Québec Premier Pauline Marois faced ridicule from francophone Quebeckers on her return from Scotland recently. At issue was not the premier’s French, but her execrable English, reports Don McPherson of the Montréal Gazette with ill-concealed glee.
It was a critique without mercy: “Fluently bilingual Québécois commentators, picking out examples of Marois’s mistakes in vocabulary in the 15-minute interview, judged that the quality of her English was unacceptable for a representative of her people.”
Francophone Benoît Aubin of Le Journal de Montréal rated Marois’s English performance “totally incomprehensible.” He suggests she should just stick to a script.
The premier has a serious false cognate problem. In her notorious BBC interview, Marois called the 1995 sovereignty referendum a “deception” when she meant to say “disappointment” (déception in French).
I must admit I find it deeply gratifying that French-speaking students of English have the same problems that I had in my futile attempts to learn their language. Yet, as sisters in the second-language club, surely we can sympathize with that peculiar shame that haunts every second-language speaker. Is this not how we learn? I used to pay my daughter a dollar every time she fell down during ice skating lessons to encourage her. That was before she quit.
But the citizens of Québec will not indulge their leaders in the same way. Eighty percent of La Presse readers declared that it is “indispensable that the premier of Québec have a good mastery of English.”
Others claim she came across like a “hick.” Some wonder why the leader of the Parti Québécois even bothers to speak English at all.
Criticism of the premier’s English is an old story in Québec. Check out this bilingual (?!) parody below:
Marois announced this week that she would respond to the questions of journalists in French alone to avoid confusion. “I get advice and will try to follow it,” Marois said.
But she eventually gave in to the pleading of English-speaking reporters with another English gaffe. She said of her party that “we wanted to be offensive on the sovereignty all the time,” when she should have said “we wanted to be on the offensive.”
Marie Barrette, the premier’s press secretary, suggested that Marois may avoid speaking English when she is too tired to choose her words properly. According to Barrette, “the criticism was virulent” and unfair to someone making their best effort in a second language.
Barrette says all Marois’s work is never enough for some. “It’s not Anglophones criticizing her. It’s Francophones,” she says.
Criticism may be more than a matter of word choice. Marois’s push for Quebec sovereignty comes as support for separation of the province from Canada has declined to 37% from 43% a year earlier.