Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dion: working with a speech pathologist; the little engine that ____ ?

The leader's em-PHA-sis problem
Dion is working with a speech pathologist

A recent Angus Reid survey confirmed what many anglophones already knew about St├ęphane Dion: the Liberal leader doesn't always get his message across when he's speaking English. Only 56 per cent of anglophone respondents rated Dion's English as either "good" or "very good," while 42 per cent said it was downright poor. That puts him at a considerable disadvantage to Stephen Harper when it comes to second languages -- the Prime Minister gets a passing grade on his French from an overwhelming 81 per cent of francophone respondents.

Dion has readily acknowledged he has a hard time figuring out which syllables to emphasize when he speaks, and is working with a speech pathologist to correct the problem. In the meantime, his handlers have taken to capitalizing those syllables on his teleprompters when he delivers a speech.

Fred Genesee, a psychology professor at McGill University who specializes in bilingualism, may have an easier solution: simplifying Dion's often convoluted messages. "The more complex the message, the more complex the vocabulary and the grammar," says Genesee. "It then becomes hard to control the intonations because you're busy trying to find your words and construct your sentences."

Dion can at least take comfort in another of the survey's findings: although anglophones may not like his command of his second langauge, they're a lot less likely than francophones to make an issue of it. While 73 per cent of native French-speakers said it was very important for the PM to speak their language fluently, only 57 per cent of anglophones felt the same way. Still, Genesee thinks that the overall harsh assessment of Dion's bilingualism may be hiding a deeper animosity. "It's not just his English that they're judging," he says. "They're judging him."