The status of the French language in British North America: from the conquest to the confederation

Alexandra Hillinger


The Act of Union established English as the only official language of the legislature and of legislative documents. The Act of Union was comprised of 62sections and over 10,000 words, yet the words “English” and “translated” arementioned only once each. Although the Act seriously undermines the linguisticrights of French Canadians, the word “French” is nowhere to be found.

This article examines the linguistic situation of French Canadians after the Conquest of Canada by British forces in 1760. Firstly, a short history of the linguistic situation in Canada will be provided, followed by an analysis of the status of the French language in the various constitutional acts which affected the governing and the use of the French language in the territory known as Quebec. The focus will specifically be on the period surrounding the Act of Union, since the linguistic situation of French Canadians changed drastically thereafter.

Second, the linguistic policies put forward by the British Crown about the use of French in Lower Canada will also be examined. What was the status of the French language as a non-official language of the United Province of Canada? What were the linguistic barriers encountered by monolingual French speakers in Lower Canada? Therefore, one of the important aspects of this article is to examine the historical access (or non-access) of French Canadians to language facilities when they needed to interact with anglophone government institutions.



French language, translation, Act of Union, British North America, French Canadians, linguistic policies.

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