Language Convergence in Montreal: a 2016 study of the interaction between French and English in the metropole using the rapid and anonymous method

  • Montreal remains a largely multilingual city, resulting in its inhabitants’ frequent need for language negotiation in cross-linguistic interactions. The issue of French and English language convergence is addressed in both research and everyday life. The roots of modern language debates in Quebec lie in the complex history of the province. Since the defeat of France in the Seven Years’ War, which saw the transfer of the colony to British rule, the Francophone community has sought to maintain their status through political action (Heller, 1982:110). With the implementation of the French Language Charter, or “Bill 101”, Bourhis (1984:175) postulated that such status language planning in favour of the French might affect the degree and direction of language convergence during cross-cultural interactions.

    The present study seeks to compare results obtained in 2016 to those of Bourhis (1984) and Moise and Bourhis (1994) obtained in 1977, 1979 and 1991, as well as to expand on the knowledge of contemporary language convergence in Montreal. Data was collected using the rapid and anonymous method (Labov, 1966), whereby pedestrians (N=161) were asked for directions to the nearest metro in one of four ways: in a Native-like or accented English, or in a Native-like or accented French. The participants were found in two lower-class neighborhoods and two middle-class neighborhood, which served as a proxy for their socioeconomic status. The measure of interest is the language of the response given by the participant.

    Three hypotheses were tested using Fischer’s exact tests. The results indicate that Francophones’ language convergence behavior in 2016 does not significantly differ from that in 1991 (p=0.731), while Anglophones have significantly increased their language convergence between the same years (p=0.028). Francophones were not found to converge more than Anglophones when addressed both fluently in their non-native language (p>0.669), and in a non-fluent variety of their native language (p>1).

    Using chi-square tests, two socio-cultural mediating variables were evaluated for their influence on language convergence. Older individuals converge to their non-native language less than do younger adults (X2 (1, N=161)=5.36, p=0.0288). There is no significant difference between the language convergence behavior of middle class and working class individuals (X2 (1, N=161)=0.587, p=0.669). Based on these results, there appears to be a shift in progress whereby Anglophones are increasingly willing to converge to Quebec’s majority language, while Francophones have remained constant in their behavior, thereby showing that the Charter of the French Language helped balance out the status of French and English in Montreal. The difference in language convergence between younger and older adults seems to support this shift, although it may be an age-graded phenomenon rather than a generational attitude shift.


    Bourhis, Richard Y. 1984. Conflict and Language Planning in Quebec. Clevedon, EN: Multilingual Matters Ltd,

    Heller, Monica M. 1978. ““Bonjour, hello?”: Negotiations of Language Choice in Montreal.” Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 4:588-597.

    LABOV, WILLIAM. 1966. The social stratification of English in New York City. Washington: Center for Applied Linguistics.

    MOISE, LENA C. & RICHARD Y. BOURHIS. 1994. « Langage et Ethnicité: Communication Interculturelle à Montréal, 1977-1991. » Canadian Ethnic Studies 26, 1:86-107.



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