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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 2 page 10


Once the degree of interchangeability of the two languages is established, the major question becomes: what criteria should guide us in selecting words from the lexicon of one language rather than the other? One possible criterion is conciseness, judged either with regard to spelling or pronunciation. Thus, for example, poubelle ought to replace garbage can right away. And in the other direction, let the peppy English leap year replace the pedantic French année bissextile.

This notion of conciseness might also be applied in selecting from among names for the months, seasons, cardinal numbers, government departments, scientific and technological ideas, consumer products, and in general all the things that are exactly the same in the two cultures. Simply following the standard of spelling brevity, the days of the week would be: lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi, Friday, samedi, and Sunday. The points of the compass are also mostly from French: nord, sud, est, and west.

Of course it is equally important to catalog the many words whose applications do not quite correspond. A river is not necessarily a rivière. The mighty St. Laurent, wide, deep, flowing to the sea, is in French a fleuve, one of seven fleuves in Canada (namely, the St. Laurent, the Churchill, the St. Jean, the Nelson, the Mackenzie, the Columbia, and the Fraser).

One might expect the combination of English and French to produce a larger and more versatile vocabulary than either language taken on its own.

In certain cases, an arbitrary method of selection might be required. For example, the words "library" and librairie are used differently in the two languages. The English "library" generally refers to a book-lending or reference facility, while the French librairie is what in English is called a “bookstore”. Meanwhile, the French word for a public library is bibliothèque. By my lights, a fair compromise would be to use "bookstore" for the commercial outlets — so from now on Quebeckers would shop at le bookstore — whereas bibliotek would designate public collections. "Library" and/or librairie would be left over to serve as a general term signifying any assemblage of books whatsoever, public or private, for sale or not.

There are bound to be instances where historical or sentimental considerations influence the selection. Certainly professional linguists, and specialists from various fields including commerce and industry, will have reasons for supporting or opposing particular changes. An approximate balance of contributions from each language is probably a political necessity.

The best course would be to introduce this anglo-french hybrid in stages spanning maybe a couple generations. An official Académie would be required to oversee such a project, laying out timetables for changes in government and legal documents, commercial packaging and advertising, etc.