Bilingual Speeches
Print Friendly and PDF

In 2006, I wrote

Jamie Contreras is making a bilingual speech now on C-Span.This is a boring process where he says everything twice. Once in English, and once in Spanish. If this catches on, it's going to cause a lot of pain for those of who have to listen to political speeches. A similar procedure has been in place in Canada for years, and drives people nuts.

Here's a recent instance of it driving people nuts in Canada

John Ralston Saul's public speech entitled: "Reinventing the language of citizenship/ inventer la langue de la citoyennete" will be presented in Canada's two official languages.  Please note the speech will alternate between French and English with no simultaneous translation.

I can understand why the lecture might be given in French. Or in English. Or in either with translation. But both with no translation? Do that and you will ensure that more than nine out of ten people in the city in which you are giving the lecture will be unable to understand what you are saying. So what is this except a symbolic gesture of... Of what, exactly? Bilingual idealism? Contempt for the unilingual?

The explicitness of that notice is rare but neither the attitude nor the practice are, at least not in Ottawa. Years ago, after moving here, I was amazed at how, in Official Ottawa — ie. the Ottawa of the federal government — it's perfectly acceptable for public speakers to switch back and forth between languages, without translation, even to the extent of setting up a joke in one language and delivering the punchline in another. This would be admirable in an ideal world in which all Canadians could laugh along. But in this world, this is a very effective way to shutting out the overwhelming majority of Canadians who are unilingual.

I can see this, in Spanish,  coming to Democratic Convention speeches, and to your television. Be prepared to be very, very bored.

Print Friendly and PDF