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French And English (3/10)

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!

Zhu

bilingual-country

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.

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