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MAYORS' GATHERING SERVES AS EXERCISE IN BILINGUALISM

All of the business at the recently concluded international conference of mayors here was conducted both in French and in English, underscoring the City Council's earlier decision to turn down a symbolic resolution that would have favored English as the "official working language."

Much of the business, advertising and merchandising in Canada is conducted both in French and English, but only one of the 10 provinces -- New Brunswick -- is officially bilingual.

French-speaking Quebec has adopted regulations requiring that French be twice as prominent as English on commercial signs inside small stores. The regulations ban English entirely on outdoor signs and on indoor signs at larger stores. Because of Canada's large French-speaking population, many businesses and government agencies require bilingual employees.

Some members of the English-speaking majority, however, resist the notion of mandatory bilingualism because they feel it would put those who don't speak French at a disadvantage.

One of them, Ted C. Wiwchar, said that Canadians who are not fluent in French would be denied influential jobs if bilingualism were to be adopted officially throughout the dominion.

"Municipalities have the right to designate themselves as bilingual, so why shouldn't they also have the right to designate themselves as having just one working language?" he asked.

Wiwchar is a member of the executive committee of PEACE (Preservation for English Amongst Canadians Everywhere), a principal supporter of the resolution that would have placed the City Council on record in favor of English as the official language here.

Wiwchar said the Council turned down the resolution earlier this month by a vote of 7-4, with the majority holding that the city had no jurisdiction over the language issue.

He claimed that only about 2 percent of the local population considers French to be its first language or "mother tongue." And even those people, he said, speak English as a second language, so it would be no serious disadvantage to them if the city's official publications and local business were conducted entirely in English.

Simultaneous translations in both languages were offered throughout the three-day conference of mayors from the Great bilingualism
Lakes and St. Lawrence region, but translation was almost unnecessary at the opening ceremony because nearly everyone on the program spoke in both languages.

Much of the debate over language stems from the law to protect French culture and character in Quebec. Some people there believe that their French culture is threatened because of a falling birth rate and assimilation from English Canada and the United States.

Alliance Quebec, an English rights group, has said the regulations are "a colossal absurdity" and are "impossible to apply." The St. Jean Baptiste Society, representing French Quebec nationalists, which might be expected to take an opposite view, has agreed that the rules are so complex that it will be impossible to enforce them.

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