose merit we have to convince each other of. This approach to the handing down of culture requires a great deal of rationalization, and an ongoing discussion of the legitimacy and relevance of our decisions about raising our children. In those exchanges, our political convictions, conscious or unconscious, are called upon; there are collations and consolations. An outsider might conclude that our family’s choice sounds like an echo of certain political options. For example, some could see it as a way of militating in favour of a “strong Québec in a united Canada,” to repeat a well known slogan, or as a means of associating with Trudeau’s utopia of a bilingual Canada.

Chapter 21, continued >


* Université Laval.


grubstreet books FreeCounter