Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Unilingualism and Bilingualism in the U.S. and Canada

The May 14th issue of The Week magazine contains a column from Mclean's by Canadian writer and political commentator, Mark Steyn in which he claims that Canada discriminates against the unilingual in a way that the Human Rights Commission would never tolerate if this discrimination were against a "black or gay or Muslim." Canada has two official languages, French and English and Steyn states that, "every job that matters" is reserved for someone who can speak both French and English-- from the governor-generalship "down to the village postmistress." Steyn urges Canada to, "fight unilinguaphobia."

While I don't follow Canadian politics enough to know if this is true or not, I bring it up because I found it interesting based upon what was on the very next page of the same magazine.

Under the heading "Talking Points", the following was excerpted from the Chicago Tribune: "The number of U.S. residents who speak a language other than English at home more than doubled over the past 30 years, to 55 million, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. That's 20 percent of the population."

Interesting juxtaposition, language-wise with the neighboring countries and page-wise with the information in the magazine.


Anonymous said...

Strange thing. I find that Steyn's parallel between "Unilingualists" and "black, gay, or muslim" lacks credibility.

It only makes sense that both languages are required to access the most prestigious jobs, especially in the administration of a country that is bilingual.

Instead of ranting about "unilinguaphobia" people should understand how learning at least a second language will quite simply open their minds and boost their intelligence and cultural understanding, thus allowing them to get better jobs.

Laura Payne said...

Nicely stated smuggledwords.

Shawn said...

I agree with smuggledwords that to compare the discrimination of a unilingualist to other marginalized or prejudiced groups is extreme. However, being a Canadian I can understand the authors point of view. The majority of the provinces do not use French in any facet of daily life. This means that people who grow up in bilingual parts of Canada will have an advantage over others in terms of obtaining employment within the government.

Claudia said...

It might be hard, at times, to be English unilingual in Canada, but not as hard as it is to be a French-speaking Québécois. At the age of 24, after a B.A., a Nursing degree, a Teaching Music Certificate, all taken in French, in Montreal, I moved to Ontario for a year of full English immersion. Otherwise, in my country, it would have been impossible for me to work, as a nurse, anywhere else than in Quebec.

I didn't consider it unfair. On the contrary, I felt that bilingualism gave me a great advantage culturally and professionaly. It also helped me a lot to learn some Cree when I worked on James Bay, and to familiarise myself with the Inuit language, on Baffin Island.

English Canadians need bilingualism only for government jobs, and political ambitions. In both cases, they should want to learn French. How can they serve well the country if they don't know the official languages?

I came here via Sentences Only. Interesting post. Thank you for your attention.

Laura Payne said...

Shawn and Claudia - Thank you for your comments and insight.

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