A blog post written by a PR practitioner I met recently at a networking evening asked readers to vote on the proper pronunciation for the name of our neighbouring province, Québec. Only 23.1 per cent of Ontario participants pronounced it in the correct French manner: Kay-BECK. Should this be shocking in a nation where French is one of Canada’s official languages? Perhaps not, depending on the mix of people who responded to the survey.
In Toronto, many residents “come from away,” as the saying goes, and they find learning English properly to be challenging enough without taking on Canada’s other mother tongue. Those who studied French in Ontario schools don’t necessarily learn French well, since they have every expectation of speaking English, the world’s new language of commerce, wherever they go. Then, there are those who are simply not adept at languages, and mangle any and all words from another language, whether French, Russian or Inuktitut.
Would it be respectful to learn the proper pronunciation? Yes! Is such an effort a mark of openness to other cultures and traditions? Undoubtedly. Is it a low priority for many people? Apparently.
Given the universality of English today, it’s probably realistic for us to expect that anglophones can get by, no matter where we travel. However, we’re the ones who are poorer for not trying to stretch our skills, for not bridging a cultural divide and for not realizing that other languages are gateways to interesting worlds and ways of thinking that we may never understand.
To my PR contact, I say, “Pardonnez-moi!”