Thursday, April 14, 2011

With or Without U

For those of you who haven't noticed, I'm a Canadian gal.  (I was told once that I didn't LOOK Canadian, so I thought I should clarify this.)  I am proud of the fact that I was born and raised in Canada, and I am happy to live in our polite, multicultural, albeit wintry, nation.

But, being a Canadian who travels to and sends written articles to the US, and teaches visiting American students, I am beginning to feel very conflicted.  Not about political differences or economic issues.  No, I am conflicted about the letter U.

You see, even though Canada and the US are joined at the hip geographically, economically, and culturally, there are some subtle, yet oddly profound differences in our languages. And herein lies my struggle.

These differences are as a result of the fact that Canada remained an outpost of the British Empire for much longer than the US did.  Our language and spelling are still influenced by the Queen's English.  There are a lot of little ways this shows itself in my everyday life, but as someone who is sharing fairly specialised information across the border, it is beginning to stress me out.

One big one:  Americans say "zee", Canadians say "zed".  This causes me no end of stress when I am teaching in the US.  I speak casually of inserting zed twist into your yarns, and I am met with blank looks.  Not every time, but often enough to make me feel self-conscious.  So I try very hard to say zee, or translate after I have said zed.  It feels awkward, or rather, I feel awkward.  Especially when someone very kindly informs me that it is okay to say zed, because they know Canadians talk funny.

Then there is "re" versus "er", most notoriously, in my life anyway, in fibre.  Or fiber.  Spellcheck will not acknowledge "fibre", no matter how many times I reset the freakin' preferences.  That little red ziggy line appears every time.  When I typed in a Google search for a fibre source,  I used to get "Did you mean fiber?" (They have fixed that, but it used to bug me.  A lot.)  And the same thing happens when I type theatre, and centre.  I know a lot of people who have given up on "re" and just joined the "er" crowd.  I'm just not ready to go there yet.

But I'm really ready to say goodbye to the superfluous U.  It lurks in words like colour and honour and splendour.  It takes a whole extra keystroke to create, and it makes words look...old-fashioned.  There is a certain visual symmetry to letter-o-letter-o-letter that I prefer.  I'm done with that U, and I merrily type away, ignoring it's existence (and overriding my English (Canadian) Spellcheck setting).  And here lies the crux of my dilemma.

As a linguistically patriotic Canadian, who will not surrender her "re" words, who thinks turning "light" into "lite" is sheer laziness, who says "zed" with pride, how can I justify excluding the Canadian U?  This somehow feels like a betrayal of the language I was raised speaking, or at least writing.   I am often corrected by Canadian editors or web designers when I spell color "wrong".  I am so torn.  But I think that U is a pain in the a**.

Now, I have nothing against U as a general principle.  Without U, a lot of words would become ridiculous.  Who has ever heard of a nicorn, or a nicyle.  And a lot of words would change radically without it.  Our would become or, making possession very ambiguous: our house would become or house.  In fact, without U, it would become or hose.  Totally different.  But color is still a word describing a hue (or a he, without U), just like colour.  An honor is still high praise, even without the U.  There are some places I just don't like seeing that U, places where it just seems unnecessary.

So, as I prepare handouts for SOAR, as I blog, I struggle.  Do I stay consistent with my "pure" Canadian spellings and put that stupid U in there?  Or do I compromise all of my other Canadianisms by leaving it out and spelling the words the way I like them.  Or do I throw caution to the wind and mix and match as I please?  The last is what I want to do, but it smacks of a descent into chaos.  Without consistency, language loses its meaning.

U no wut I mean?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Protest to Party

Outcry to celebration.

When people come together in peaceful protest, sometimes good things happen.  One of those good things happened today.

I wrote earlier this week about the cuts to music programs at Keyano College, and about the planned protest this afternoon.  A group of students who were about to lose their classes and a group of people who care about the Arts and Arts education came together and there

There were strings...

...and brass...

...and spontaneous jamming.

There were signs...

...and more signs.

And the best part?  The College issued a press release stating that due to the public reaction to their decision, the Board of Governors would be reviewing the situation and seeing what can be done to save the programs in question.  And then they threw in free hot dogs, cookies and hot chocolate for the protesters.

We left after about an hour.  It was getting chilly.  But the young musicians headed to the street corner in front of the college and held a bit of a party.  They waved at passing vehicles, and played music and danced.

A week ago, we were a community about to lose its music.  Tonight, I have hope.  These kids are going to rock our world!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Please Don't Stop the Music

Another rant, no fibre content at all.  But if  I do not speak out for my fellow artists, who will?

The local Institution for Higher Learning, also known as Keyano College, announced their new operating budget on Thursday of last week (March 31).  This spanky new budget included some new programs, such as a Wildlife Management Diploma, a Community Wellness and Addictions Diploma, and Pre-Employment Carpentry.  All wonderful new educational opportunities.  BUT...

...they also announced that due to a freeze in Provincial funding, they would be "suspending" their full Music Diploma Program and their Music Instrument Repair Program.  The four full-time faculty members of these two programs were laid off.  There were no other program cuts, and only three others laid off in the entire institution--all of them support staff.

Now, this is a problem for me for several reasons.  First of all, it's always the Arts programs to go when the money gets tight.  This time it was music, but the last time the budget was bad at this particular institution, it was the Visual Art Program that got nailed.  The Arts are always considered "fluff" by educational institutions, usually due to low enrollments.  Yes, I realize that the demand for advanced training in music in Fort McMurray is not as high as the demand for truck-driving certification, but a balanced education, and a balanced school, should have room for both.

And I would like to point out that the funding for this program was not cut by the Province.  It was simply deemed to be needed elsewhere by the College.  The money  that had formerly taught local young people to play and repair musical instruments is now going...somewhere else.

So you may be thinking, "No great loss--those kids have other opportunities to learn music.",  and you are right.  But this will mean travelling away from home, finding living accommodations and attending institutions that cost the family far more, both financially and emotionally.  Not everyone is ready to leave home for university at 17, and not everyone can afford to.  Now they have no choice.  And once those kids leave, very few of them come back.  We are sending our next generation of local musicians and teachers away to other communities, leaving no young minds to come and keep us old fogies from getting mired in the way things have always been done.   Or just retiring.  Or dying out.  The youth of a community is its future, and we are sending our youth away to centres that still offer opportunities for them to explore their talents.

My second reason for standing up to speak is this: the Music Instrument Repair Program is unique.  It is the only program of it's kind in Canada, and is regarded world-wide as one of the finest.  There is one other program like it in North America.  In Iowa.  That's it.  Students have come from Japan, Germany, and Australia to attend this program, and are now making the world sound much better by keeping those instruments in tip-top condition.  When someone last flung statistics at me, this program had a 94% graduate employment rate.  There was a demand for this program.

However, Keyano College in its wisdom, points out that completion of a training program is not a requirement to work in the musical instrument repair field, therefore training technicians in these skills is not necessary.  This reasoning leaves me speechless, especially since I work for a program that grants a college diploma that has absolutely NO useful application when it comes to being employable in ANY field (except, maybe, teaching for the Master Spinner Program).  A program, I might add, that has had incredible support from Olds College, and continues to have it in spite of the fact that Olds College did not get any funding increases from the Province either.

It seems to me that at one time, there was no need to be formally educated in education to become a teacher, either, but that demand for more skilled and trained teachers meant that teacher training had to be developed.  And education became more standardized, more reliable, and more accessible.  The same applies to nurses, to welders, and even to truck drivers (all of whom are trained at Keyano).  It seems very short sighted of Keyano to say that offering a standard training to instrument repair technicians is pointless.  And shouldn't we take the approach that no education should be considered a waste, especially if we ARE educators?

My last reason for speaking out now is that people I know have been thrown out of jobs.  I do have a bias here.  My friends have been hurt.  People who have brought music and joy and friendship into my life have been impacted, as have their families.  There is nowhere else in town for these people to find work in their fields, so they will be leaving, along with those young people who would have been their students.  This means, among other things, that Fort McMurray will be losing a hell of a jazz combo.  Not to mention the volunteer hours these people have put in with the Community Band and Choir, local high school students, and other community commitments.  Four vital, active members of a pretty small and close-knit Arts community are packing up to leave us. 

There is hope, though.  A group of effected students and supporters of the Arts are rallying at Keyano on Thursday to show their support for music in our community.  The details are here on Facebook, or you can tune into 103.7 Mix FM for information.  And if you can't come out and sing along with us, you can call or email the college to let them know how you feel. 

If we do not support our local artists, pretty soon our communities will become very bland, quiet, and soulless places to live.  And who wants to live in a place like that?