Air Canada Fined For Not Using French Language

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  • IanFromHKG

    I have never understood why Francophones get so incredibly precious about their language. English speakers use many foreign words and phrases (a lot of them French! – coup de grace, deja vu, a la carte, aide-memoire and so forth) as a matter of course and without feeling any need to get uppity about it. The idea that someone should sue an airline for 6,000 dollars because they got a Sprite instead of a 7-Up is so utterly absurd that I am astonished the courts even heard the case, let alone have it go to the supreme court.

    I wonder what poor old Air Canada would have to do if they were to lease a plane – the conversion cost would be considerable!

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    I have never understood why Francophones get so incredibly precious about their language….

    One reason is that their language is under threat (I won’t list the details and reasons here), and as language is part of identity, they may feel their identity is threatened (by the way I’m a language expert)

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    I still don’t get it.

    Languages evolve. Any language that does not evolve becomes a dead language (I recall a piece of doggerel from my schooldays – “Latin is a language, as dead as it can be / It killed the ancient Romans, and now it’s killing me).

    Two of the greatest virtues of the English language, in my opinion, are strongly interrelated – the willingness to absorb foreign terms (I gave a few examples in my earlier post, specifically focussing on French terms, but we adopt others too – schadenfreude, doppelgänger, al dente, al fresco, aficionado, plaza, patio and so forth from modern languages; alibi, de facto, ad hoc, quid pro quo, verbatim, plasma, psyche and so forth from ancient languages) and creating neologisms from other languages (television, binoculars etc).

    That Francophones resist absorption of words and phrases from other languages does nothing to further the likelihood of it becoming more widely adopted.

    I will freely admit that I encourage my family to resist the use of “American English”, but that is not to discourage the use of American English by Americans. They, just like Australians, Canadians, and others who have adopted English as their mother tongue despite it not originating in their own countries, should feel completely free to modify it to their own needs.

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    The strange thing about french speakers in Canada is that they seem not to know that “Canukspeak” is a source of great amusement for many of the population in France itself.


    Since the French invented the aeroplane, all announcements should only be made in French, tabernacle!


    Using the expression of @canucklad above referring to the minutiae of legislative language, although off subject, Finland is another bi-language state officially. Finnish and Swedish. Nobody uses Swedish except the 6% or so of the population in the SW corner of Finland. However all road signs are in dual language, all railways stations, conurbations etc etc etc – all signposted in two languages. And the TV has more than 6% of content in Swedish. It does annoy greatly 94% of the population, but they don’t complain, neither I, as the Swedish is perhaps a little easier for English speakers to understand and even pronounce than the gobbledygook ‘makikaki’ language spoken by most Finns (my wife will now try to kill me)!
    A requisite of FINNAIR Cabin and Cockpit crew is proficiency in 3 languages (incl English), and in fact most Finns speak excellent English due to having their TV programmes/films merely subtitled and NOT dubbed, and of course a world renown school education system.
    However, just last week I was indeed in the SW part of Finland near a town called INKOO in Finnish (Inga to the Swedes) and all the signs are reversed. Normally its Finnish first Swedish second, there they have reversed the order. But some villages are completely in Swedish, magical names Fakarsvik, which when I repeated it many days later to friends had the Finns rolling with laughter, as one can imagine how it comes out from an English speaker’s mouth. There was also a fascinating village called Snappertuna – now the origins of that village and its two ‘fish’ name I really must delve into.
    However the point I am trying to make is, what a complete waste of time and effort it is to protect a language used by just 6% of the population.
    The minutiae of legislative language indeed.


    Nice strand. One of my favourites, as a non-Canadian schoolboy-French speaker travelling every year to spend fantastic summers in Quebec, is the fact that all signs must be in French first, English second. So, even your local Starbucks has to be proudly signposted as….CAFE STARBUCKS COFFEE. (Still doesnt make it taste French sadly). And a typical greeting in any cafe or shop is “bonjour-hi”. Love it.


    Nice strand. One of my favourites, as a non-Canadian schoolboy-French speaker travelling every year to spend fantastic summers in Quebec, is the fact that all signs must be in French first, English second. So, even your local Starbucks has to be proudly signposted as….CAFE STARBUCKS COFFEE. (Still doesnt make it taste French sadly). And a typical greeting in any cafe or shop is “bonjour-hi”. Love it…



    The height of idiocy.


    And a typical greeting in any cafe or shop is “bonjour-hi”. Love it…

    Alas the unilingual zealots are demanding that “Hi” is dropped from the greeting because English has no place in a Francophone province and they see this 2 letter greeting as a threat to their culture. encouraging Quebecois customers to officially register complaints against those businesses that use “Bonjour Hi2 to the Quebec language Inspectors

    Returning to the topic, it’s this intolerance that creates the atmosphere that drives trivial complaints and wastes court time needlessly.


    I’m also sure that on an AC flight from CDG to Montreal I’d expect more emphasis on French than English ,

    I have actually flown Air Canada from France to Canada – Toronto not Montréal but same difference – and the announcements were technically in French and English (French first of course). Except that the French was extended, informative and polite and the English was the bare minimum they needed to say – with no pleases or thank yous either.

    I think it is a courtesy to try to speak the language of any country I am visiting if i know any of it, and (in Europe) that covers quite a few. The problem is the reaction you get. In Iceland, for example, one third of people are amazed at my attempts to speak Icelandic to them but do me the courtesy of replying in Icelandic. One third are equally amazed but reply in English. And one third say “I’m very sorry I don’t speak Icelandic”!

    I have less time for long term ex-pats who make no attempt at all to learn the language of their temporary home. Europeans in Hong Kong are top of that list: only a tiny fraction get beyond “mai dung” (which means “the bill please”).

    As for my “emergency 5 words”, the phrase I always mug up on is “Where is?” Usefully the reply is often pointing, for which no language skills are required.


    @cedric-statherby – Regarding you comments about Europeans in HK, I am rather surprised. I have been to SE China area dozens of times, Guangzhou for example and I thought that Cantonese would be easier to learn than Mandarin, it ‘sounds’ easier. Also the dialect of Sichuan as spoken in Chengdu and even further inland like Lushan and Baoxing, could I’m sure be picked up by Europeans i.e. a word here, an expression there, as indeed I started to do.
    However I do understand and fully concur with you about the lack of ‘ability’ or even ‘want’ of some Europeans not learning any local lingo. I should say MOST not some. My brother lives up the road in Dubai and he cannot even count to 10, let alone say ‘Good Morning’ in arabic and he is NOT alone!


    All languages absorb terms of foreign origin. English of course, but so are the other languages.

    The difference between English and other languages (and especially French, which I know quite well) is that English has not absorbed foreign words for quite a long time, while other languages are absorbing more and more English words.
    The statement by some who give credit to English for adopting foreign words has not been correct for several decades. However, what is true is that other languages continue to adopt English words.

    English has become the language that everyone speaks, more or less well. For this reason, people who have English as their native language are learning less and less foreign languages and are more and more inclined to consider that everyone speaks English as they do. Which is not true.

    I hate meetings with colleagues or clients whose native language is English because they never make any effort to adapt their way of speaking to people who are not native English speakers. And when a meeting must lead to structuring decisions, the advantage of being fluent in English gives a definite advantage to native English speakers over those who are forced to make an effort and have difficulty expressing themselves in English.

    Returning to French Canadians, the people of Quebec, I find some of the comments I have read quite strange.
    Quebec is a region of Canada that is almost exclusively francophone. People speak French there because this region was colonized by France before being sold in the United Kingdom.

    Quebec is the only official language in Quebec. It therefore seems quite logical that this language should be used on board aircraft departing from or arriving in Quebec. I understand that even at the federal level, the use of French in addition to English is mandatory. Rules are rules, aren’t they? And security is security.

    Finally, I must admit that I find some of IanFromHKG’s remarks very surprising.

    Ian, you criticize Canadians who resist imposing the use of French alongside English but, at the same time, you ask your children not to use American English. I find this rather contradictory: I want to protect my own language but not that of others?

    Finally, I wonder who are the “Australians, Canadians and others who have adopted English as their mother tongue despite it not originating in their own countries”. I thought that Australia and Canada (apart Québec of course !) had been colonized by people originating from the UK and that while English is now the dominant language in these two countries, it is not a “native” language of these geographical areas. Why do people speak spanish in South America, why do they speak French in South West and Northern Africa ? For the same reason.

    English became the dominant language around the world because UK had the biggest colonial empire untill the beginning of the 20th century . It is still the dominant language because the US have taken over as the dominant country in world trade.

    I do not see why we should stop using a language other than English when it has long been used by a large number of people in a given geographical area.


    Hi All it seems that the topic has migrated from the initial reaction expressed (awe and wonderment at a disproportionate reaction and legal settlement for a trivial thing) into a debate about linguistic colonialism. I just checked the inital news feed. It is still hilarious:

    “Air Canada has been ordered to pay a French-speaking couple 21,000 Canadian dollars (£12,900; $15,700) and write them a letter of apology for violating their linguistic rights.
    The couple complained that some signs on a domestic flight they took were only in English, while others gave the French version less prominence.
    A judge ruled that the airline had breached Canada’s bilingualism laws.
    Air Canada reportedly told the court it would work to replace the signs.
    Ontario couple Michel and Lynda Thibodeau filed 22 complaints against the airline in 2016.
    Among them, they argued that the word “lift” was engraved on the buckles of their seatbelts in English but not in French, while French translations of words such as “exit” were in smaller characters.”

    How some people make money these days is quite staggering….



    I am (nearly) bilingual English and French, though English is the stronger of the two. May I add some comments to your very interesting post?

    You raise a number of very valid points about the two languages which have been the subject of much debate between linguists. Let me say first of all and straight up that there is no future in debating which is the “better” language between English and French. Or – to modify this a very slight amount, but an important modification – which is the better language for a native speaker. Both languages – indeed almost all languages – can in the hands of a native speaker express almost anything that person wishes to say, and all languages are capable of great literature and poetry. And no I do not exclude from this creoles and pidgins.

    But – and it is a big but – it is widely recognised in the linguistic world that some languages have advantages for non-native speakers. The first is the simple one of critical mass: the more people who speak a language, even if only as their second language, the more useful it is. Mandarin scores highly here, so does Spanish, so overwhelmingly does English.

    The second element that matters is the breadth of vocabulary. Many languages draw overwhelmingly on one source: French is a Latin or Romance language, and a very high proportion of its vocabulary is Romance. German is similarly one-sourced. So, in passing, is Arabic, or Mandarin. English is unusual (not unique, but for a major language unusual) in having two sources, Norman French and Anglo Saxon – actually three, because a surprising amount of modern English comes from Old Danish not Anglo Saxon. the result is that there are often pairs of words in English, one from each side of its inheritance. Examples: handbook/manual, enough/sufficient, house/mansion … there are literally tens of thousands of such pairs. This makes it easy for anyone from either Romance or German background to find a word they recognise.

    Thirdly, and this is a slightly technical one, French is a precision language, in which it is important to be accurate, while English is a forgiving language, in which a “near miss” is more easily understood. Again, one passes no judgement on which is “better”, and the beauty of correct French is undeniable, but the result is that a native French speaker will literally find a foreigner speaking bad French harder to understand than a native English speaker will find a foreigner speaking bad English. The technical term for this in linguistics is that English is a “broad” language (ie, messy but understood) and French is a “narrow” one (ie, precise but easily not understood in the hands of a clumsy non-native speaker).

    Without doubt the main advantage English has is that two successive global super-powers (Britain from 1815 to 1914 and the US since then) have spoken much the same language. This is a freak chance, and it has cemented English as the main language anyone learns after their own. (In passing, criticisms of native English speakers for not learning more foreign languages should realise that, uniquely, it is not obvious for an English speaker what foreign language to learn. For everyone else in the world who wishes to communicate internationally the choice is overwhelmingly clear – one learns English as one’s first foreign language).

    But English’s advance has also been helped by its vocabulary, by its forgiving nature for those who speak it badly, and by the fact that actually, most native English speakers are in a sense bilingual – the language we speak to other English speakers and what we speak in international fora are subtly different. I am a British English-speaker, but abroad I speak “international English” not “British English”, ie without the localisms to avoid being misunderstood. And nowhere is that more necessary that in the United States!

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