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March Morning, by A. J. Casson
A. J. Casson (Group of Seven)
Photo Credit: Group of Seven Art

If I am tired, I make mistakes.  There are days when I should not get out of bed for fear of having a car accidents or pushing the wrong button.  Well, I just trashed my last post, but WordPress features a restore application.  So, it has been published again.  This is unforgivable, but it is, alas, all too human.   

To continue the story, yesterday I was tired yet writing a post on what constitutes for me a sensitive subject: the linguistic kerfuffles of my beloved Canada.

I was born to a French-Irish family (on my father’s side) and, although French is my mother tongue, I speak the two languages of my country and other languages.  In fact, I have developed the ability to figure out the meaning of so-called foreign words. 

But let me go back to my original story: making mistakes.  If the subject is a sensitive issue, I make spelling errors, I repeat what has already been said.  I displace letters, i.e. “sacred” become “scared” and mais (French for “but”) becomes amis or sami or masi, etc. 

So, I don’t know how I managed to publish my post.  Yet, I think it is important for people to know how we got from the past to the present and a lot of people cannot afford an education. 

At any rate, the linguistic malaise in Quebec is, to a large extent, an inherited burden.  The Rebellions of 1837 are indeed a key moment not only in the growth of responsible government, but also in the growth of certain less-than-perfect movements.  I know people who believe that the patriotes (Fr) and patriots (En) are patriotes

In their eyes, there never was a William Lyon Mackenzie who had to go into hiding longer than any other rebel.  Nor was there a Lount, a Matthews or a Doan who were hanged because they were patriots and not by French-speaking Canadians.  It’s perturbing. 

Then I hear the other side.  Yes, little John was at Bishop’s, in Lennoxville, Quebec for four years and never had to use a word of French “which is how it should be.”  That too is rather perturbing.  I spent most of my life outside Quebec and to buy a loaf of bread, I had to call it a loaf of bread.  Not that little John should have known the word pain.  There is nothing wrong with being unilingual.  But in order for little John to get his bread in English from a French-speaking person, that person had to know English.

Again, there is nothing wrong with being unilingual, but is it necessary to boast about it and to say that this is how it should be?   By what standard may I ask? 

So now you know why, whenever this subject comes up (i.e, bilingual Canada), I forget to feed the cat, who fortunately has a powerful language of his own and returns me to my senses, but I also lose, temporarily, my ability to concentrate.  So, will you please forgive me for making mistakes.

I will end this frivolous post by telling you a little story.  Once, “qualified” (they were members of the union) Ottawa translators who were preparing documents that would be distributed to persons participating in a summit, yes a summit, translated “pool of secretaries” so correctly that they wrote “piscine (swimming-pool) de secrétaires.”  It’s a slippery subject.  The moral of that story is that if you want a document translated, ask a bilingual person to do the job. 


A.J. Casson Medal,

Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour
(Photo credit: Wikipedia) 


23 Mendelssohn Lieder ohne Worte, Op.53 – No. 5. Allegro in A minor ‘Folk-Song’, Daniel Baremboim (piano)  (Please click on the title to hear the music)