Saturday, May 13, 2006

Lost in Translation

There's a lot of buzz on the blogs about the Globe & Mail front page story on bilingualism among Liberal Party candidates. Even the "friends of Joe Volpe" sent me a copy of the article (how I got on that list bewilders me).

In typical Globe fashion, the front page screams "Six Liberal contenders don't pass as bilingual". According to the Globe's language expert, over half the Liberal leadership contenders aren't even bilingual. Pretty damning stuff.

If it were true.

Oh yeah, apparently, Norman Spector has a new candidate for correction of the day:

Editor's note: Due to an error in the article, Gerard Kennedy and Maurizio Bevilacqua were misidentified earlier as failing to meet the requirements for a bilingualism certificate. Anyone receiving a grade of 2 or more would be deemed bilingual. Both Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Bevilacqua received a grading of 2.

Oops. So yes, according to the Globe's language expert, Gerard Kennedy is bilingual (and Maurizio too, for that matter). Obviously, he's not at the same level as Rae or Ignatieff, but the language expert also observed that he had the most potential for improvement since his main limitation was vocabulary which is the easiest to learn. And given that his wife and kids speak French and that the Kennedys will be living in Quebec for much of the summer, he'll certainly have lots of time to practice.

Yes, bilingualism is a job requirement for being Prime Minister. Stephen Harper understood that and has dramatically improved his French over the past few years. Hopefully the Liberal candidates who still need to work on their second language will put in l'effort necessaire.


  • Yah, pretty big mistake there. parroted the same message here:

    By Blogger Dan McKenzie, at 8:10 p.m.  

  • I think the Globe owes Kennedy and Bevilacqua an apology-on the front page.

    By Blogger West For Kennedy, at 8:14 p.m.  

  • Maybe a Joe Volpe fan who lives in Toronto added you to the email list?

    Any guesses?

    By Blogger Liberal Fortunes, at 8:21 p.m.  

  • In Canada, there are two definitions of the word bilingual:

    - a person who speaks two languages and has native competence in both

    - a person who speaks two languages fluently, but has native competence in only one.

    The system used to grade the candidates in this Globe & Mail article is not a bad system, but it tests a person's bilingualism in accordance with the second of the two definitions I provided above.

    Stéphane Dion, for example, is extremely hard to understand in English, and he makes lots of mistakes. Even if we applied this definition of bilingualism, Dion would be a complete failure. As is Scott Brison when it comes to his second language, French (he has not even reached the level of simple "coffee house conversations" in French).

    Since this "score card" refers to Liberal leadership contenders, in other words, people who, one day, might be Prime Minister, Ignatieff should be disqualified: he speaks Parisian French, but if you want to serve in public office in Canada, it's Canadian French that's required, not the stilted Parisian variety (which, at the level of grammar, vocabulary and idiomatic expressions is 85% useless in Québec).

    Personally, I only accept the first definition of bilingualism: a person who speaks two languages and has native competence in both.

    By Blogger George, at 9:18 p.m.  

  • I agree whole-heartedly with WFK - it's only proper that the G&M offer a front page retraction and full apology to both Kennedy and Bevilacqua. What a ridiculous, shamefully clumsy error to make in reporting. Darling, no wonder I prefer these days to get my news off of weblogs rather than the newspapers directly.

    By Blogger Lois, at 9:20 p.m.  

  • Werner is a little out of hand. Ignatieff's french is perfect, if not local. But neither is Harper's terribly inflected with Quebecois. Second, there is no such thing as Canadian French. Compare Manitoba and the Acadian coast. What matters is that the candidate can speak grammatically correct french with a sufficient vocabularly and clear accent.

    As for Dion, he is clearly understandable in English.

    By Blogger Peter Loewen, at 9:31 p.m.  

  • Canadian French exists, don't be stupid! Why do you think all Parisian texts are edited and revised by Canadian French experts to make them palatable to a Québec audience (including subtitles on DVDs for example - YES there are separate subtitles for France and Québec).

    On average, 85% of a Parisian text have to be changed to make it Québec French.

    Peter, with all due respect, I don't think you're even half the expert that I am and are therefore not really qualified to comment on the existnce of Québec French.

    By Blogger George, at 9:36 p.m.  

  • I often hear that Parisians can't understand Quebeckers, and vice versa - you give 85% as an estimate of how much Parisian French is, as you say, useless here in Canada.

    Is that really true?

    The UK English and Scottish often speak differently than we English-speaking Canadians, yet I understand 99% of what they say.

    I've known many folks from both Quebec and France, and they've never had any difficulty communicating back and forth, nor expressed later in confidence a frustration with comprehension.

    I'm not trying to counter or refute, darlings - I'm quite genuinely in the dark, I'm afraid.

    By Blogger Lois, at 9:58 p.m.  

  • Goodness Werner, Peter never made any question about the "existence of Quebec French", he said that Acadian and Manitoban French had rich differences is all. I'm sure we can disagree and not call each other "stupid".

    By Blogger Lois, at 10:01 p.m.  

  • Look: if you've tried to go from a level two to a level four, or known someone who has, you'll know that a few weeks in Quebec is tourism, but it's not usually enough to get your french up to a Gilles Duceppe pounding.

    By Blogger Mr. Knightley, at 10:03 p.m.  

  • Yes, Lois, that number is true.

    And, Peter, even Radio-Canada had an excellent documentary on Canadian French a year or two ago. They certainly would not do a doc like that if its subject matter did not exist. Educate yourself, Peter.

    By Blogger George, at 10:07 p.m.  

  • Lois, read again what Peter wrote, and I quote:

    there is no such thing as Canadian French

    So, don't tell us now he never said that.

    By Blogger George, at 10:08 p.m.  

  • Werner, I've already read carefully what he said, I needn't run back and do it again.

    You claimed he said there was no such thing as Quebec French, and I pointed out that he said no such thing.

    He said there was no such thing as Canadian French, pointing out, I repeat, the rich differences between Acadian and Manitoban French. Meaning that there is no such thing as a single, unified Canadian French language.

    He did not say there was no such thing as Quebec French, yet you told him he was not qualified to comment on the "existnce of Québec French".

    By Blogger Lois, at 10:12 p.m.  

  • Lois,

    Radio-Canada's doc was on CANADIAN FRENCH.

    Do you also deny the existence of Canadian English, or do you break it down in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, etc. English?

    That would be silly, extremely silly.

    By Blogger George, at 10:14 p.m.  

  • Darling, I'm not denying anything at all, I'm simply asking questions, trying to understand the issue - while at the same time clarifying a misquote you've made of Peter. Goodness, why are we fighting over this matter?

    By Blogger Lois, at 10:16 p.m.  

  • Werner,

    Lois got my point, and you didn't. I certainly am quite happy to concede that there is a Quebec french. Indeed, it has many variations within itself. My point was that there is a variety of accents and localized vocabularies in french in differnt parts of Canada.

    While someone from outside of Canada may not be able to distinguish between these types, a Canadian who speaks french generally can - just as an American can distinguish between regional accents while someone from Britain may have more trouble.

    Sorry if I was not clear about this. My english is about as lucid as Dion's, apparently.

    By Blogger Peter Loewen, at 10:43 p.m.  

  • Apology accepted, Peter.

    By Blogger George, at 11:26 p.m.  

  • I don't think Ignatieff's parisian accent and style disqualifies him as bilingual. Quebeckers are accostmed to real Pariaians. Further, to Peter's point, les bluets speak very differently from les gens du plateau.

    However, its fun to think that Ignatieff's french accent further illustrates that disconnet between him and Canada.

    By Blogger Tarkwell Robotico, at 11:50 p.m.  

  • Yes, just like John Turner's parisian turns suggested he wasn't Canadian.

    By Blogger Peter Loewen, at 11:56 p.m.  

  • Hence this the reason the blonde bimbo backed out!

    By Blogger chef, at 12:40 a.m.  

  • The grasp of language is important, however,. . . .

    There must be numbers of inteligent and ethical liberals who tear their hair out over the ranting sloppy factions in their group.

    The stigma of fraud and general lack of ethics is going to be tough to clear away for honourable Liberals.

    I suggest there could be more focus on an essential Liberal code of ethics for the liberal party and less on the crass scramble for the driver*s seat.

    As a conservative minded person, I worry that without the liberals for an NDP foil,[vote splitter], the National Dipstick party would enjoy a lucky windfall advantage. TG

    Sorry, sometimes I read my stuff and no, I don*t drink vinigar.

    By Blogger TonyGuitar, at 2:36 a.m.  

  • Chef,

    Go cook something. Try classical French technique, if you know what that is, or do you just flip burgers for a living and call yourself chef?

    By Blogger S.K., at 7:31 a.m.  

  • S.B. No actually I teach Classical Cuisine but I am quite sure you wouldn't know what that would entail. I still say Belinda would have scored well below the required level. Have you heard her French or I should say so called French. She would have a very difficult time learning another language with her narrow bandwidth.

    By Blogger chef, at 11:41 a.m.  

  • I have to disagree with Werner completely. I'm not a translator, and not a purist when it comes to language. I speak only from my own personal experience.

    I speak parisian French as a second language. I likely, at one time, qualified for Werner's second stringent definition.

    I lived in Ottawa and Montreal for a combined 8 yeras, mostly in anglo enclaves, but I still used French on a daily basis. Noone had any problems understanding me, except when I got lazy or out of practice and English reared its head (regardless, a bottle of wine invariably fixed things).

    It took a month or so to acquire certain constructions and some key vocabularly, common to Quebecois and most franco-canadians (although I'll concede that Acadians, depending on the "depth" of their accent, are their own kettle of fish). That was for my own comprehension, not outward expression, and I suspect Ignatieff has already passed this point. I would note that Radio Canada often screens (or screened, I don't watch it much these days) France-dubbed Hollywood movies. Yes, the dialogue sounds pretty formal, but it still gets put on tv.

    The only time Ignatieff will need his French is to a. debate in French, b. answer media inquiries in French. Neither of those require any sort of folksy connection that more of a familiarly with the local idiom would provide (assuming he doesn't have it up his sleeve).

    By Blogger matt, at 11:48 a.m.  

  • Chef take your sexist crap and go back to the kitchen. Hopefully they never let you near women. Your attitude should be put in the dumpster with the kitchen waste. You're obviously more suited to flipping burgers than teaching anything. You bring shame to both my proffessions.

    By Blogger S.K., at 12:03 p.m.  

  • Quebec arrogance towards tourists? Unilingual? How come?

    ===== Canada Free Press =====
    My recent visit surprised me in that all highway signage was posted solely in French and as a unilingual Canadian I had to pay close attention to the signs in order to reach my destination. This was in sharp contrast with highway signage on provincial highways in the rest of Canada, which advises motorists in both official languages.

    Things weren’t much different at commercial concerns where most of the visible signage was in French and only the most mainstream multinational corporations’ products were labeled in both languages. I thought it was particularly odd for this to be the case in places like Mt. Tremblant, where the majority of visitors and chalet owners were Anglophones either from Ontario or from the U.S.
    ===== =====

    The pendulum has swung too far towards a language extreme in Quebec. When tourists visit, I want them to feel welcome in my home province.

    It is a dangerous distraction when those from all countries who holiday in Quebec can find no clear roadway signage in English.

    Visitors from other parts of Canada also complain that there seems to be no English direction at dangerously intense highway intersections where quick decisions are called for.

    France has gained well known notoriety for attitudes of contempt for visitors. Canada is my country and I protest that Quebec *chieftains* should be allowed to break our bi-lingual language rules and our Canadian spirit of all-inclusive fairness to everyone. TG

    By Blogger TonyGuitar, at 12:33 p.m.  

  • Wait until Tony hears about Bill 101.

    By Blogger Peter Loewen, at 1:00 p.m.  

  • Did you see this yet?

    Sunday, May 14, 2006
    Israel to bomb Iran?

    Posted by Picasa Israel will hit Iran in the next few months: Israeli official

    By Khalid Hasan

    WASHINGTON: Israel will strike Iran’s nuclear facilities in the next “month or two or three,” an Israeli official has been quoted here as saying.

    By Blogger TonyGuitar, at 1:20 p.m.  

  • Werner is being an ass, Peter you should not have apologized. This kind of "I am more of an expert then you so shut your mouth" is the worst kind of argument and typical of conservatives.
    Hey Werner, I doubt you qulify as the same level as expert as I am in Canandian Politics, so really you should just be quiet and take everything I say as the final word.
    Quit Blogging, quit commenting and go away leave fair minded people alone. By the way you are not an expert on French. German perhaps but not French so your authority is questioale at best.
    The only reason to make a such an appeal to authority is to shut down argument and stifle debate, neither of which is considered cool in the blogosphere, on top of it you are just wrong.
    Since everyone knows I support Iggy I will leave that alone and concentrate on the nasty crack about Dion.
    Dion speaks very good English. He clearly understands everything and can communicate very well, his English is at times convoluted, but certainly less so then say Myron Thompsons, anyone who has actually talked to the man would know that this crack is uncalled for and unmerited.
    God that kind of arrogant "I am a certified translator in German so I know everthing" attitude is damm anoying. Peter recant your apology.
    Just more Tories Trolling.

    By Blogger Aristo, at 5:38 p.m.  

  • By the way I meant to comment on CG's post.
    You guys know that Headlines are not written by reporters and sometimes have only a tangential reference to the reality of a story right?
    This is more like a smear about the whole Liberal party.

    By Blogger Aristo, at 5:42 p.m.  

  • This was in sharp contrast with highway signage on provincial highways in the rest of Canada, which advises motorists in both official languages.

    Which provinces are those? Other than in Ontario and New Brunswick, you'd be hard pressed to find bilingual signage. Even then, it's not as if "Sortie" or "Autoroute" are particularly cryptic words.

    By Blogger JG, at 5:50 p.m.  

  • Too bad for you Aristo, because I am also a political scientist. Too bad.

    By Blogger George, at 7:13 p.m.  

  • And in case any of you doubted Werner's authority, he's now added a new suffix to advise or remind you of its existence.

    I don't think that Chef said anything necessitating such an angry reaction. I think sometimes people can be too quick to hurl an accusation of prejudice at someone.

    By Blogger Lois, at 9:02 p.m.  

  • No Lois, this has nothing to do with this discussion. It is rather in reference to Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft's insistence on being addressed as "Dr. Taft" (even though he has a PhD in Business and is not a medical doctor).

    By Blogger George, at 9:36 p.m.  

  • Werner
    No your not a political scientist.
    Just because you think you are does not make you one.
    Just because you say you are does not make you one.
    Where do you teach?
    Do you have a Phd.
    No you are not a Political Scientist.
    Just a serious goof!
    You lose.

    By Blogger Aristo, at 9:59 p.m.  

  • Sorry, Aristo, but you lose big-time. I am a political scientist. After all, I think I know better what degrees I took than you.

    Aristo, stop being such a wannabe and stop spreading lies about others. But wait. That's a typical Liberal characteristic.

    By Blogger George, at 10:48 p.m.  

  • Guess Liberals fail to bother reading the thread.

    Yeah, I skim it too at times.

    Israel will hit Iran in the next few months: Israeli official

    By Khalid Hasan

    WASHINGTON: Israel will strike Iran’s nuclear facilities in the next “month or two or three,” an Israeli official has been quoted here as saying.

    I thought this could be important. Do liberals simply avoid the heavy stuff.

    Put the boots to this if you can. Looks pretty authentic to me. TG

    By Blogger TonyGuitar, at 11:17 p.m.  

  • s.b wrong again I am a female, actually a blonde female who recognizes a very stupid, spoiled woman who honestly has not a brain in her head.

    By Blogger chef, at 11:55 p.m.  

  • Dear Werner:

    Where have you published your science, exactly?


    By Blogger Peter Loewen, at 12:06 a.m.  

  • Blog is in idle at the moment. I often come here for expert feedback, and usually get it.

    There is just so much I*m not sure of. Ferinstance..

    Economists, like the late Kenneth Galbraith were often and repeatedly wrong about everything. There never seemed to be any penalty or even heated protest.

    Being consistantly off the mark didn*t prevent Galbraith from schmoozing with prime ministers, presidents and kings.

    Does that apply to Political scientists too? Can you pros always be hopelessly off the mark and still schmoozle with endless professorial stuffed shirts and champion double retainer troph feeders.

    As you can see, I*m totally neutral in regard to these unknowns. TG

    By Blogger TonyGuitar, at 2:44 a.m.  

  • Excellent question, Peter.

    By Blogger JG, at 9:59 a.m.  

  • Werner
    Also, what degrees do you have?
    What is your definition of a political Scientist?

    By Blogger Aristo, at 10:25 a.m.  

  • And where is your source for saying 85% of a Parisian text have to be changed to make it Québec French, Werner?

    Plus, while Ignatieff would quickly admit that he has no patois or a Quebecois accent, he doesn't have any kind of parisien accent that I've ever heard. Interesting smear coming from a conservative. It should come as no surprise to anyone here that Werner doesn't have any clue what he is talking about.

    Dion's English is very good, by the way, contrary to what was said up above. He speaks very confidently and his passion, message and personality come through. It's just his accent that is the problem. It's still very heavy which interferes with understanding for some.

    Language, of all things, has become a bit of the surprise first "issue" of this leadership campaign. It's already taken down one candidate and is clearly being used as a smear to tarnish others.

    Bilingualism is important for three reasons: (1) as leader of the country you have to be able to carry yourself in both official languages, and there are many unilingual Canadians who are uncomfortable with the idea of a unilingual PM; (2) if you want to win in Quebec you have to be able to communicate your ideas well, confidently, clearly, and without error (in the sense of misusing words, not simply grammatical or pronunciation errors); and (3) by reaching out to learn another language, it can show the native speakers of that language that you are sincere in your desire to represent them.

    I think all of the lead candidates, including Kennedy, are bilingual enough for (1). At the moment, it seems that Rae and Ignatieff and possibly Dion are the only ones bilingual enough for (2) but Kennedy is smart enough and dedicated enough in my opinion to get there before the next election if not the delegate selections. The third criteria is the tricky one because it relates to "connecting" with voters and while I think Kennedy's French isn't there and he may never get the comfort level with the language to be truly linguistically effective (in the sense of being comfortable enough for your own personality to come out), the move to Quebec could prove to more than make up for that.

    By Blogger Ted Betts, at 11:06 a.m.  

  • Political scientist: someone who has a degree in political science.

    As for the 85%, I know this from my professional practice.

    A Calgary Herald columnist today also states the obvious: his Parisian French and accent are met with pitying smiles in Montréal.

    I live with 3 Quebecers (my wife and in-laws), and they also laugh about Parisian French (and they specifically laughed about Ignatieff's French).

    By Blogger George, at 3:40 p.m.  

  • Actually, a political scientist is someone who gets paid money to study politics and then publishes it in peer-reviewed journals. Kind of like how a physicist is someone who studies physics professionally.

    Anyway, I guess you win the argument on everything else. But just so everyone is clear, let's recap your evidence. First, 85% of parisian French has to be translated for Quebecers because "of your professional practice." I don't really know what this means. Does it mean that 85% of books from France which are in Quebec have been translated from French to French? Or does it mean that, if all French books were sent here, 85% of them would have to be translated? Or, does it mean that once you were translating an essay from French to French and you only had to translate about 85%? I am sure there are other interpretations, but I suspect most of them hold about as much water as the ones above. Anyway, I find it impossible to believe that 85% of written French has to be translated for Quebecers.

    Second, you've argued that Ignatieff's French receives pittying smiles in Quebec. Your source is the Calgary Herald. I don't want to slam Albertans (I am one by birth), but I know that when I read La Presse in the morning it's not the first place I turn for an analysis of politics in Alberta. I would suggest that same thing with the Herald vis a vis Quebec.

    Finally, you've suggested that Dion's English is incomprehensible. His accent is just too thick for you. And you're a translator? Good thing you can work as a political scientist.

    By Blogger Peter Loewen, at 3:50 p.m.  

  • Ted: "where is your source for saying 85% of a Parisian text have to be changed to make it Québec French, Werner?"

    Werner: "As for the 85%, I know this from my professional practice."

    As a professional scientist, I'm sure you use proper research and your sources are sound.

    All I'm asking for is a source so when us non-professional political scientists refer to the 85% "fact" and get challenged by stupefied listeners, we cite the original source just like you professional political scientists.


    By Blogger Ted Betts, at 4:03 p.m.  

  • Werner
    A political Scientist is someone with a degree in Political Science?
    That means that probably 50% of Lawyers are actually political scientists, heck a lot of bloggers are political scientists.
    Funny, if you have a degree in French does that make you French?
    What a silly comment you made.
    By the way, Kevin Taft has a doctorate and is entitled to use the prefix Dr.
    Heck Collen Klein goes by Dr Klein and hers is only honorary.
    Are you seriously suggesting that people who earn a phd should not use the term Dr?
    By the way, what columnist wrote that in todays Herald.
    I read that the paper this morning, and I just logged in and checked the website.
    The only columnist today was Bruce Dowbiggan, a SPORTS columnist.
    Probably not a good thing to LIE about stuff in the Calgary Papers on a Blog called Calgary Grit, eh?

    By Blogger Aristo, at 4:36 p.m.  

  • Hey everyone look at Werners french blog!
    Where he writes in french
    I think we can understand why he is having problems with his discussion about french.

    By Blogger Aristo, at 6:25 p.m.  

  • Political scientist: someone who has a degree in political science.

    Cool, I guess I'm a political scientist then, in addition to my math/stats background. I *am*, however, a member of the Canadian Political Science Association. Are you, Werner?

    Concerning Parisian French, that's pretty much what Quebeckers and other French Canadians are used to hearing on Radio-Canada. At worst, it makes Ignatieff sound like a well-spoken news anchor, rather than a syndicaliste from Trois-Rivières. But then Quebecois prefer sophisticated leaders, unlike, say, Albertans over the past decade.

    By Blogger JG, at 7:09 p.m.  

  • I don't think it's a bad thing that only half of the leadership candidats speak French fluently. That would mean only half of the leadership hopefuls could steal or lie in both official languages.

    By Blogger James Halifax, at 11:41 a.m.  

  • By Blogger raybanoutlet001, at 11:43 p.m.  

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