Introduction. Heritage, Memory and Vitality of Linguistic Minorities[Record]

  • Patrick Donovan,
  • Anne Robineau,
  • Lorraine O’Donnell and
  • Éric Forgues

The articles in this issue stem from a conference entitled “Heritage, memory and vitality of linguistic minorities: Research advances, best practices, and critical approaches.” This online event took place during the 88th Acfas Congress in May, 2021. The research papers, case studies, and personal testimonials at that event—and presented here—explore heritage and memory in relation to the vitality of Canada’s official language minority communities (OLMCs). In the present issue, the term heritage is used broadly. Over time, the meaning of the word has expanded from physical monuments and objects passed down through generations to intangible elements “such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts” (UNESCO, n.d.). The concept of memory is related to this but distinct. It refers to shared narratives within a community that draw on heritage to shape community identity and cohesion (Tallentire, 2001). In other words, heritage places, objects, and traditions have a memorial purpose. The articles presented here offer a nuanced portrait of heritage and memory. On the one hand, they highlight ways in which heritage and memory shape the sense of identity and belonging within communities, helping to build the social cohesion that keeps communities strong and resilient. On the other hand, several also adopt a critical perspective revealing potential downsides to the uses of heritage and memory. For instance, discourses around identity that focus narrowly and disproportionately on the past can create collective memories that leave some newcomers feeling excluded; this plays against community building, particularly in a Canadian context defined by growing cultural plurality and cosmopolitanism. Lowenthal (1998) contrasts history, which aims to be objective and disinterested, and heritage, which can result in the manipulation of the past to meet the needs and values of the present: “We use heritage to improve the past, making it better (or worse) by modern lights” (p. 156). When a community prioritizes cohesion over strict truth through a selective use of history, it might manipulate the past and create mythologized memories. The notion of vitality has long been used in relation to OLMCs. It was first introduced into ethnolinguistic studies in 1977 (Giles et al.) Over time, it came to be adopted by Canada’s federal government. Attempts were made to measure the vitality of OLMCs using indicators relating to the number of speakers, language attitudes and practices, and the number of institutions serving the minority in each community. Government and community stakeholders used these indicators to better define policies and localized strategies for addressing vitality challenges. Alain Roy’s article sums up this evolution and argues that the factors of history, heritage, and memory have not been sufficiently considered in measuring vitality. He introduces the concept of “vitality of memory,” and stresses that understanding the past is important both to understanding the present, and “for communities to understand how memory plays a significant role in their future.” The articles following Roy’s theoretical piece present minority community heritage and collective memory case studies. While not focussed on vitality per se, they indirectly address this concept by weighing the impact of heritage and memory on communities. They explore questions such as: How do minority communities currently remember their past? What historical narratives do they construct? What factors influence the construction of these narratives? How do social connections within the community and within the majority population affect this process? Additionally, the articles speak to Roy’s point above by examining the ways in which heritage and memory influence the future of minority communities. Éric Forgues, Laurence Arrighi, and Tommy Berger …