Why do these differences exist? The interesting thing is that in most cities
in North America they don’t. In many communities, people from different European
ethnic backgrounds all talk pretty much the same, and ethnic differences are
limited to people of different racial backgrounds, like blacks and whites, or
latinos, or aboriginal people. In Montreal, however, ethnic differences among
the descendants of immigrants from Europe continue to be quite strong, so that
most native Montrealers can tell whether someone is "anglo", Italian,
or Jewish, just based on the way they speak English. Our hypothesis is that
two factors are responsible for this unusual ethnolinguistic diversity.
The first is the residential concentration of members of some ethnic groups
in relatively homogeneous neighborhoods, so that most of their social contacts
are with members of their own group. There’s a lot more inter-ethnic mixing
today than there used to be, but several sections of the Island of Montreal
still have remarkably strong concentrations of certain ethnic groups. We confirmed
this by looking up Statistics Canada’s data on ethnic origins by census tract
for 1996. It turns out that Jewish Montrealers live overwhelmingly in Hampstead
and Côte-St-Luc, which are 71% and 67% Jewish, respectively, as well as
in certain sections of neighboring communities in the western part of Montreal.
(In one tract southwest of Cavendish Mall in Côte-St-Luc, 88% of residents
are Jewish.) Many other communities have virtually no people of Jewish background
living in them. Italians are slightly less concentrated than Jews, but still
make up 42% of Rivière-des-Prairies and 41% of St-Léonard, in
the East End of the city. (One tract in R.D.P., framed by Henri-Bourassa, Armand-Bombardier,
Maurice-Duplessis, and Rodolphe-Forget, is 67% Italian.) There are very few
Italians, by contrast, living in Hampstead or Côte-St-Luc. Most importantly
for our study, Anglos (our British/Irish group) live predominantly on the "West
Island": the communities of Pointe Claire, Beaconsfield, and Baie d’Urfé
are 66%, 66%, and 71% Anglo, respectively, with relatively few Italians and
Jews. There are correspondingly few Anglos in the Jewish neighborhoods, or in
the Italian East End.
What does all this mean? Basically, people talk like the people they most often
talk to: linguistic influence spreads most effectively by means of frequent
face-to-face interaction (and not, as many people suppose, via the mass media).
In most North American cities, this leads to the rapid linguistic assimilation
of European immigrant groups. Any foreign accent that may be heard in a child’s
home environment is quickly eliminated as the child begins to interact with
people from other ethnic groups outside that environment, first at school, then
at work and in social settings. In Montreal, however, opportunities for this
kind of ethnic mixing are often limited: some children go to schools and participate
in work and social settings where their peers are overwhelmingly from the same
ethnic group. Italian kids in the East End have very little contact with Anglo
kids on the West Island, who speak the local equivalent of "Standard Canadian
English". Anglos very rarely go to St-Léonard, and Italians have
few reasons to make a trip to Beaconsfield. Jewish kids growing up in Côte-St-Luc
or Hampstead may go to Jewish schools, hang out with Jewish friends, and work
in Jewish environments, so that they have very few extensive interactions with
speakers of non-Jewish English until they go to university or get a job downtown.
Residential concentration insulates the children of immigrant groups from the
"native Canadian" model to which they might otherwise assimilate.
It also reinforces ethnic linguistic features, which become entrenched as symbols
of community membership.
Of course, Montreal is not the only city in North America with concentrations
of particular ethnic groups in certain neighborhoods. To be sure, ethnolinguistic
differences can also be heard in some other multi-ethnic cities, like Boston,
New York City, and Toronto. However, they seem to be particularly strong and
enduring in Montreal. For an explanation, we turn to the other important factor
in Montreal’s ethnolinguistic diversity: the dominance of French. Apart from
small communities of anglophones elsewhere in Quebec, Montreal is unique in
being the only major city in North America (that is, the United States and Canada)
where English is a minority language on a community-wide basis. Statistics Canada’s
data on people’s "mother tongues" in greater Montreal show that 67%
of the city have French as their mother tongue, 13% have English, and 18% have
a language other than French or English (though many of the latter group also
speak French and/or English, and some would qualify as "anglophones"
in our study); 2% report two or more mother tongues. The fact that French rather
than English is the ambient language in Montreal, and the official language
of work and public life, probably acts as another constraint on the speed with
which the children of immigrants assimilate to mainstream Canadian English.
This is particularly true of recent immigrant families who come under a new
law that compels them to send their kids to French schools, where English is
taught as a second language. When much of the language people hear in the streets,
on the bus, or at work is French, there is that much less exposure to native
Canadian English models that might act as targets for assimilation. This means
that ethnic patterns in English, which in majority English communities tend
to disappear within one generation, hang on a lot longer in Montreal.
WANT TO PARTICIPATE?
If you’re a member of one of the ethnic groups we’re studying and you’d like
to participate in our research, please contact us: we’d love to discuss it with
you. We’re especially interested in people who have lived their whole lives
in Greater Montreal, and whose parents and spouse (where applicable) are from
the same ethnic group. Participants are asked to read a list of words and discuss
their opinions and experiences of life in Montreal in a tape-recorded interview
that lasts about one hour. They are compensated for their time. For more information,
contact Erika Lawrance, our Lab Administrator, at (514) 398-8828, or firstname.lastname@example.org.