The language of commercial signs, or more exactly the place of French on commercial signs, is an issue that has been rampant since at least the 1960’s. From 1977 when Bill 101 was passed till 1993, French was the only language to be used on commercial signs (there were exceptions for signs advertizing cultural activities, for ethnic shops, for political or religious messages, etc., see Maurais 1989: 146). This French-only policy was deemed necessary because it was to symbolize, in the eyes of all, that linguistic change was under way and that French was regaining ground.
These provisions were challenged before the courts and in 1993 Québec’s National Assembly passed a new law allowing for bilingual (or multilingual) commercial signs provided that French was given a marked predominance. This concept of a marked predominance of French was suggested and approved of by the Supreme Court of Canada in its 1988 ruling though it did not define it. Neither did the law passed in 1993, which simply states that “Public signs and posters and commercial advertising must be in French. They may also be both in French and in another language provided that French is markedly predominant [...]” (section 58 of R.S.Q., chapter C-11; 1993, c. 40, s. 18). In practice French is deemed markedly predominant when messages in French are twice as numerous or written in characters twice as large as in any other language.
The issue of English increasing its presence on commercial signs in the Montreal area has come periodically to the forefront. French lobbies have been active in filing complaints with the OQLF. In 2009-10, 39.1 % of the complaints filed at the OQLF dealt with the language of commercial signs, up from 26.4 % in 2008-09 (OQLF, 2010: 70) and 10.5% in 2006-2007 (OQLF, 2007: XIII).
To be continued…
Maurais 1989 = Maurais, Jacques (1989), Language Status Planning in Quebec. In Christer Laurén and Marianne Nordman (eds.), Special Language: From Humans Thinking to Thinking Machines. Clevedon UK and Philadelphia USA: Multilingual Matters Ltd., 138-149.
OQLF, 2007 = Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) (2007), Rapport annuel de gestion 2006-2007. Montreal: Office.
OQLF, 2010 = Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) (2010), Rapport annuel de gestion 2009-2010. Montreal: Office.