Rex Murphy shares what he thinks of the language issue in Quebec.
Read a transcript of this Rex Murphy episode.
There's an Italian fly in the Quebec language soup. The great sage Mordecai Richler wrote, answering a question from a friend in Los Angeles that Yes….. 15,000 doughnuts had been held up at Montreal Airport because they weren't "bilingual" enough. The still-missed and always-wonderful Mordecai would no doubt be edified to learn that years after his brilliant mockery of Quebec's "tongue-troopers", the silliness has not declined. In fact it's evolved. From unilingual doughnuts to pasta. This is real. Buonanotte, a long-established Italian restaurant has been cited for using "Italian" on its Italian menu. You know - offensive, exotic, really foreign French-dominating Italian words like pasta, spaghetti, bolognese. Even - Italian cooks are such pedants - using the Italian word for "bottle" - when listing Italian wine - by the bottle. Consider this: Is it possible for a human being - equipped with an understanding arguably superior to that of a illiterate untraveled turnip - to go into an Italian Restaurant, to order and enjoy Italian food and Italian wine, served by Italian waiters, and complain officially that the word "pasta" is on the menu? The restaurant was facing having to take these Italian marinated terms - pasta, spaghetti - off their provocative menu. There was a review of the point. The very fact that there is a statutory body, paid by public money, whose members are not rolling around the floor throwing up from unstoppable laughter at the very idea of even "reviewing" whether pasta is proper, is in itself a milestone in the lunacy of linguistic puritanism. Well today, after much deliberation and more mockery, "pasta" on Italian menus is no longer under threat in Montreal. How strange it is. French - much like English - had a whole trawl net full of Latinate terms - words entirely based on their early Roman-Italian sources . French would be half the language it is without early Italian-Latin. It is not the best argument for Quebec's sophistication, its quite noticeable skills in the arts of good living, that some of its more zealous citizens are making them look provincial to the rest of the world. Richler would have seen this as another illustration of the bottomless folly of trying to police people in how they like to live, eat, sleep and talk, of bullying for the "higher cause." To borrow an idiom, it's very hard to swallow, that an Italian restaurant was under legal scrutiny for having pasta on its menu. And that there are any people in a sophisticated province, who even in the delirium of political correctness, believe this should be the case. Next week, I plan to ask the question: Chinese won ton soup - appetizer or linguistic time bomb? Tune in. For The National, I'm Rex Murphy