Language Issues

(Originally published August 29, 2015 – and I forgot to ask about the sign the next year.)


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Canada is a bilingual nation, though in parts of the country that is more theory than fact. When I was younger both England and France were acknowledges as our founding nations, and English and French were our national languages.

Now it is more complicated, and it is commonly understood that Canada’s aboriginal population, the First Nations, shared in the creation of the country.

The United States has always been seen as more of a melting pot than multicultural Canada. Despite a sizable Hispanic population, Spanish does not enjoy the same legal protection that French does in Canada.

So I was both pleased and surprised to discover this sign at a visitor information both on US soil, just a mile from the border.

Pleased because it is nice to see an acknowledgement of the minority language. Confused because it was in Vermont, a northern American state that borders Canada, specifically predominantly French-speaking Quebec.

I would not have been surprised to have seen the sign in French. After waiting at US Customs to cross the border, this is the first place you can stop to use the washroom. I’m sure a good percentage of those visiting are Francophones. Having the sign in French would be a nice courtesy.

But Spanish? This is not Texas or California, states that border Mexico, where large numbers of Hispanics cross the border daily. Vermont does have a Hispanic population of course, a whopping 1.7% of the 626,885 people who live there, according to the 2013 census. The state is 95% white – there probably aren’t many with a smaller Hispanic population.

So having the sign in Spanish seemed silly to me. I’d suggest that maybe someone mistook Spanish for French, but in Vermont I am sure they know the difference.

Next year, if I remember and if we stop at that location on our way to the beach in Maine, I’ll ask someone. There must be a rational explanation, mustn’t there?

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