I’ve tried to sex this post up but failed miserably. Perhaps I should have run with “B is for Buttertarts”. In any case, the blame lies squarely with S for getting me up three times last night. All complaints addressed to her please. If language is your thing, go ahead and enjoy. If this isn’t your bag, then go have a trawl through LoveAllBlogs, and find something that is…
THE OFFICIAL LINE
Canada is a bi-lingual country. English and French are enshrined in its constitution – although strangely, learning French is not compulsory in schools. All federal services, policies and laws must be enacted and available in both languages. All MP’s, including the Prime Minister, need to be fluent in them. Canada’s premier, Stephen Harper, routinely fields queries in both French and English at Prime Minister’s Questions.
For the average visitor to Canada, this commitment to bilingualism results in some obvious differences:
- Packaging: everything has both English and French instructions/descriptions/listed ingredients. And let me tell you – when you’re looking for the cooking instructions on a packet of frozen fish, it takes an average of three turns of the box before you’re facing the correct language, the right way up. With French on one side and English on the other it’s like the “toast always lands butter-side down” issue. I’ve never yet picked up a box and been facing the right side. That said, it’s a great chance to brush up on your vocab!
- Proper pronunciation: French words are actually pronounced correctly, for example, “foy-AY” not “foy-ER”, or “ON-velope” instead of “EN-velope”. At home in Britain we always referred to the GAR-age, with the stress on the first syllable. Here everyone pronounces it “Gar-aaaaage” with the stress on the second syllable, in line with the French. I can see the reasoning here, but K thinks I’m being poncey when I do it, so I must make my Canadian friends laugh when I mention the “Garridge”!
- Road signs: another area where both languages are catered to. Bi-lingual road signs appear on provincial highways or in areas under federal jurisdiction, such as airports, unless you’re driving in Quebec, where they will all be in French. Bonne Chance with that!
- Schools: French Immersion schools are a popular choice in central and eastern Canada. Pupils are taught entirely in French, the idea being that total immersion in the language will foster a swift understanding and mastery of it. It sounds a little “sink or swim” but apparently works well with young children. I have no idea how non-French-speaking parents help with the homework though!
THE BOTTOM LINE
Unless you are travelling throughout the more remote parts of Quebec, English is all you need to get by in Canada. Its bi-lingual status is more of an official designation. The majority of inhabitants are English speakers and knowledge of the two languages is determined largely by where you live. Almost 95% of Quebec’s inhabitants (Quebecers) speak French (or Quebecois, as it is known) but only 40% speak English. That’s still better than the rest of the country, where 97% speak English but only 7% speak French. Each of Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories adopt their own official language policy. At a provincial level, Quebec – lovingly deemed Canada’s smoking section – is the only province that is unilingual, vehemently French in every way, while New Brunswick holds the honour of being the only officially bi-lingual province.
Quebecois (or joual) is different from the French spoken in France and there is a fair degree of snobbery between the two languages about who is correct. Canadian French is thought to originate from the Classical French of the 15th and 17th century which became isolated from European French with the onset of British rule in Canada in 1760. Older pronunciations were retained here that later died out in France, thus the French spoken in Quebec can be unintelligible to a Parisian!
A LINGUISTIC PICK’N’MIX
Although not part of the commitment to bilingualism, it would be remiss not to mention the wealth of other languages spoken here. After English and French, Italian, German, Chinese and Punjabi speakers are numerous, as are speakers of the indigenous languages, such as Cree, Micmac, Ojibwe, Inukitut, Algonquin, Blackfoot and Mohawk to name a few.
Canada truly is a melting-pot of many cultures. Can you think of anywhere else like it?
Linking up with My Personal A-Z Challenge