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Notes for an address at the conference

Terminologie : approches transdiciplinaires


Graham Fraser – Commissioner of Official Languages

Check against delivery 

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am happy to be with you tonight and to join in honouring the work that you do. As language specialists, and in particular as terminologists, you are the ones who make the language evolve and contribute to its transformation, so that it remains the reflection of a continuously evolving culture and society.

I think it is entirely appropriate that your French-language conference on terminology is being held in Canada. To say that Canada is a bilingual country has almost become a cliché, but I think it is useful to review certain facts about our linguistic duality, not only for those of you who are here from abroad, but also for my fellow Canadians, who may not be aware of the statistics and certain events.

First, let’s not forget that French is the mother tongue of 23% of Canadians, including four out of five Quebeckers. Canada has more Francophones1 than Belgium and Switzerland combined.2

About four million unilingual Francophones live in Quebec, the only Canadian province that has a Francophone majority. However, there is also large population of Anglophones there, as English is the language of choice of some 900,000 people in the province.

About one million Francophones live outside Quebec. Three-quarters of them live in Ontario and New Brunswick. Francophones make up a third of the population of New Brunswick, while in the rest of the country they represent less than 5% of the population. As a result, the National Capital Region is one of the important places in Canada where English and French are in daily contact, but it is not the only one.

In addition, more than 50 Aboriginal languages are also spoken in Canada. The three most widely spoken Aboriginal languages are Cree (80,000 people), Inuktitut (30,000 people) and Ojibway (23,500 people). In the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, several Aboriginal languages have official status equivalent to that of English and French.

Canada is a country of immigrants. Today, nearly one in five Canadians was born outside of the country and one in six speaks neither English nor French as a mother tongue. However, nine out of ten Canadians speak either English or French at home.

In 1969, after becoming aware of these realities, the Canadian government adopted the Official Languages Act, which was later amended in 1988 and 2005. Among its key elements, this legislation: 

  • Declares that English and French have equal status in all federal institutions;
  • Creates the position of Commissioner of Official Languages, a non-partisan ombudsman who is to be the “active conscience” of Canadians in official language matters;
  • Provides for the use of English or French in federal courts and criminal proceedings;
  • Gives citizens the right to receive all or key services from the federal government in their official language of choice, under a 5% sliding scale based on the relative and absolute size of the local minority population. There are also special requirements regarding the travelling public, health and safety;
  • Gives federal government employees the right to work in the official language of their choice in designated regions;
  • Ensures the equitable participation of English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians in federal institutions; and
  • Finally, sets out the federal government’s commitment to promote linguistic duality and support the development of official language communities.

These are ambitious objectives and 40 years later the federal government is still not keeping all of its promises. Nevertheless, the adoption of the Act has forced the government, educational institutions and business to find innovative ways to meet a variety of new challenges related to language.

These include, for example, French immersion programs, created in 1965, in which there are now 300,000 students enrolled across Canada. There is also the “language industry,” a field in which Canada has now become a world leader thanks to a number of major accomplishments.

In addition, there is the federal government’s Translation Bureau,3 with some 1,750 employees, including 1,150 translators, interpreters and terminologists across the country. The Bureau offers a complete range of linguistic products and services: interpretation, translation and multilingual services. Most of you probably know about the TERMIUM4 terminology bank, which contains 3.5 million terminological and linguistic records. 

I would also like to mention the remarkable work of the Office québécoise de la langue française5 for its research on language and terminology.

Of course, there is also the new Language Technologies Research Centre. The Centre’s research will benefit from the language processing activities undertaken by the National Research Council’s Institute for Information Technology.6

According to a recent study by Statistics Canada, published in March 2006, the Canadian language industry is made up of more than 600 private companies, with revenues of over $400 million a year. All signs indicate that this industry will continue to grow.

As Canadians, we are well aware of the value, in terms of economic benefits, of having two official languages of international importance. As a bilingual and multicultural society, we also understand we cannot be fair to everyone if we do not ensure fairness and respect between the two major language groups.

We live in a democratic, officially bilingual society, which is committed to providing everyone with equal rights and opportunities. Canada’s language policy is based on this spirit of respect: respect for the public, which has the right to be served in their official language of choice in certain federal offices; respect for employees, who have the right to work in their language; and respect for our country’s two language communities, which contribute to Canada’s prosperity.

This is a large part of the message that I am trying to send to Canadians. It is also an ideal that has had an important place in our history and that will continue to bear fruit in the future.

Thank you.

1 The terms “Francophone” and “Anglophone” refer to individuals who have either of the two official languages of Canada as their mother tongue, regardless of their ethnic origins.

2 There are approximately 6.7 million Francophones in Canada, 4.2 million in Belgium and 1.3 million in Switzerland.

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