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By Amanda Pidlisny April 24, 2013

How Many Languages Does Dawson Speak?

In recent years, there has been an inflow of immigrants in Canada, and mainly to Quebec. With the multiculturalism of the province, the idea of moving here is very inviting to many immigrants. Knowing that there are no bylaws against your cultural practices, invited more and more immigrants to the province, and has made Quebec a landmark for immigration. The number of immigrants entering Quebec each year has doubled over the past two decades, but the government wishes to keep the French roots in the province (Mason).

In order to protect their language, culture and identity, Quebec adopted laws that forced immigrants to enroll in the French education system. Despite the efforts to integrate immigrants linguistically into our society, polls show that immigrants choose to keep their language, culture and identity.

In 2001, 403,535 people reported speaking a language other than English or French in the home, but merely five years later this number increased to 481,955 people that reported speaking an immigrant language in the home (Statistics Canada). According to the Globe and Mail, in 2012, 600,000 people in Montreal reported speaking an immigrant language in the home (Peritz). Immigrants may not be able to attend school in their preferred language, but they choose not to let their language disappear from their family’s culture and identity by using it when they can.

Of these half million immigrants in Montreal, many attend Dawson College and a handful of Dawson students put together the project Dawson Speaks to demonstrate the linguistic portrait of Dawson.

The idea of Dawson Speaks originated in the curiosity of students about who wanted to know how many dialects and languages were spoken in the Dawson community. Study of Languages teacher, Helen Karanika, took interest in the topic and turned it into a project which would start in the fall 2012 semester and close with the CALL Festival in the winter 2013 semester

Originally, the goal was to gather a list of all the dialects and languages the students and staff at Dawson spoke. Each language would have a representative at Dawson College. The representatives would be displayed on a poster with a portrait and text describing their relationship to the language they are representing. Dawson Speaks has turned into so much more than any of the organizers could have aspired for it to be.

Dawson Speaks evolved from just a display of posters that only involved Modern Language Profile students to including students from Cinema as well as Illustration and Design. The project has expanded to the world-wide web; with help from the Cinema students, we were able to create a website. Our project now has the power to reach more than just the Dawson community, and to inspire others to dig below the surface.

When I asked a close friend how many languages he thought were spoken at Dawson he said 30. Our list has now been compiled with a final count of 79 different languages and dialects that we found were spoken by the Dawson community. These languages range from Yiddish to Arabic, from Abruzese to Sicilian, from Tigrigna to Ukrainian, and despite being a student of the Modern Languages Profile, the number of different languages we found spoken at Dawson amazed me.

I joined this project partly out of curiosity and partly out of passion. I was really curious as to how many different languages could be found in just a small community. I decided I wanted to be a part of that discovery process. I am studying languages because I have a passion for learning about different cultures and the languages associated with those cultures. Dawson Speaks was a tangent I went off on in order to satisfy my own desire of discovering new languages that I never even knew existed in the world, let alone them being spoken right in my own school community.

Thank you to everyone who took part in making this project all that it is, it would not have been possible if it weren’t for each and every one of you ☺


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    Pablo Boerr

    October 6, 2013


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    March 8, 2014

    This is a great article that made me realize how culturally diverse Dawson College really is. By having so many different students representing so many different cultures the students of Dawson are really exposed to the worlds diversity. Through our interactions with various other students I believe we are able to better understand and respect the beliefs and customs of others. By being interconnected in this way also helps to eliminate the negative stereotypes we may have about each other, since we are able to build trust and strong relationships with others that allows us to recognize the importance of other cultures besides our own. Additionally, I think it is amazing how this project has a website that is available to people outside Dawson as it is important that others know about this aspect of the College. It could be something that influences future students to come to Dawson as the cultural diversity found at Dawson is just one of its many advantages, but in my opinion it is one of the most important.

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