French And English (3/10)

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Who are we? Every once in a while, we wonder, locals and immigrants alike. People shaped the country we live in, but the face of this same country changed, evolved and reflects today’s world as well as its history. At least, I hope so, because I consider change chance and not a threat.

Canada is a multicultural country. Today, according to the BBC , 20% of people living in Canada are foreign-born and 250 000 newcomers make Canada their home each year. These people will soon be Canadians are most of them will adapt to the North American way of life, while bringing some aspects of their own culture in Canada. Food, languages, customs, skills… we all win.

Yet, some are scared. Who are we? We all are the faces of Canada. The traditional Anglo-European face of the country is changing, that’s true. But Canada is very much alive. National identity isn’t something static and we don’t have to look alike to form a country. A lot of things make Canada a distinct country, from the trivial little things to political choices, from geographical places to special people, from values we share to things that bring us together.

In 2008, I’ll apply for Canadian citizenship. I first came here in 2002 and I’ll be one of these foreign-born. French. Canadian. And a citizen of the world.

What defines Canada? I’m starting a series on our icons, from people to places, from everyday life’s items to sports, from trademarks to customs. Don’t expect anything too deep: this is Canada the way I see it. I don’t bring answers. I just want to share, and I will with you every Saturday — enjoy!



Canada is now a multicultural countries, but was founded by French and English settlers. As I wrote a few months ago in Two Solitudes And One Loneliness, the language issue is complex and highly political. It’s also one of Canada’s most touchy subject, so it’s hard to speak without offending anyone.

The province of Quebec’s official language is French, and the province of New-Brunswick is officially bilingual. For the other provinces and territories, it’s a bit of a grey area… English is most widely spoken but there are French communities almost everywhere: in Ontario (the Franco-Ontariens), in Manitoba, in Alberta…

French’s history in Canada is quite painful. English has for long dominated the country, economically, politically and socially. But starting in the 70’s, a bilingualism politic became one of the cornerstones of the government of Pierre Trudeau.

The first Official Languages Act was adopted by Parliament in 1969. Its three main objectives were: the equality of English and French in Parliament, within the Government of Canada, the federal administration; the preservation and development of official language communities; the equality of English and French in Canadian society. The principles of bilingualism in Canada were also protected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms of 1982.

It is today wrong to say that the whole country is bilingual, but it is also wrong to deny the obvious progress. It is now easy to get service in both French in English at the federal government level, and more and more young people are educated in both languages. I’m pretty optimistic, and a language politics takes time to take effect in my opinion.

This “stop/ arrêt” sign on the picture (“arrêt” is French for “stop“) was found on Parliament Hill. This is an example of the bilingualism politic at the provincial level.

Funny thing though is that the stop sign in France is just… “stop”. Yes, “stopper” is a verb in France! I had never seen “arrêt” signs before I came to Canada and most of my friends back home find it quite funny.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I agree that language is a subject that can be touchy, whatever country it is. Many countries out there have problems with unity of their population, due to the language problem. But Canada has an advantage, since both French and English are modernized languages; they have terms for technical subjects that are relevant to the modern world. ON the other hand, countries such as the Philippines resort to using the foreign man’s language (in this case, English) over the native languages due to the fact that the vocabulary of the native languages aren’t enriched enough to cover modern topics.

    And I didn’t realize that the stop sign in France doesn’t say “arret” but “stop”. That is quite funny indeed.

  2. The stop signs say “stop” over here too, even though that’s not a Spanish word. They’ve just adapted the word and now they say stuff like “Tengo un estop” (“st” at the start of a word is impossible for them to pronounce). They also have “parkings” (parking garages) and for jogging they say “footing”…it’s kind of funny really, since many people don’t speak English, but words are added (and deformed) all the time.

    We have similar issues with Basque in this region of Spain, but with a big difference….terrorism. The separatist terrorists use the language for their cause and that complicates everything enormously. When I came here, I thought it might be interesting to learn Basque, but after seeing how it is used as a political weapon, I lost all interest.

  3. I think the Canadians who visit France must be confused if they see some people in their *4W SUVs* entering the *parking* of a *night club* during the *weekend* before going to a *fast food* restaurant such as *Quick* or even a *grill* restaurant such as *Buffalo Grill* then visiting a *tour operator* for a *low cost* travel

  4. The Canadian stop sign was my introduction to the bilingual nature of Canada when I first visited as a young boy. I asked my dad why they had to have a word on thee at all; everyone knows the red octagon means ‘stop.’ He laughed but didn’t know why himself.

    I suppose this is just another “sign” of the world’s globalization.

  5. Linguist-in-waiting: I guess you’re right! However, the issue is mainly political and the fact that the two languages (and also the history of the two population) is so close doesn’t change a thing… too bad.

    Theresa: same thing in France. Jogging, parking, camping car… Quebec is the opposite. Everything is translated (parking = stationnement for example) but the structure of the sentences is much more “English” than in France. For example, “scheduler un rendez-vous”… scheduler for “to schedule”!

    France has troubles with the Basque region as well… it’s too bad. I don’t think it’s going anywhere. Quebec also had pretty violent movement but it’s quieter now.

    FroggyWoogie: and don’t forget all the “so-called” english words that don’t exist in English! Camping-car for example… 😆

    Jay Cam: unless someone comes over and offers it… probably not! I’d love too though!

    Rads: I’ll have a look!

    Ghosty: I guess so! To be honest, the “arrêt” sign really got me puzzled for a little while. Unique in French speaking countries as far as I know.

    Sir Jorge: glad to be tagged as cool 😉

  6. 🙂 There’s a sign in Quebec (which is where I spent my summers) that’s equivalent to a “caution: kids at play” sign, and it has this very weird picture of a child laying in the street, presumably after its been hit by a car…

  7. Here in India, I am pretty used to seeing trilingual signs, one in english, another in Hindi and the third in the states local language.
    An Indian currency note carries incription in a total of 17 languages!

    However, when languages become a point of division, its a sad thing, as with the case of Belgium currently. I was surprised that a country having less than half the population of my city was struggling to keep itself together.

  8. Salut Zhu!

    Ça va? [I want to be consistent with the contents of this post]
    Indeed, the sign “stop” is simply “stop” (even here, in Portugal, “stop” is “stop”). I guess that Canada wanted to differ from Mother France lol.

    So, you will apply for the Canadian citizenship…*clap clap clap*! Will you let us know? Cause we must celebrate it :D!
    I love Canada, and now even more because it has a huge asset: you :)!


  9. Dinah: I know exactly which sign you’re talking about and I have always found it odd! :mrgreen:

    Mayank: 17 languages! Wow… I did not know that… In China, there’s only Mandarin on banknotes, no dialects. I know for Belgium… I can’t really understand it either.

    Keshi: if only…!

    Itelli: shhh… national secret… Corn fields are more Saskatchewan anyway 😉

    Max: I think it’s “stop” pretty much anywhere! Except in China, where it’s 停 😆 Promise, I’ll post about it… won’t be before this summer though!

  10. interesting! love this post about cultures. i’ve always loved these cultural, linguistic things.

    our government has always fought for the supremacy of the Malay language as the sole national and official language. They frown upon the mixture of Malay and English words when doing conversation, supposedly paranoid of the dilution of pure malay language. The irony is, English is encouraged among students as a mean to catch up with the technological era as well as to avoid unemployment (because mostly unemployed graduates have very poor command in English, esp among the Malays, despite we all having learned the language since kindergarten). English was once the medium of instruction due to British colonialism, until it was replaced by Malay 2 or 3 decades ago, but is now reestablished again as the language of teaching for Science subjects and Mathematics.

  11. bonjour,
    Franck m’a donné votre blog, je souhaiterais vous poser des questions relatives à l’immigration.
    merci d’avance

  12. You’re much better at explaining this issue than me. I did wrote an entry on my blog about how I feel towards bilingualism. I had a lot of anger when I wrote it.

    bluefishs last great read…Rules about flying

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