dimanche 15 août 2010

What's the deal with bilingual signs?

(Une discussion en français est ci-dessous, dans l'article précédent)

Bilingualism has been in the news again in Canada recently, this time with the issue of bilingual signs in Russell and in New Brunswick. Both these areas have significant French-speaking populations. They also have had anglophone backlash.

What's the big deal with bilingual signs, anyway? If it's a question of money, a tax break or subsidy program should fix that quickly for existing businesses. However, the issue raised most often by people who oppose compulsory bilingual signs is freedom of expression.

This angle never comes up in places like Chinatowns. Where I live now, most people are Chinese and South Asian. Their signs all have English translations on them. No one bothers measuring the size of the fonts in either language on the signs. So far, I haven't heard of any complaints on the part of business owners that they have to include English — even though the majority of their customers speak another language. Apparently, they do not feel oppressed by the bilingual nature of their signs. "Freedom of expression" simply doesn't come up.

In response to this argument, many will say "but of course you have to include English! It's the language here!" Yes it is, although it isn't the only one. And Canada is officially bilingual. So: bilingual signs in French and English, especially in those areas that have substantial numbers of both populations, reflect our national heritage.

Our two official languages in Canada reflect our history, if not always our present composition. It's a cultural issue, one of many possible ones. It makes us distinct from both our American neighbours and our British colonizers. Bilingual signs are part of being Canadian.

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