Not lost in translation

As the nation’s capital, Ottawa is a very cosmopolitan city. We have a large diversity of cultures from around the world. It is not surprising that many wedding ceremonies include various languages to honour the couple’s heritage.

Canada has two official languages; English and French. I perform many weddings in a bilingual format. Rarely, however, do I conduct the wedding in a complete translation. This would double the time of a ceremony and would be tedious for everyone. It would take my normal 25 minute ceremony to 5o minutes! More usual, I’ll discuss with the couple which portions they would like in one language or the other. The result is that the ceremony is either predominantly English or French with the alternate language sprinkled throughout in the welcome, a reading, vows and declaration. This provides a good balance while honouring the couple’s cultural heritage.

I have welcomed folks in many languages including Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Serbian, Chinese, Italian, and German. If appropriate the couple can add some readings or blessings in the ceremony in any language. This adds something special to the ceremony. Inviting one of the parents, grandparents or other relatives can be very touching. Even if you can’t understand what is being said, you can feel the emotion and the intent.

In one wedding, the couple had invited the groom’s father to say a few words. He proceeded to deliver a very moving speech to the couple, in Portuguese. I couple glean a little of what was being said because I understood some Portuguese. It was something about how please and proud he was in welcoming the bride into the family and adopting her as his daughter. The whole groom’s delegation and the groom were crying. I looked at the bride and her side who seemed a bit lost. The speech was very passionate and moving – and that was not lost on the guests.

Another wedding had the groom’s grandfather bless the couple in Farsi. I had suggested that since many guests did not speak Farsi that someone could translate. There was an uncle beside the grandfather who was ready to perform that function. The grandfather spoke for about three minutes. I could not understand what he said, but I could discern the sincerity in his words. I was looking forward to hearing the words of wisdom through the uncle. At the end of the speech, the uncle said in English, “He welcomes you to the family and wishes you a prosperous life together.” I thanked the grandfather for his kind words and moved on to declaring the happy couple married.