On babbling toddlers

My son is reaching the “I love to talk continuously and not let anyone in on the conversation” stage. He loves to try new words out, and has a surprisingly wide range of vocabulary for such a little fellow. His mother and I have about a 70-80% success rate at deciphering his lingo.  At some times, he manages to chain two, three, or even four words together to form a rudimentary sentence. This has greatly contributed to reducing his frustration levels, as he can now more effectively convey his wants and needs.

Our luck drops off tremendously the more he gets excited. If we have the misfortune of waving anything that even remotely resembles chocolate in his general direction, or when he’s in one of his multiple “I want to play outside” moods of the day, his communication degenerates into a series of gibberish gobbledigook that he repeats on an unending loop at an ever-increasing rate. Most recently, he has taken to producing a stream of “Passesay! Passesay! Passesay!” This may be his way of saying “Parce que c’est” (because it is), or something entirely obscure and unknowable to we of the adult kind. What is certain, is that he can go on his single-word tirade for several minutes on end without regard for whether we are actually responding to his need or not.

Have I mentioned his mood swings? He can switch from a happy babbling kid to an utterly devastated, teary-eyed wreck, and back in the blink of an eye. His conversation in these instances sound something like: “”Passesay! Passesay! Passesay! Waaauguahauuuahhahahahhwaaaaaaaaa! Snif! Passesay! Passesay! Passesay!” Sheesh!

It is also neat to hear him try new words out altogether. Sometimes, these are an effort to replicate something we have said earlier in the day. Other times, I think he is an experimental linguist. This evening, he shouted out “Tamura jump!” before hurling himself off of his bed and laughing. Visions of some crazy Japanese extreme sport show immediately came to mind.

Maybe I can make a few bucks off of this kid by turning such inspired ideas into reality. Diapers don’t grow on trees after all!

Zee vs. Zed. What gives?


One of the mysteries that has gripped my mind since a young age (ok, maybe not gripped, but I have grappled with its implications from time to time) is the pronunciation of the letter “z” in English. If you are from somewhere that draws historic links to the British Commonwealth, it is pronounced “zed.” Indeed, it is even pronounced that way in French. However, if you are American, “zee.”

Mispronunciation in a social setting can elicit scowls to stern rebukes. As someone who routinely interacts with people on both sides of the North American border, and lives in a French-speaking environment, I occasionally select the wrong pronunciation. Yes, I get easily confused.

Is the difference the result of some form of American rebellion against the monarchy? Is it an early version of the Freedom Fry, stabbing an accusing linguistic practice at the French? The Straight Dope offers an interesting insight into the pronunciation’s history from a decidedly American point of view.

I cannot hope to make a more enlightened argument or authoritative overview of the issue, so I will instead encourage you to try something outside of the box. What if “zed” was not the odd letter out, but rather the norm? What if any other letter whose last little bit ended in an “ee” sound ended in “ed?”

Give it a shot.

Ay, Bed, Ced, Ded, Ed (or Eed?), Ef, Ged (or Jed?), Aytch, Aye, Jay, Kay, El, Em, En, Oh, Ped, Cue, Ar, Es, Ted, Iu, Ved, Double Iu, Ex, Why, Zed.

It really doesn’t feel so lonely that way, does it?

Twisted translations and product sales: does one impact the other?

I know manufacturers are cash-strapped and feeling the crunch in these hard fiscal times. If I were in such a situation, I would be looking for every opportunity to find efficiencies and cut operating expenditures as well. One unlikely place seems to be in paying translators to migrate product blurbs from one language to another.

In Quebec, products are required to sport their information in both French and English. Some companies demonstrate substantial attention to detail in either language, ensuring that the product description, ingredient list, titles, subtitles, etc. are painstakingly accurate in either language. Far too many companies, however, appear to scramble for the easy button, particularly when translating from English to French. An apparently prolific use of either their nephew’s-best-friend’s-uncle’s-daughter-who-is-in-third-grade-taking-a-language-class-and-can-translate-this-for-nothing or Google translate creates a tide of poorly-translated, often humorous, sometimes incomprehensible information on product labels. I suspect it most likely is the latter as companies can access the service for free from anywhere, anytime, and it is fast. They also appear not to care much about double-checking the translation. I have also seen this in action in other provinces and countries.

What fascinates me about this phenomenon more than the laziness at play, or the uncontrollable fits of laughter that inevitably come from trying to figure out the gibberish that is proudly displayed on a self-serious product for which some marketing guru was undoubtedly paid good money in getting the product to market, is the question of whether such poor labeling affects sales in any way. If it did, I would have to believe that the products would be examined, and corrections made to ensure that they appeal to their market.

That this does not happen, or happens infrequently, suggests that consumers aren’t voting with their dollars, they don’t spend any time looking at labels, or that they don’t know better. Each possibility contains fascinating nuggets for debate in a society where we are supposedly short on money, believe that marketing sells, and that the education system is under continual strain to deliver more for less while being unappreciated.

PQ: pensez plus loin que votre nez! – OR – Shortsighted language law will harm everyone

PQ: pensez plus loin que votre nez! – OR – Shortsighted language law will harm everyone

I think there has been much already said about Bill 14. I will not expand on it much, but there are a few key points which I believe have not yet been touched upon and slice across the tribal lines that the PQ is trying to yet again inflame for murky political objectives:

1. Closing one’s mind off to the outside world does not help preserve and much less strengthen your culture. Ask the North Koreans.

2. If this bill is intended to strengthen the cause of French in Canada, then the PQ needs to remember that there is a substantial population of French speaking Canadians in the other provinces. They may not be Québecois, but they are still proudly francophone. I was only dimly aware of these groups when I grew up in Quebec. Once I had the opportunity to travel, see the rest of Canada, and work alongside people from all provinces and territories, I became acutely aware that there is a strong french culture that can be found outside the borders of the belle province. Perhaps becoming a little more worldly would help the PQ and its fervent supporter base to see the beauty which lies just beyond their foreshortened horizons.

3. Point 2 inevitably leads to the question of follow-on effects generated by the decision to excise bilingual services from any community which is less than 50% anglophone in Quebec. This policy point has since been altered following a public outcry, but for it to have been seriously considered suggests that little thought is given to long term consequences of such decisions, much less to the consequences outside of Quebec. Such a rule would invariably carry high chances of being reciprocated in other provinces, but against francophone sub-communities. In addition to proud french folk outside of Quebec, there are many anglophones who do indeed see very little use to bilingual services in their provinces. They are seen as a drain of resources for a small minority. This bill would provide the perfect excuse to mobilize other provinces to cut services to francophones, since there are few, if any, communities outside of Quebec that can claim to be 50% or more bilingual.

This suggests that the PQ is thinking purely of their microcosm, and when they claim to be defending the rights of French people, as well as trying to strengthen the French culture, they mean only in Quebec. This sadly is extremely short sighted, smacks of an ideological agenda unwilling to consider facts, and ultimately would weaken the overall position of French in Canada. This would also harm Canada as a whole, taking away an important part of its identity, and forcing it to fall silent.

I am not surprised by this proposal, as I had been fed carefully-crafted myths in school from a young age seeking to create a state of martyrdom for the French people, rather than allowing it to embrace its unique nature and be empowered by it to become nationally and internationally extroverted, and grow to attain its full potential as a wonderful synergistic complement to Canada.

As a proud French-Canadian and Canadian, I believe we would be better served by exporting what makes our language wonderful and our culture memorable. I think most would prefer to be motivated by a carrot rather than a stick.

PQ: Je vous implore, trouvez une autre façon de faire resplendir notre belle province et notre superbe peuple.

La protection de la langue et de la culture canadienne-française

I wrote this elsewhere back in September, but it is particularly relevant given the debate surrounding Bill 14 in Quebec these days.


http://www.techvibes.com/blog/french-language-face-off-video-goes-viral-2012-09-04 Après avoir été ambassadeur non-officiel de la langue française en Ontario pour les huit dernières années, je reste ébloui à toutes les fois que j’entends parler de quelqu’un qui croit que la meilleure façon de défendre la culture canadienne-française est d’utiliser un gros bâton. Pourquoi voulons-nous dresser des murs pour nous isoler? Tapper (métaphoriquement comme dans cet exemple; ou physiquement, comme dans ma jeunesse quand je suis devenu bagarreur simplement parce que mon père vient d’un pays anglophone) sur les gens n’aide pas. Ces approches ne font qu’affaiblir ce qui nous rend unique.

Plus de pensée et de valeur devrait être attribuée à la carotte. Selon un dicton bien usé, la meilleure défense est une bonne offense. Prenons le temps de souligner les meilleurs aspects de notre culture. N’avons-nous pas les meilleurs chefs cuisiniers, les comédiens les plus drôles, les artistes les plus talentueux, la vraie poutine, etc.? Exportons l’essence de la culture Québecoise pour donner le goût aux autres de l’explorer et de la protéger.

C’est par le rayonnement et non l’aboiement que nous nous assurerons un futur vibrant.