Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A worthwhile Canadian initiative

(with apologies to the always-excellent Worthwhile Canadian Initiative for appropriating their name).

 Naturally, I watched the Canada-New Zealand game in the Rugby World Cup on Sunday. Such was the mismatch that the outcome was known before the match started, so the biggest point of interest for me was which version of the Canadian national anthem would they sing—the version that starts in French and finishes in English, or the other way round. As it turned out, I was shocked, shocked to not to mention appalled to see that while the New Zealand national anthem was, as is now the norm, sung twice, once in each official language, O Canada was sung only in English.

O.K. so I’m not really worked up. If I had my druthers, the New Zealand national anthem would only ever be sung in Maori and the Canadian only in French, but that is because the words to one’s countries’ national anthems are far less embarrassing when sung in a language that is not your mother tongue. And I have to say that the arrangement of the O Canada that was performed at Sunday's game was the best I have ever herad.

But I did find the contrast interesting. Both countries are officially bilingual, reflecting a bilingual reality in Canada while serving a more symbolic (albeit important) role in New Zealand. But even in sporting events in Canada, the Canadian anthem is only ever sung once. Typically, in matches played in Québec they start off in French and switch to English halfway through, and do the reverse in the rest of Canada.

Let’s face it: to the extent that these pre-game rituals matter for stirring nationalistic passions, most New Zealanders would rather we skipped the anthem and went straight to the haka, so can’t we follow the Canadian example and do the anthem only once, starting off in Maori, and switching to English halfway through. It would make no linguistic sense, since the Maori version is not a translation of the English, but that is true of the two versions of O Canada as well. (“Your forehead is wreathed with glorious flowers”, just doesn’t work in English!)

As an alternative, we could adopt a different Canadian initiative and do what was done in the inaugural performance of O Canada as the official anthem of Canada in 1980—sing both versions simultaneously, so as not to appear to be favouring one language over the other.


  1. Most people can only mumble (at best) the Maori version. Maybe we should go for a NZ Sign Language version; it would be really cool, increase physical activity and reduce embarrassment.

  2. @Luis
    This guy could do the signing.

  3. @Luis: Excellent idea. Perhaps we can start a movement to have all anthems at sporting events done by signing with no sound. I would miss hearing the French and Welsh anthems, but on balance it would be a plus.