Home News Language police scrutinized over “pastagate”

Language police scrutinized over “pastagate”

by Robin Della Corte February 26, 2013
Language police scrutinized over “pastagate”

Image via Flickr

The Office québécois de la langue française told a Montreal restaurant owner last week that the word “pasta” had to be translated on its menu, but have sinced reversed the decision.

After backlash from the public over the controversy, the OQLF issued a statement saying that the inspector who went to Buonanotte, the restaurant in question, had displayed “an excess of zeal” and that “pasta” is an acceptable word after all.

On Feb. 20, the OQLF visited Italian restaurant Buonanotte on St. Laurent Blvd., and declared that having the word “pasta” on the menu without the correct French translation was a violation of Quebec’s Language Charter. Most of the items on their menu have names in Italian, like “pasta,” but the descriptions are in French.

“They could’ve picked any word, of all the words, they pick ‘pasta’, which touched a sensitive core,” said Massimo Lecas, the owner of Buonanotte. “And the fact they didn’t circle pizza, it heightens it to another level where it was absurd because why would you circle one but not the other.”

The letter Lecas received from the OQLF also took issue with the words “bottiglia” and “calamari” on the menu without providing French equivalents. The story quickly gained international attention, triggering an unprecedented amount of backlash against the OQLF.

However, after an evaluation of the situation in recent days, the OQLF declared that the use of “exotic” names for foods, like “pasta” or “polpette” can be used by food establishments without fear.

“I still haven’t been reached by the OQLF,” Lecas told The Concordian Monday. “I only know of my so-called “victory” from media coverage. Have they called me or told me personally or apologized? No,” Lecas said.

However, a file opened by the OQLF states that Lecas has until March 18 to contact the organization to find a solution.

“Up to date, my file is still open, nothing has been closed,” he added. “Maybe it’s a strategy, I don’t know.”

Media relations officer of the OQLF, Martin Bergeron, said that the OQLF will be releasing a press release shortly but for now, he is unable to release any information concerning the situation before then.

Others speak out

Montreal restaurant Joe Beef also had a visit from the language police who reportedly had problems with the restaurant’s wall art which contains English words. One piece is a sign from a Prince Edward Island beach saying “exit” and an antique sign above the staff bathroom saying “please leave this gate closed.” Restaurant owner David McMillan decided to keep his art up, except for the bathroom sign which he decided to take home.

McMillan was contacted four or five months ago but only decided to come forward after hearing what happened at Buonanotte.

Brit & Chips on Côte-des-Neiges Road also had a visit from the OQLF, demanding that the sign in their front window reading “fish and chips” be translated to “poisson frit et frites.” However, restaurant owner Toby Lyle challenged the OQLF, adamantly refusing to change the sign.

“Word travels fast,” Lecas said. “None of these stories made Quebec look good, and always wonder why Montreal doesn’t have the same shops like in New York or anyone else, and it’s because of things like this.”

In an effort to protect the French language, the provincial government provided the OQLF with a six per cent budget increase this year, to $24.7 million.

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