|John Edwards, ed. Language in Canada. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998, 504 pp. $135.00 Cloth.
This is a magnificent book. It will become a prominent item for anyone dealing with language in Canada. Unfortunately, for many of those, it will not be a part of their personal library for economic reasons (the price will put this volume out of reach for students and many others as well). I am somewhat bemused by the title, since the late Frank Vallee and I published a book with exactly the same title in 1980. The authors deal with a large range of topics important in today's Canadian society, such as: the demographic "balance" ( or lack thereof) between French and English, in Quebec as well as in Canada as a whole; the viability of Aboriginal languages in Canada; the acculturation of immigrants; the advantages and disadvantages of immersion education; the survival of official language minorities (English in Quebec, French in the rest of Canada).
Edwards has assembled a veritable "who is who" of Canadian scholars dealing with these issues. What is more, he has managed to reflect in this group many aspects of Canada's diversity. To illustrate: ten of the thirty authors would normally publish in French, twenty would publish in English. Half of the authors work in Ontario or Quebec; the other regions and provinces are all represented, with the exception of the Yukon. The authors may be classified into six different academic disciplines. Almost half of them are linguists; there are several psychologists, sociologists and members of faculties of education. There are, in addition, a mathematician, a political scientist and a government official. The twenty-five contributions range from the "broad sweep" (Mackey; Castonguay; McRae; Berry) to quite specific discussions of languages in each of the country's provinces and territories. The number of articles is too voluminous to allow for individual discussions of each of them. I found very few that are really "weak" and disjointed from the broad scholarly literature. Several are outstanding: Mackey and McRae give interesting and thoughtful historical analyses of language contact and language policy; Noel and Clement provide a very detailed discussion on psycholinguistics and its relation to education; Mougeon has an extensive analysis of the status of French outside Quebec. My omission of the others is in no way an expression of dissatisfaction; with twenty-five papers, there are bound to be some "favourites" for any reviewer.
Most of the authors stayed very clearly within their own disciplines, as is evident from the citation patterns (e.g. generally, psychologists cite other psychologists; linguists are more likely to cite other linguists, and so forth). This is both a strength and a weakness: a strength in that it allows a reader to get a clear impression of who is doing what in a given discipline; a weakness in that it suggests to the relatively uninformed reader that there is a dearth of interdisciplinary work on these topics. The latter is far from true: the contributions by Mougeon, Noel/Clement, and Frideres are exemplars of interdisciplinary work. In contrast, there is very little evidence of the all too common "two solitudes" here. Many authors cite generously from both the French and the English bodies of scholarly writing on Canadian language issues.
There are a few quibbles.
1. There is not much of an attempt at integration. Edwards does some of this in his overview chapter, but aside from a few notable exceptions there is little evidence that authors consulted each other during the writing of their articles. I found only one cross-reference (Pratt referring to Castonguay's article) and even that one is not shown in either the bibliography for Pratt's paper or the name index at the back of the book. Even in the case where Edwards tells us specifically that two authors did consult (Cook and Drapeau) the two papers in question do not show that such consultation really took place.
2. Many authors use Canadian census data on language. Not all of them are aware of the problems and pitfalls associated with the use of those data (nor will many readers know this). Moreover, we now have a large assortment of tables, tapping the same topics from different angles, and with somewhat different coverage. Thus, we find tables on the number of speakers of Aboriginal languages in the papers by Cook, Drapeau, Schaarschmidt and Leavitt; on the composition of the population by mother tongue in papers by Castonguay, Barbaud, Mougeon, Chambers, Pratt, Cosper, Leavitt, King, Driedger, Denis and Frideres. A useful contribution to the overall volume would have been an overview paper dealing with the census data on language, as well as a demographic compendium in which all of these tables were merged and presented in a systematic fashion. Another bothersome aspect of the use of census data is that they all pertain to 1991. With a publication date of July 1998, at least some 1996 data might have been included. I do suspect, though, that all of the papers were finalized in 1996 (consider the total absence of any references to 1997 and the scarcity of those for 1996); a somewhat troublesome comment on publication schedules!
3. Some academic disciplines, and well-established authors, are missing. I realize that additional papers would have yielded an even fatter, and more expensive, volume, but reviewers (unlike editors) can afford the luxury of submitting wish-lists. Mine includes: at least one of the past Commissioners of Official Languages (Spicer) to be paired with McRae's article; a geographer (Cartwright or Kaplan); a legal expert (for example Michel Bastarache, now a Supreme Court judge), an economist (Vaillancourt or Grenier would fit quite nicely); an additional political scientist (Stephane Dion, now a federal cabinet minister, would be a good selection) and an additional demographer ( preferably someone working for Statistics Canada, such as Lachapelle, or someone from the Quebec government, such as Michel Paille).
But - all these are minor quibbles. Overall, my first sentence stands.
John de Vries
Professor of Sociology