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Photo Courtesy of Sun Media

U of O students sound off on campus bilingualism

THIS PAST WEEK, while some students were enjoying a much-needed vacation and others were catching up on assignments and readings without the burden of attending class, the Fulcrum saw one of its articles hit national television. On Oct. 24, an interview with yours truly was aired on Sun TV’s Byline with Brian Lilley. The segment, which ran six minutes in length, focused on a recent opinion piece published in the Fulcrum that discussed the problem with having unilingual signage on a bilingual campus. The response was astounding. Day after day, messages of criticism and support have come pouring in. Students had more than a mouthful of input to offer.

A francophone with the same problem
I believe that the sign at the Quiznos stand in question was placed after I complained last year on the unilingual English sign and staff! I suppose the closest thing to a bilingual sign they could easily find was what Quiznos uses in Quebec, which clearly doesn’t give an equal place to English.

I understand the basis of your complaints, but I must say that I am a bit baffled that you would portray the University of Ottawa as a place where French dominates. More than six months after raising the issues with the university, I still cannot find help for uOzone in French or use a photocopier with a French interface.

The issues are also quite different between the French and English language. For the francophones, the University of Ottawa is the only place outside Quebec where several programs are offered. It is a question of having a place that allows the francophone community to continue to exist and express itself in an anglo-dominant country and world.

For the anglophones, it is simply another university, with characteristics that annoy some of them. Believe me, the fact that you sometimes have to deal with people with accents is nothing compared with having to spend a life in a language that is not your own.

—Daniel Wirz, U of O student

Language in sports

Shame on you for your biased appearance on our Canadian Fox News, Sun TV. Not only did you take one of the rare French-only signs at the University of Ottawa and make a generalization about it, but you lied when you said that the U of O is getting more and more francophone.

I write for the sports section of La Rotonde, and everything is in English. From the score sheets, to the coaches press points, to the U of O cheers, to my fellow colleagues. It’s all English. This is a small example out of many, so don’t give that “more and more French” shit. It’s absurd.

On your Facebook page it says that you are open to new things. I would say that the French language and culture would be one thing you should consider opening yourself to.

—Vincent Rioux,

U of O communications student

Long-time language suffering

I am a French student of the University of Ottawa. Since I was little, I have had troubles being served in my own language everywhere I went. Malls, movie theatres, restaurants: It was almost impossible to be served in French.
Since I was young, I have had to learn English even though we are in a bilingual country. To be understood, I had to work hard and learn English even if my language is French. So, you were probably served in English, your language, but the signs were in French and you complain about that? Every day I get served in English, not my language, and signs are in English, still not my language.

I guess I should go on a TV show and complain about how that is unfair. I think this show was really disrespectful for all the French Canadians who are forced to learn English. Why don’t you just learn French like we had to learn English?

 We French Ontarians, if we want to stay in our province and study in French, we are forced to go to a bilingual university. English Ontarians have the choice to go to a bilingual university or an English one. You decided to go to a bilingual university, so obviously there are some French signs. You see one French sign and you complain, so should we complain every time we see only English signs at the U of O?

—Valérie Nathalie Chartrand,
U of O lettres francaises student

Deeply disappointed

I’m not angry or insulted, but saddened. Saddened because this is an issue francophones have been dealing with ever since I can remember. Not only on signs, but also in correspondence from the administration and the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. I’m registered in a French program, but when I was in my third year, I was forced to take classes in English because my program didn’t offer my required courses in French.

Why is it that the first time anyone ever mentions an issue with available English signs, you write an article in the Fulcrum and go to Sun TV with this? How does this particular event outweigh the countless times francophones had issues getting service in French?

We pay the same tuition, yet we don’t get the same service. I want our school to be bilingual. Like I mentioned, I didn’t even get the option to study in my language of choice for half of my program. Some friends and I had some issues with bilingualism at the 1848. Did we go to the media? No, we politely told them, and even helped them translate their menus. We could have gone to La Rotonde, but why make a big deal when you can reasonably deal with it like adults?

Was all this really necessary? Or did you just widen the gap between francophone and anglophones? I want our school to be bilingual, I really do. But by making a big deal out of one sign at one shop, without even contacting the administration first and foremost—well, it just makes me afraid there’s no hope. Please, if what I say makes any sense to you, find a way to patch what you have done. It’s not too late to post an erratum, or an apology.

—Manuel Belmadani,
U of O science student

Some words in support
Don’t listen to those who are giving you flack. Fact is, if a university claims to be bilingual, it has a responsibility to its students to provide information in both of its respective languages at all times. You made great points that need to be addressed.

—Kaitlin Sweenie, recent U of O grad

I so agree with your opinion piece. I thought that since I started at the U of O four years ago. I have graduated now, but it was definitely an obstacle at times and I even have a working knowledge of French.

I sometimes didn’t even order food at certain spots on campus because if I wanted to try something new I wasn’t sure what it was called in English and I was afraid to guess at what I was ordering in French if I was unclear on the signs.
As you mentioned, it is not just menus that are an issue, but other essential signage and communications as well. Great job putting this issue out there. I hope something is done about it.

—Megan O’Meara, recent U of O grad

Editor’s Note: Contrary to the belief of some commentators, I did not initiate Sun Media’s coverage of my article. I was approached by staff at Byline with Brian Lilley and asked to discuss my article. No other information about the nature of the Sun TV coverage was available to me until after the segment was aired.