Friday, December 16, 2005

Blog Boy and Bilingualism

Interesting feature of Scott Feschuk's "not-quite-as-Liberal-as-TCFlogger-is-Conservative" blog. Try clicking on the "Français" link.

If Scott's blog were functioning like 95% of the Government of Canada websites -- which the Liberal Party site presumably uses as a model to emulate -- then you'd get a French version of his comments (pause while we duck to escape the spittle of the blogosphere's collective hissing). Instead, it's a repeat of his regular blog page, in English.

The TCFlog, as it turns out, is bilingual; if you click at the "français" link at the very top of the web page, you'll get a French version. (Of course, the quality of writing is the same in both languages. Make of that what you will.)

One of the Tory bloggers (not me, I assure you) decided to make hay of this, causing Mr. Feschuk to semi-blow some steam:
So forgive me this one, folks, but I am moved to respond to the latest thoughtful missive from the Conservative war room – in which it is revealed that, after 17 days of clever and tireless research, the Conservatives have noticed that this blog is [make gasping noise here!] available only in English. (I think their first clue was the absence of French.).

“Why is the Liberal party providing its official blog in English only?” the Conservative war room generals inquire. “Why are francophones being shut out from the blogging buzz coming from the Liberal campaign?”

Blogs are, by nature, personal. They're not intended to be bilingual -- nor would this one be even remotely comprehensible much of the time in our other official language. As an experiment, we tried to put the first one in French but three of our top translators were fatally wounded by the challenge of explaining to francophones my reference to Erik Estrada.
He then goes on to lambaste the Harper '97 position on bilingualism's implementation, which is of course fair game. I bolded the above passage because I believe this is where Scott gets it wrong.

Yes, blogs are most effective when they're personal. But they're also a reflection of the person writing them, including the language used. A bilingual person trying to reach a broad audience WILL use both languages, to be most effective.

Scott has, perhaps inadvertently, touched upon an issue that has really afflicted the federal public service: the implementation of official languages policy. A lot of otherwise qualified people have failed to obtain positions because they were designated as bilingual-imperative. Sometimes it makes sense, with call-centre positions. But there are others (such as mid-level managers) where the need for bilingualism is not all that apparent, and where the department in question is unwilling to fund language training for an otherwise-qualified candidate. And when the position is specifically targeted towards a national public -- like an "official" blog of an institution supposed functioning in both languages -- then having a unilingual blogger would seem somewhat hypocritical, given government hiring practices.

As for the French problem in Scott's blog, obviously French translation couldn't really be done in the timely manner that blogs demand. A better solution would be to bring aboard a francophone blogger, and I remember making that suggestion via e-mail a couple of weeks ago. Feschuk responded that he passed the suggestion along to the webmasters. I suspect they'll announce such a hiring on 24 January.