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globe editorial

Last week's linguistic cause célèbre surrounding the pronunciation of the name of a Montreal Canadiens hockey player is not exactly a scandal. No one is calling it Subbangate. But it is still instructive about the absurdities of Quebec's language-law regime.

The hockey player in question is P.K. Subban, the all-star defenceman known to everyone as "Pee-kay" – the English pronunciation of his initials. (The initials stand for Pernell Karl.) Even his French-speaking fans call him that, which is apparently a problem for one French-language rights group.

The Association pour le soutien et l'usage de la langue française (ASULF) wrote a letter to French-language sports commentators asking that they start pronouncing Mr. Subban's initials based on the French alphabet. In other words, Pee-kay becomes Pay-ka.

ASULF framed its request as constructive criticism. We'd call it a publicity stunt, something groups like ASULF pull when Quebec's language wars fall too quiet for their liking. It's a neat trick singling out Mr. Subban, too, because he is immensely popular in Montreal and any story involving him gets good play.

But, really? Mr. Subban's name is P.K. If it was Peter, would ASULF insist he be called Pierre?

And what are we getting at here, anyway? The mispronunciation of the French, English, Russian, Swedish, Czech and Finnish names of NHL hockey players is as Canadian as wheat. Commentators in both languages do their best to twist their tongues and pronounce the names respectfully, but in the end it's what the fans call their favourite players that really matters. If ASULF would like to send a representative to the Bell Centre to correct 18,000 fans yelling "Pee-kay! Pee-Kay!" at the top of their lungs, they should go for it. And then for its next trick, ASULF should stop winter from coming to Montreal, reverse the flow of the St. Lawrence and make the cross at the top of Mt. Royal levitate.

Mr. Subban inevitably had the best response. He said he didn't care one way or the other, but then he added a perfect little epitaph to this absurd affair. "Since we're changing the pronunciation of my name and stuff, just start calling me Denzel, why not?"

If Habs fans don't start yelling "Denzel! Denzel!" at home games, a grave injustice will have been committed.

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