Language matters? Antecedents and political consequences of support for bilingualism in Canada and Finland

Abstract

Language policies are important sociopolitical features of multilingual countries. Not only do they regulate relations with governmental authorities, but they can also impact intergroup relations. Yet, empirical research has tended to ignore language policies. Very little is known in relation to the factors that lead individuals to support or oppose such policies. Furthermore, to the best of our knowledge, there is relatively little knowledge regarding the influence of attitudes towards language policies on subsequent political phenomena. The present article seeks to address these gaps by exploring bilingualism in Canada and Finland. Specifically, using survey data from both countries’ national election studies, the article, firstly, examines factors that can account for support towards bilingualism and, secondly, it investigates the relationship of these attitudes with vote choice. The results reveal two main findings. Firstly, support for bilingualism seems to be associated with context-specific factors; a general pattern of determinants is not indicated by the results. Secondly, attitudes towards bilingualism are found to have a significant association on vote choice in both Canada and Finland.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The 2015 CES was administered to respondents during the election campaign and after the election, whereas the 2015 FNES is solely a post-election survey. The respondent samples for both surveys are based on quotas that seek to nationally represent gender, age, and regional distributions.

  2. 2.

    While another question in the CES asked respondents whether they agreed or not that “Federal government services should be provided in only one language, French in Quebec and English in the rest of Canada”, we feel that this question does not capture attitudes towards bilingualism as it measures a specific conception of a bilingual Canada rather than support or opposition towards bilingualism. Nevertheless, all the analyses were also performed with a bilingualism variable that combined the two measures. The results (not reported) are essentially the same; the only difference is found in vote choice in the RoC (Fig. 5 in the “Appendix”) as this alternate bilingualism measure is not shown to significantly and positively influence vote choice for the NDP but displays such an effect on voting for the GPC.

  3. 3.

    The term Allophone refers to individuals whose mother tongue is neither the national majority language (English/Finnish) nor the national minority language (French/Swedish).

  4. 4.

    The FNES excludes Åland from their survey.

  5. 5.

    Seeing that the dependent variable for the Canadian case only has five choices of response, an ordinal logistic regression was also performed. The results (not reported) are essentially the same as those presented in Fig. 2 and in Table 1 in “Appendix”. We also performed the analyses for Canada with identification with Canada as a control, to test the findings found by Çelebi et al. (2016). The results (not reported) show that identity has a significant and relatively strong positive influence on support for bilingualism. However, when it is interacted with mother tongue, there is no significant support for a moderating effect of language groups, contrary to the results found by Çelebi and colleagues. The Finnish data did not include a measure of national identification.

  6. 6.

    The Swedophone-majority islands of Åland have a different party system and only send one member to the Eduskunta.

  7. 7.

    Due to an inability of the multinomial model to converge with the weighted data (seeing that we are using quite a small number of observations), these results are based on individual logistic regressions for each party.

  8. 8.

    While we concentrate the description of the voting results on the influence of bilingualism, another relationship in the Canadian results needs further elaboration. Social ideology is shown to have a significant and positive influence on voting for the NDP. While this might seem unexpected for a left-of-centre party to attract social conservatives, our results are similar to those found by Gauvin and colleagues (2016), who also use CES data and a similar multi-item variable to measure social ideology.

  9. 9.

    Due to issues of singularity (caused by a small number of respondents who claimed to have voted for the RKP), and therefore the inability to estimate marginal effects for some of the variables, the model for the RKP is different than the one for the other parties. Mother tongue (Swedish vs. others) and regions (Uusimaa vs. other regions) had to be dichotomized in this model. We also performed this analysis, along with the one to determine support for bilingualism (Fig. 2), with a regional variable that combined the three regions with the most Swedophones (Uusimaa and Varsinais-Suomi and Pohjanmaa vs. other regions). The results (not reported) are essentially the same, except for the influence of support for bilingualism on voting for the PS no longer being close to crossing the p < 0.05 significance threshold.

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Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge the funding provided by the Strategic Research Council of the Academy of Finland (Grant No 312710) and the Academy of Finland (Grant No 316239). We also thank this journal’s anonymous referees for their advice and suggestions.

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Appendix

Appendix

Questions used

Bilingualism

Canada

We have gone too far in pushing bilingualism in Canada.

Finland

Finland where the special status of Swedish-speaking Finns is acknowledged.

Finland that has two strong national languages: Finnish and Swedish.

Studying Swedish at school should be voluntary.

Social ideology

Canada

How do you feel about immigrants?

How do you feel about racial minorities?

How do you feel about Muslims?

How do you feel about Aboriginals?

Finland

Multicultural Finland where foreigners with different religions and lifestyles are tolerated.

Finland where the status of sexual minorities is reinforced.

Finland that has more immigration.

Economic ideology

Canada

Should corporate taxes be increased, decreased, or kept about the same as now?

Please indicate how much confidence you have in the following institutions. Unions?

What should the government do: fund public daycare, or give the money directly to parents?

Finland

Finland that has more entrepreneurship and market economy.

Finland that has a smaller public sector.

Finland that has a lower taxation level.

Economic evaluation

Canada

Re: household’s main sources of income: First, how likely is it that this income will be lost in the next year? Is it very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, or very unlikely?

Finland

How likely or unlikely do you think it is that your household’s income could be severely reduced in the next 12 months?

Religiosity

Canada

In your life, would you say religion is very important, somewhat important, not very important, or not important at all?

Finland

How religious would you say you are?

Education

Canada

What is the highest level of education that you have completed?

Finland

What is the highest level of education or degree you have completed?

See Figs. 5, 6 and Tables 1, 2, and 3.

Fig. 5
figure5

Determinants of vote choice—rest of Canada. Markers represent average marginal effects (90%) from a multinomial regression. The model also includes regions and includes 503 observations

Fig. 6
figure6

Determinants of vote choice—Quebec. Markers represent average marginal effects (90%) from logistic regressions. The number of observations for the models is 138 for the LPC and CPC and 129 for the NDP and BQ. There were only four respondents who voted for the GPC in Quebec, and thus, this party was omitted from these analyses

Table 2 Determinants of vote choice—Canada (CPC as reference)
Table 3 Determinants of vote choice—Finland (KD as reference)

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Medeiros, M., von Schoultz, Å. & Wass, H. Language matters? Antecedents and political consequences of support for bilingualism in Canada and Finland. Comp Eur Polit 18, 532–559 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41295-019-00198-x

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Keywords

  • Bilingualism
  • Minorities
  • Voting
  • Canada
  • Finland