A Word from the Commissioner

I am very pleased to present the new and improved version of our e-newsletter. Regular readers of Beyond Words may notice that we decided to make some changes to the newsletter’s format. Rather than publishing “issues” with several articles every few months, we will now publish one or two articles more often. As usual, we welcome all comments about this or any other topic. As a former journalist, I’m very pleased with the change because now we’ll be able to offer you articles more in tune with current events.

Indeed, with soccer fever now at an all time high on the eve of the semi-finals of the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup, we are featuring a profile on Marc Dos Santos, head coach of the Montreal Impact. The career path of the multilingual Mr. Dos Santos is a shining example of how knowing several languages is indispensible in many fields, including the soccer field, because his players often come from all over the world.

The interview with Mr. Dos Santos is also timely because Africa has played a big role in his life and the World Cup is being held on that continent for the first time.

For the 10 million visitors on site in South Africa and for the billions of television viewers around the world, this is a unique opportunity to discover this amazing country, a country that has no fewer than 11 official languages! And here’s an interesting fact: even the official World Cup ball reflects the country’s linguistic diversity with its 11 different colours.

The constitution of South Africa prescribes equal treatment of 11 official languages—English, Afrikaans (descended from Dutch) and 9 indigenous languages: Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu. The constitution recognizes the historically diminished status of the indigenous languages and requires the state to take positive measures to advance their use.

While English is spoken at home by only a small portion of the population (less than 10%), it continues to dominate in the world of business and communications. As Canadians, we can appreciate the complexity of putting the constitution’s principles into practice to ensure equal treatment of all the country’s official languages.

In addition to hosting the World Cup this year, South Africa is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Former president and legendary anti-apartheid activist Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” This is an eloquent illustration of the close link between language and identity, the persuasive power of knowing another’s language, and the respect shown when we speak that language.

Graham Fraser

Published on Tuesday, July 06, 2010

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