Chinese Sign Sparks Controversy in Canada

Sometimes, even the most seemingly innocent translations can end up causing controversy.

For example, in Richmond, British Columbia,  a Crest ad targeted at Chinese-speaking residents caused a minor uproar last month.

The ad features a Chinese bride posed on a mouthwash-blue background next to a selection of Crest “3-D White” products. The accompanying text is all in Chinese, and translates to “In a nutshell, it’s a good thing this bride used Crest because now her teeth are shiny white.”

Why use a Chinese translation for a billboard in Canada? The area where the ad is located is heavily populated by Chinese immigrants. According to CTVNews, almost half of Richmond’s population speaks Chinese (Cantonese, to be precise.)

With such a large Chinese-speaking population, it just makes sense to target them with advertising. However, the campaign has left some English-speaking residents feeling left out.  For instance, one local resident told the Richmond Review that she would be boycotting Proctor and Gamble products, and some have pushed for legislation requiring all signs to be in one of Canada’s official languages.

One woman asked CTVNews, “How can I understand what they’re talking about or what they’re marketing?”  though it seems like this particular ad is fairly self-explanatory whether you can read Chinese or not.

Meanwhile, Richmond Councilor Chak Au told the Richmond Review:

“I think it reflects a certain level of insensitive on the part of the company or the advertising agency. That’s very unfortunate. I don’t think this is the right thing, but on the other hand I think this is understandable in terms of a marketing strategy…In a free society like Canada, where we treasure freedom of expression, I think it’s very difficult to use any legislation to forbid this kind of targeted marketing. Actually, if we do that, it may even create more problems.”

In a statement to  CTVNews, a Crest Canada spokeswoman said

“We deeply value the rich diversity of Canadians and continuously strive to connect with all consumers in relevant ways. “While the vast majority of our advertising remains in one or both of Canada’s official languages, this unique ad was created to reach a new audience of diverse consumers.”

What do you think? Should advertisements target local language minorities without including those who speak the country’s official language?

Amount of French Content in the Olympics Ruffles Feathers in Canada

The Olympics are supposed to be about mutual respect and harmony. However, the games that bring the world together are reigniting a long-simmering cultural feud in Canada. Canada is officially bilingual; French and English are both official languages. But, the Opening Ceremony left some French-speaking Canadians feeling slighted, according to this article on

Olympics Mascott

Although the opening of the Games was announced in French and then in English, the speech given by Games CEO John Furlong was almost entirely in his native tongue, English. Also, there was only one French-speaking performer in the line-up, which also included English and First Nations performers.

Complaints have been voiced by Canadian government officials including Quebec Premier Jean Charest, Heritage Minister James Moore, and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. The Official Languages Commissioner’s office has also begun an investigation.

Adele Mercier, a professor of philosophy specializing in language at Queen’s University, told that:

“I think the problem is that the French were treated . . . as just another subculture that Canada has, that we are all happily tolerating. This is irksome for official and historical reasons…It strikes a chord among French Canada because French Canadians have a historical memory…the first colonists’ approach to French Canadians was to try to assimilate us and this was almost as good a representation of the fact that it has succeeded.”

Hopefully, the closing ceremony will be enough to make up for the opening ceremony for those who felt slighted. The Globe and Mail quotes executive producer David Atkins:

“The closing ceremony actually [has] a little more French in it, to be honest, and it was a creative choice we made right from the outset. I think that the critics of the amount of French content, hopefully, will find the closing a little more palatable.”

No French Translation Needed for Brand Names in Quebec

The Quebec government has long been known for its stringent attempts to preserve the province’s French character. The Office québécois de la langue française has a controversial history of policing businesses of all sizes.  Inspectors with the Quebec “language police” issue tickets and fines for unauthorized use of English on signs, menus and the like.

In 2011, bothered by the impact of English language signs from multinational corporations on Quebec’s linguistic landscape, the OQLF began encouraging these companies to translate their brand names. In 2012, they began threatening to sanction companies that refused to at least add a generic French business term to their signs, such as “les cafés” for a coffee shop. So, a group of retailers including Best Buy, Costco, The Gap, Old Navy, Guess, Walmart and Curves sued to have the scope of the law clarified.

Now, a Canadian judge has ruled that under current Quebec law, the government lacks the power to impose sanctions on brands that refuse to translate their English brand names or to add French to their signs.

In an opinion quoted in the  National Post, Justice Yergeau wrote

“It is up to the Quebec legislator to show the way if he feels Quebec’s French linguistic face is suffering from a wave, a breaker even, of English trademarks on public signage and to impose, by legislation if necessary, the solutions he considers adequate.”

Lawyer Brent Tyler told CTV Montreal that he expected the government to appeal, but he doesn’t seem to think they have much of a case:

“I was a little amazed when the Office first came up with this interpretation. The OQLF argues that a company name is the equivalent of a trademark and that’s not the case…The OQLF took the position that a French description was not required and then, without changing the law or regulations, suddenly changed their position to say that it is required.”

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Teaching in The Inuit Language

The Inuit, a group of native peoples living in Canada, have a graduation rate of only 25%. Obviously, something has to be done. But what? After studying the issue for more than two years, The National Committee on Inuit Education has concluded that one of the most important strategies for improving the graduation rate among Inuit children is bilingual education: teaching them in both their native language, Inuktitut, and either French or English, depending on the region of Canada.

Mary Simon, the leader of Canada’s national Inuit group, told the Globe and Mail that:

“We need to do much more to get the graduation rates up in terms of our kids who aren’t getting through school…We need to implement an era of new investment. I call on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to fulfil the words of his speech from the throne to make Canada’s North a cornerstone of its agenda and … do something truly significant for the next generation of Inuit.”

According to a UN study published in 2008, indigenous children tend to do better the longer they are taught in their native language. Plus, there is ample evidence to show that the current system is not working. A 25% graduation rate is simply not acceptable. Read more

Language Fracas Heats Up In Quebec

In Quebec, Canada’s sole French-speaking province, language has long been a contentious issue.  Now, the results of a recent survey performed by research agency CROP have added fuel to the fire.

To perform the survey, CROP interviewed 560 people who live in Quebec but did not grow up in French-speaking households. The participants were a mix of Anglos (Canadians who grew up in English-speaking households) and immigrants from other countries.

In its write-up of the results, local magazine L’actualité portrayed the results as devastating for the future of French in Quebec. The magazine cover featured a frog holding a sign that reads “Ici, on parle English” or “Here, we speak English.”

Inside, the article claimed that the survey results showed that young Anglos living in Quebec simply do not care about preserving the province’s historically French culture.

For example, only 37% agreed with the following statement:  “The predominant position of the French language is the key component of Montreal’s originality. Without it, the city would lose its soul.” Young English speakers also didn’t recognize local, French-speaking Quebec government figures and celebrities.

However,  most of Quebec’s anglos do in fact speak French, and 83 percent wanted their children to learn the language, too. Plus, surveys like this can be unreliable and this one had a rather small sample size.

Nonetheless, the government of Quebec has already taken action, encouraging the province’s “language watchdog” to take action more quickly, and finding the funds for the agency to hire more employees. One legislator has also proposed more stringent language rules.

However, according to  Globe and Mail columnist Lysiane Gagnon, these measures don’t get to the root of the problem:

“Nowhere in L’actualité’s issue on “the future of French” is there a word about the main reason of the (relative) decline of French in Montreal: the fact that the French-speaking middle class is leaving the city in droves to settle in the nearby suburbs.”

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