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OpEd: Sun News reporter steps in la merde over French pronunciations

It's not satire - Canadians have reacted bitterly to a piece bashing the CBC for pronouncing French names correctly.
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Karen Green, February 12, 2014 3:00:55 PM

Sun News correspondent, Brian Lilley has apologized for remarks he made on Monday’s Byline segment, where he ridicules the CBC for having the gall to pronounce the names of some of our French athletes … in French.

During the video broadcast, which has since been removed and replaced with the apology video, Lilley hurtles such accusations as, “Broadcasters in this country think that they have to go all native and speak a foreign language just because they’re pronouncing somebody’s name.”

The source of the outrage was Wendy Mesley’s perfect French pronunciation of the names of our medal-winning athletes, including Charles Hamelin, Alexandre Bilodeau, and Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe.

It would be offensive if it weren’t so funny.

In the video, Lilley objects to Mesley’s “ridiculous” accuracy, and includes back-up testimony from so-called linguistics expert, Harley Sims. Sims believes that all of this proper pronunciation is incredibly irritating because, “this is not how people speak.” One would have to question exactly whom Sims is referring to, since it is logical to assume that this is exactly how Francophone people, bilingual people, and people who care enough to make an effort properly pronouncing somebody’s name, speak. One would also have to question how Sims, whose CV speaks more of his knowledge of medieval literature than his familiarity with the spoken word, has the authority to comment on the ethical or academic propriety of respecting a world-class athlete enough to pronounce her name correctly.

Often referred to as Fox News North, it’s not surprising for Sun News, and Lilley himself, to manufacture scandal where there is none, and to go after the CBC for any infraction, whether imagined or real. But this time a line was crossed, and even Sun News and Lilley himself, had to quickly acknowledge it.

Perhaps it was because the outrage was not just about the xenophobic, anti-Francophone undertones in Lilley’s editorializing, nor was it about grasping at any opportunity to indulge in a little CBC-bashing – if it were truly either of those things, it’s doubtful that any retraction would have been offered.

But this was about the athletes. This was about the most base politicization that could have been conjured, using our athletes as foils. This was about taking our Canadian pride, our Canadian unity – a unity that is often fragmented – and reducing what should have been a great moment on the national stage to the most petty,  divisive, and unimportant issue one could imagine.

Our athletes deserve better than that; Canadians deserve better than that.

At least, in his apology, Lilley acknowledges that his “light-hearted fun” might have been taken the wrong way, and that he didn’t mean offense.

“The focus,” he says, “should be on the athletes.”


Above: Sun News TV’s Byline host Brian Lilley (left) and guest commentator Harley Sims.
Image: Sun News

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