The Office québécois de la langue française is a Québec public institution whose mission is to set and conduct Québec policy on language officialization, terminology, and the francization of businesses and public administration. The Office is also responsible for ensuring that the Charte de la langue française is complied with. Finally, the Office monitors Québec’s language situation and reports on it to the Minister of Culture and Communications at least every five years.
Office de la langue française (1961–74)
The Office de la langue française was established in April 1961 by George-Émile Lapalme, Minister of Cultural Affairs under Jean Lesage, as an extension of the Ministère des Affaires culturelles du Québec, which was established at the same time. At first, the main role of the Office was to provide incentives to promote the use of correct spoken French and genuine Canadianisms, as well as to address various issues regarding the use of proper oral and written French among francophone Quebecers.
Régie de la langue française (1974–77)
In 1969, the mandate of the Office de la langue française was significantly expanded to include promoting the right to work in French. In 1974, with the passing of the Loi sur la langue officielle du Québec (Bill 22) under Robert Bourassa, the agency took on a legal role and became the Régie de la langue française. The Régie was responsible for creating and administering provisions making French the official language of Québec.
Office de la langue française (1977–2002)
A second Office de la langue française replaced the Régie de la langue française in 1977. It was established by Camille Laurin, Minister of State for Cultural Development under René Lévesque. This Office underwent significant reorganization under the Charte de la langue française (Bill 101) and became responsible for implementing the charter. A series of aggressive actions related to the language of instruction and signage were taken, which sparked particularly heated language debates (see Québec Language Policy). The Office carried out this work alongside related but distinct agencies such as the Commission de toponymie du Québec, the Commission de surveillance et des enquêtes and the Conseil de la langue française.
Office québécois de la langue française (2002–)
Starting in 1979, certain judgements of the Supreme Court of Canada began invalidating some provisions of Bill 101, and some of the Office’s discretionary powers related to the language of instruction and signage were reduced under Bernard Landry in 2002. Although the Office’s influence became gradually restricted in some ways by the Supreme Court’s judgements, it was increased in other ways. The Office absorbed the Commission de surveillance et des enquêtes and became the Québec agency exclusively responsible for processing citizens’ complaints about alleged violations to the Charte de la langue française.
Roles of the Office
Creation of an Official Terminology Bank
The Office manages the Grand dictionnaire terminologique du Québec, an online bilingual dictionary. Since its inception, the Office has also published over a hundred lexicons, brochures and prescriptive lists on the identification and translation of terminology in the fields of advanced technologies, computer science, construction, food, health and social affairs, industry, insurance, motor vehicles, office work, and management. Given that one of the Office’s roles is to set and conduct francization policies based on its research in linguistics and translation, the contents of its publications and its terminological dictionary carry the status of official terminological recommendations. Although the Office does not issue direct recommendations to enter new words in French-language dictionaries, its preferred terms have implicit value as lexicographical submissions.
Application of Québec Language Policy
The Office is responsible for applying the Charte de la langue française, adopted by Québec’s National Assembly in 1977. The Office must guarantee the use of French as the normal and everyday language of work, communication, commerce and business both in the public service and in businesses that employ 25 or more people. To this end, the Office offers a variety of services including language notices and workshops for office workers. The Office’s mandate allows it to act on its own initiative or in response to citizen complaints (filed in the form of written complaints that are kept confidential but must be signed), in cases of alleged violations to the charter. The Conseil supérieur de la langue française refers general matters relating to the French language in Québec that it finds relevant to the Minister of Culture and Communications. To do this, the Conseil may lead its own investigations or receive reports from any individual it chooses to consult. However, this work is carried out independently of the activities of the Office québécois de la langue française; the Office is the only government authority authorized to directly process individual citizen complaints concerning the day-to-day application of the Charte de la langue française.
Research and Documentation of the Changing Language Situation in Québec
The Office conducts and supervises descriptive research projects on the changing situation of linguistics, sociolinguistics, and demolinguistics in Québec. This research is published on a regular basis and made available to the public in physical and electronic form, including through an online library. The Office also offers scholarships for research in descriptive linguistics and develops French exams for future employees whose French abilities must comply with the requirements set out in the Charte de la langue française. The Office must report on the general or specific results of the linguistic research that it leads or supervises to the Minister of Culture and Communications at least once every five years.
Public Perception of the Office
In just over 50 years, the Office’s work of francization and language planning has helped it establish a reputation both within Québec and in the Francophonie as a foundational cultural institution. This reputation is not always positive; at times the Office has difficulty distancing itself from the caricature of “language police,” a term used by Léandre Bergeron. For Francophones in Québec, the Office is seen as a stodgy, almost ridiculous normative authority, arbitrarily restricting the daily language of Quebecers and cramping the verbal freedom of joual. For English-Speaking Quebecers, the Office is seen as a governmental authority that undermines freedom of expression by restricting the use of English in the workplace and on commercial signs. Over the years, the Office has developed an unwritten role of doing its own public relations by justifying and legitimizing its linguistic planning and active promotion of standardized French.