AngryFrenchGuy

What’s Yann Martel Reading?

with 385 comments

yann martel

Hey Yann,

I was watching you on Radio-Canada’s Tout le Monde en Parle last Sunday and I heard you say something so grotesque, so stupid and so ignorant that I felt I had to respond.

You said something like: “As far as I’m concerned, all languages are the same.”

So I’m going to do exactly what you are doing to Stephen Harper and send you a couple of books to set you straight. Feel free to pass them along to Steve when you’re done.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an anglophile. I read and write in English all the time. I read Life of Pi in English. My Dad was raised much like you, speaking French at home but going to English schools. My grand-father was the son of a protestant preacher’s daughter who went to Catholic school with Félix Leclerc.

English is a fine language, Yann, but the one thing it isn’t is a language just like any other.

When I went to China a couple of years ago, young students would stop me on the street and beg me to – please, please mister! -speak English with them for ten minutes.  Do you think they behaved like that because they just happened to prefer your books to those of Michel Houellebecq or Lao-Tzu?

Of course not.  These students wanted – needed – to master English because it was their only way into the best universities, free economic zones and a decent life.  English was the difference between a meaningful career and a lifetime of stamping documents at the Sechuan Ministry of Public Works.

That’s what English is today.  It’s the great gatekeeper.  Ninety percent of Korean workers have to take English tests all through their careers just to keep their jobs.   Do you really thing that English is just another language to them?

Do think that the parents of the 30 000 Korean elementary school students that are sent to study in English-speaking countries every year in this world that confuses English with intelligence feel that it is a language like any other?  Elementary school kids, Yann.  They’re not even ten years old yet!

How about the citizens of Qatar whose government hired the RAND Corporation in the wake of September 11th to design a new education curriculum that the Washington Post celebrated as More English, Less Islam? I’m sure they got the message that English is just another neutral, international language, freely available for their use, should they be so inclined.  As the British scholar Sohail Karmani pointed out: « One need only reflect for a moment on the moral legitimacy of parallel calls for, say, more English and less Buddhism, less Sikhism, or less Judaism—or indeed even more absurdly ‘more Arabic and less Christianity’—to appreciate just how ludicrous and utterly repugnant such formulas are. »

Unlike you and me, Yann, most people in the world didn’t have the privilege of learing educated standard English effortlessly while they were young.  Cultivating the illusion that one chooses a language in which to persue a career and bogus theories about the equivalency of cultures and the benign nature of the worldwide spread of English is a luxury most of the world doesn’t have.

It might help you to rationalise the fact that the ability to write in the language of your ancestors has been educated out of you, but you are only kidding yourself.

So here’s a couple of books I think you should read. If you are in a scholarly mood, I suggest Linguistic Imperialism by Robert Phillipson or anything you can pick up by Alastair Pennycook. You might also want to check out Buying Into English, the very interesting book by Catherine Prendergast, an American teacher who witnessed first hand how English transformed from a tool of freedom to a crash course in capitalism in Slovakia.

But the book I’m sending you is Decolonizing the Mind by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, about his rise to international fame in English and his realization the language had only really put him to the service of the English-speaking elite of Europe and America and completely isolated him from Kenya and Africans.

It’s the last book in English he ever wrote.

Written by angryfrenchguy

October 13, 2009 at 12:51 pm

385 Responses

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  1. “Come on, ABP. We all know which Canadian linguistic minority the official languages legislation was primarily intended to benefit”

    I was simply making the point that there are programs in place to protect the french component in Canada. I am sure the OLA spends considerable more resources on promotion of french than the do on english. At least I would expect so considering the numbers within each group.

    Will be interesting to see the court decision expected today. I bet it will be very tacticly worded.

    ABP

    October 22, 2009 at 8:25 am

  2. “I was simply making the point that there are programs in place to protect the french component in Canada. I am sure the OLA spends considerable more resources on promotion of french than the do on english. At least I would expect so considering the numbers within each group.”

    For present-day, you are probably right that more is spent on French in the ROC. This is not surprising considering how much of an imbalance there was previously.

    Acajack

    October 22, 2009 at 8:28 am

  3. ‘”Will be interesting to see the court decision expected today. I bet it will be very tacticly worked ”

    You were right ABP. The supreme court ask the legistator
    to rewrite the law: the court doesn’t make judgment on the intention of the legistator.

    Anonymous

    October 22, 2009 at 9:16 am

  4. oups, it was midnightjack

    Anonymous

    October 22, 2009 at 9:17 am

  5. We won!

    Geck

    October 22, 2009 at 9:21 am

  6. On oblige la cour supreme a prendre des decisions qui au depart devraient relever du politique. Je ne connais pas le jugement et je ne suis pas avocat mais la sagesse des juges, face a une decision si lourde de consequences, a ete de demander au gouvernement du Quebec de reecrire sa loi, afin que la loi soit reconnu valide une fois pour toute.

    midnightjack

    October 22, 2009 at 9:23 am

  7. “For present-day, you are probably right that more is spent on French in the ROC. This is not surprising considering how much of an imbalance there was previously”

    Yes, some say up to 90% of the operational budget. Unfortunate as we both know, the program has been a dismal failure in promoting any sort of unity or increasing levels of french outside of Quebec. In fact the level of french in the ROC has diminished by 25% in the last cencus period according to Stats Canada last census. Some feel the program is actually discriminatory against anglos (old news) in areas where bilingual service is not really required.

    ABP

    October 22, 2009 at 9:37 am

  8. Geck: “We won!”

    Guess you’ve never hear of Pyrrhus of Epirus…

    Acajack

    October 22, 2009 at 9:39 am

  9. “En fait, le pillage economique de Montreal a commence par le creusage de la voie maritime du Saint-Laurent….”

    The departure of several hundred thousand people and many businesses did not help the economic lot of Quebec. I doubt anyone will attribute this to anything else but the uncertainties with regards to the referendum, sovereignty and to a lesser extent language.

    ABP

    October 22, 2009 at 9:46 am

  10. Well, I gave you an example of one of the smaller province in Canada with regards to debt vs Quebec’s deficit. I think the figures speak for themselves.

    The numbers certainly speak more accurately than you do. The “model” smaller province has as I said historically received far more in net federal transfers per capita than Québec has. As Paul Martin figured out it’s easier to balance budgets with other people’s money, such as by stealing 10’s of billions from EI and dramatically cutting transfers to provinces and racking up surpluses while taking 50 cents of every tax dollar paid by Quebeckers. Then when the provinces (and not just Québec) get wise to the theft and force some changes, the feds and their stooges like Simpson and Pratte depict it as bonbons to the provinces.

    À la fin des années 90, les provinces, comme le fédéral, accumulaient les déficits. Toutes ont réussi à rétablir l’équilibre, certaines au prix d’énormes sacrifices. Or, cet équilibre s’est montré dangereusement fragile. Depuis ce temps, plusieurs provinces ont renoué avec le cercle vicieux des déficits et de l’endettement, les autres (sauf l’Alberta) parviennent tout juste à boucler leurs comptes. Au Québec, il a même fallu que le ministre des Finances se livre à des contorsions comptables pour annoncer qu’il terminera l’exercice sans déficit, ce qui lui a valu de se faire taper sur les doigts par le vérificateur général.

    Toujours est-il que, pendant la période où Ottawa accumulait des surplus de 58 milliards, les 10 provinces déclaraient un déficit collectif de 18 milliards.

    Pourquoi un tel écart? Parce que les dépenses des provinces augmentent beaucoup plus rapidement que celles du fédéral. En tenant compte de l’inflation, les dépenses fédérales, en 2005-2006, sont exactement au même niveau qu’en 1990-1991, et même légèrement inférieures. Autrement dit, Ottawa a su contenir ses dépenses en deça de la courbe des prix à la consommation. Pendant la même période, toujours en termes réels, les dépenses des provinces ont augmenté de 33%.

    Si les provinces dépensent plus, ce n’est pas parce qu’elles jettent l’argent des contribuables par les fenêtres; c’est parce qu’elles doivent faire face à l’explosion des dépenses de santé.

    Dans ces conditions, on peut certainement comprendre la célèbre phrase de Bernard Landry, selon laquelle “l’argent est à Ottawa, les besoins sont à Québec”.

    En mars 2001, la tension avait atteint un tel niveau que le gouvernement péquiste mandatait le fiscaliste Yves Séguin pour évaluer l’importance du déséquilibre et proposer des solutions.

    M. Séguin, entouré d’une petite équipe de spécialistes, a déposé l’année suivante un travail remarquable de 213 pages, plus trois annexes totalisant 435 pages. Le rapport Séguin venait appuyer solidement le point de vue du Québec, mais il était tellement bien fait que les autres provinces s’en sont abondamment servis pour étayer leurs propres revendications.

    En gros, M. Séguin rappelait avec justesse que la part du financement fédéral aux dépenses sociales des provinces (santé, éducation, aide sociale) était passée de 18 à 14% entre 1995 et 2002. Pour le Québec, cela représentait un manque à gagner de 2,2 milliards par année. Un trou énorme que M. Séguin proposait de combler en rapatriant le produit de la taxe de vente fédérale (TPS).

    http://lapresseaffaires.cyberpresse.ca/opinions/chroniques/200901/09/01-693350-le-desequilibre-fiscal-existe-t-il-encore.php

    James

    October 22, 2009 at 10:12 am

  11. “You are on which is essentially an anglo blog discussing Quebec/Canada issues and of course you are going to hear things which are likely not all that kind to Quebec. You should also then, equally, check out the blogs of the separatistes in french and understand their comments are no better than some you have encountered here.”

    Yes, of course, francophone blogs are just full of comments about how Ontario is a corrupt banana republic because of multi-million (if not billion) dollar scandals at provincial government agencies like eHealth and Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.

    The seppies are always in a tizzy about how racist Ontarians in Caledonia are to local natives, how cops in Western Canada aren’t in a big hurry to investigate when aboriginal women disappear or are murdered, or how a black guy on Vancouver Island got the crap beat out of him by three white rednecks in a pickup truck (captured on video for all the world to see).

    These are all really hot topics in the Quebec francophone blogosphere. For sure!

    Please Hamish, go see for yourself just how frequently English-Canadian society is criticized on French-language forums!

    Acajack

    October 22, 2009 at 10:21 am

  12. Some feel the program is actually discriminatory against anglos (old news) in areas where bilingual service is not really required.

    then by that reasoning it’s discriminatory against francos by providing English language services in Bellechasse and Montmagny.

    James

    October 22, 2009 at 10:22 am

  13. In response to your issue with Acadia and other french speaking areas of Canada I really doubt if the separtistes have any interest.

    And what level of interest do anglophones have in the fate of these communities? We know of some of their impressive interest historically, such as when they cut off all immigration and cultural contact with the French-speaking and banned French public schooling, dooming these communities to rampant minoritization and assimilation. More recently they were polled (in 1987) on the matter, and were found to believe that English was more threatened in Québec, where it’s experiencing zero assimilation, than French was in the ROC, where’s it’s experiencing over 30% assimilation by generation and well on the road to disappearance. An impressive index of their collective ignorance and indifference.

    At least the “separatists” actually acknowledge that French is « à l’article de la mort » in Canada outside Québec. I see few federalist public figures capable of such intellectual honesty.

    James

    October 22, 2009 at 10:31 am

  14. “The “model” smaller province has as I said historically received far more in net federal transfers per capita than Québec has”

    I think I would check that out a bit closer. Also, per capita can be argued to not be reflective of actual costs. For instance a smaller province with a lot of roads spends more per capita on infrastructure than a more populated areas where there are a great more people to pay for common infrastructure. Lots of variables with the per capita judgement.

    I would like to get a recent copy of total transfers (business, health, social etc) to provinces vs revenue taken by Ottawa from each province. For some reason I cannot find recent statistics on this anywhere in CCCRA or the department of finance web sites. Seems they are keeping these figures. Perhaps some one else has found them.

    ABP

    October 22, 2009 at 11:31 am

  15. “then by that reasoning it’s discriminatory against francos by providing English language services in Bellechasse and Montmagny.”

    The discrimination I refer to is the federal bilingual hiring policy where it is not required. Case can be made also for areas of Quebec which are essentially uniligual and the positions are designated bilingual. Issue is that there by demographics a larger portion of areas which are anglo and don’t require services in french.

    Crowley in “feaful symmetry” contends that bilingualism was nothing more than a make work project for bilinguals who predominately came from Quebec and thus the entire OLA was just another subisdy. I am not sure about going that far.

    ABP

    October 22, 2009 at 11:36 am

  16. “The discrimination I refer to is the federal bilingual hiring policy where it is not required. Case can be made also for areas of Quebec which are essentially uniligual and the positions are designated bilingual. Issue is that there by demographics a larger portion of areas which are anglo and don’t require services in french.
    Crowley in “feaful symmetry” contends that bilingualism was nothing more than a make work project for bilinguals who predominately came from Quebec and thus the entire OLA was just another subisdy. I am not sure about going that far.”

    Crowley is off base on this one. In the 1960s, the Laurendeau-Dunton Bilingualism and Biculturalism Royal Commission recommended the creation of distinct French-only or English-only working units in the federal public service. Trudeau did not want that and so he came up with the idea of a public service that could work in both official languages.

    The other option would have been to decentralize responsibilities to provinces (perhaps just to Quebec, perhaps to all of them), which once again would have allowed for most people to work in their own languages pretty much exclusively ,with perhaps a small bilingual group that would provide linkages between the ROC public service(s) and Quebec’s.

    But once again, Trudeau wanted none of that.

    Of course, the number of bilingual public service positions is greatly exaggerated in English Canadian discourse (go to bottom of page):
    http://www.psc-cfp.gc.ca/plcy-pltq/learn-apprend/presentation/series-serie-3/eao-qa-dec-qr-eng.htm

    Acajack

    October 22, 2009 at 12:44 pm

  17. 51% of positions in the federal public service were designated as English essential, 4% were designated as French essential,

    Well that seems fair.

    James

    October 22, 2009 at 1:35 pm

  18. And the positions bilingual at 40%?

    ABP

    October 22, 2009 at 1:44 pm

  19. For instance a smaller province with a lot of roads spends more per capita on infrastructure than a more populated areas where there are a great more people to pay for common infrastructure. Lots of variables with the per capita judgement.

    Québec has the largest territory of all the provinces and its road system is vast compared to Nova Scotia’s or PEI’s, provinces which have historically received far more in net federal transfers per capita.

    While overall federal revenues and expenditures have been relatively steady in recent years, that consistency masks considerable variation across the provinces. Figure 2 provides an overview of per capita federal revenues and expenditures by province in 2004. That year, revenues exceeded expenditures in three provinces – Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia. In the case of Alberta and Ontario, the gap is significant. The federal government collected an average of $7,864 per person in Alberta, while spending an average of $5,101. In Ontario, the difference was not as large – $6,961 in revenues and $5,268 in expenditures.

    In all other provinces, the federal government spent more than it collected. In most cases, the difference between the two was considerable. The largest gap was in Prince Edward Island, where federal per capita revenues averaged $5,208, compared to $10,315 in spending. Quebec was the only province where the margin by which federal spending surpassed revenues was modest. ..

    Because transfers to persons consist primarily of social programs, their value has tended to fluctuate countercyclically with economic growth. In a period of strong economic growth, such as the late 1980s and late 1990s, personal transfers tend to fall, while in times of recession, such as in the early 1990s, they tend to rise.

    The same trends are reflected in Canada’s largest provinces. Compared to the national average, federal transfers to persons in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta have been relatively stable, rising in times of economic downturn, falling during an economic recovery and otherwise stable.


    http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/library/PRBpubs/prb0639-e.htm

    James

    October 22, 2009 at 1:44 pm

  20. And the positions bilingual at 40%?

    and the free courses for anglo public servants (free for them, not for us) which they “pass” to attest their “bilingualism” and continue to occupy their postions, communicate with their subordinates in English, etc?

    http://lautjournal.info/default.aspx?page=3&NewsId=1664

    James

    October 22, 2009 at 1:48 pm

  21. http://www.cbc.ca/canada/montreal/story/2009/10/22/quebec-bill-104-scoc.html#socialcomments

    Thanks for all the advice, les amis. In particular, your concern for my children’s future is quite touching.

    All in all, a dark day for a person like me who believes that Quebec should fully control its language policy, but within Canada.

    Acajack

    October 22, 2009 at 2:50 pm

  22. “and the free courses for anglo public servants”

    This is not offered to unilingual francos who wish to become bilingual??? I find that rather hard to believe.

    ABP

    October 22, 2009 at 3:00 pm

  23. “This is not offered to unilingual francos who wish to become bilingual??? I find that rather hard to believe.”

    Yes they are.

    Acajack

    October 22, 2009 at 3:12 pm

  24. you: Crowley in “feaful symmetry” contends that bilingualism was nothing more than a make work project for bilinguals who predominately came from Quebec and thus the entire OLA was just another subisdy.

    you: This is not offered to unilingual francos who wish to become bilingual???

    Make up your mind.

    James

    October 22, 2009 at 3:21 pm

  25. “All in all, a dark day for a person like me who believes that Quebec should fully control its language policy, but within Canada”

    Ah the usual “quebec bashing” and “anglo bashing” banter back and forth. I knew this was going to ignite a spark. I suppose we will see how big of a spark starts any flames.

    ABP

    October 22, 2009 at 4:51 pm

  26. Make up your mind.”

    On what, it was a question?

    ACJ indicates that unilingual francos in the civil service are offered english lessons as are anglos to learn french.

    You had indicated “free the them (anglos) but not for us”.

    As I said, I find that hard to believe.

    ABP

    October 22, 2009 at 5:01 pm

  27. first you claim bilingualism is a “make work” project for “bilinguals from Québec” subsidizing that province. For the first more than 100 years of Canada’s existence, employment in the federal public service meant working in English no matter what your mother tongue. It’s anglophones who benefit disproportionately from the free training to become bilingual, because they’re more monolingual in the first place, and because they make up most of the public service and made up most of its incumbents when bilingualism was brought in. They had the most catching up to do in this regard. So you claim it was a made-to-order program for Québécois who are already bilingual then you claim they benefit as much from the language training available. Make up your mind.

    The balance between English- and French-speaking Canadians in the federal government is fairly representative of the population as a whole.

    http://www.ocol-clo.gc.ca/html/faq3_e.php

    so much for the “make-work” program for francophones.

    When anglophones are language-trained at taxpayer expense, and have 10 times as many public service posts designated in their language only, it’s not a “real” subsidy. When anglo provinces get several times per capita more than Québec in transfers, it’s not “real” subsidy. When anglo university students get nearly three times the funding per capita for their university system, it’s not a “real subsidy.” You only get a “real” subsidy when you’re a francophone, apparently.

    James

    October 22, 2009 at 6:17 pm

  28. Hamish writes:

    “Tony, the point about indigenous languages is a red herring. Protecting French doesn’t detract from protecting indigenous languages, you can do both.”

    Justification of language laws has occurred in courts because it was adjudicated that the threat to French was a serious concern which justified the limitation on free speech and equality rights. My point is it’s absurd on the face of it to even suggest that French is in danger when it not only has many speakers in the millions but all sorts of support by the government. This obscenity is magnified a thousand fold when one compares French to the fate of aboriginal languages. And, yes, this makes it racist.

    And, no, you cannot protect French when you aren’t protecting 300 other languages that are in much more precarious positions than French.

    And that’s assuming that ANY language deserves to have “protection”. Fro cryin’ out loud, French isn’t a person and I really don’t see why it should get protection in the first place.

    Tony Kondaks

    October 22, 2009 at 6:21 pm

  29. “Justification of language laws has occurred in courts because it was adjudicated that the threat to French was a serious concern which justified the limitation on free speech and equality rights. My point is it’s absurd on the face of it to even suggest that French is in danger when it not only has many speakers in the millions but all sorts of support by the government. This obscenity is magnified a thousand fold when one compares French to the fate of aboriginal languages. And, yes, this makes it racist.
    And, no, you cannot protect French when you aren’t protecting 300 other languages that are in much more precarious positions than French.
    And that’s assuming that ANY language deserves to have “protection”. Fro cryin’ out loud, French isn’t a person and I really don’t see why it should get protection in the first place.”

    So then what about all of the “protections” for English in Quebec with institutions and services way out of proportion to population?

    Acajack

    October 22, 2009 at 6:43 pm

  30. Acajack writes:

    “So then what about all of the “protections” for English in Quebec with institutions and services way out of proportion to population?”

    Which, specifically, are you referring to, Acajack?

    The services offered by the Jewish General Hospital and McGill University, etc. that we are allowed to get served in our own language? You mean, institutions that anglos built?

    Those aren’t protections, they are rights.

    Tony Kondaks

    October 22, 2009 at 6:54 pm


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