Thursday, 4 February 2016

Cause Célèbre, or just one more petty case of mean Québec bashing?

On 21 December 2015 Toronto’s Globe and Mail published an editorial that is ultimately another example of Quebec bashing, be it soft bashing in this case. It ridiculed the proposal made by a French language defence group, ASULF, to pronounce à la française initials used in proper nouns, asking for instance the initials in P.K. Subban’s name to be pronounced Pay Ka, not Pee Kay.

Here are some passages of this editorial followed by the reply made by ASULF founder and former president. This reply has still not been published by the sheet that prides itself as being Canada’s national daily newspaper.

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 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.

*   *   *

The Editor
The Globe and Mail
444 Front St. West
Toronto,  ON    M5V 2S9
Re : Pay Ka and Pee Kay SUBBAN
Dear Sir:

A friend of mine sent to me a few days ago your editorial dated December 20th, 2015 concerning P.K. Subban. So, I am a little bit late to send my comments on your article. Nevertheless, I think it worthwhile writing now.

What a surprise! A great Canadian newspaper of Toronto (imitating The Montreal Gazette?) is asking the question : “P.K. Subban: Is that Pee-kay? Pay-Ka? Pfft.” How comes such a question? Everybody who speaks English says Pee-Kay. There is no reason at all to question this usual pronunciation in English.

To have an answer, we must read your article. We discover, after a few lines, that it is an ordinary invitation, made by the ASULF to the French-speaking population, to pronounce in French the abbreviation (two letters of the alphabet) of the first names Pernell Karl, when they speak that language. Curiously, this invitation addressed to the French-speaking community has become a subject of scandal and mockery in some English medias with an aggressive tone against the nationalists in Québec.

Frankly, we cannot conceive that you blame our association for having invited the French community to pronounce the letters of their own alphabet according to the common practice in French. Are you going to tell us how to speak French? It would be the height of absurdity. Is there a hidden motive to explain such aggressiveness? Moreover, did you really think that your readership was interested by such a subject?

I hope that you would have never written such a caustic editorial and ridiculed our group in a great newspaper like yours, had you been well-informed about the objective of our association founded 30 years ago, its means of action and the nature of its suggestion concerning the initials of Mr. Subban. I would bet that your Montreal correspondent had never seen or heard the word ASULF before. Here are some pertinent facts for your information.

First of all, our association is the only one whose sole objective is the promotion of a French language of quality. It has nothing to do with the defense of the legal status of that language. Some other groups do that. If you read the enclosed leaflet, you will see that this fact was recognized by the Conseil supérieur de la langue française. Moreover, if you cast a look on our main interventions in the past, you will see that they have absolutely nothing to do with the English language or the English-speaking people. They concern the quality of the French language spoken or written in our community, period. So, our recent suggestion is not “instructive about the absurdities of Québec’s language-law regime”, as you write.

I also point out that Asulf is not “one French-language rights group” as you write, because our association deals with quality (linguistics) and not rights (politics). Is it clear? So, our message was not “a publicity stunt”, as you write, but a “constructive criticism”.

At the beginning of our association in 1986, there were still few people in some parts of Canada arguing that the Quebecois did not speak pure French, but something close to a dialect. It was a poor excuse for them not to learn our uninteresting idiom. The objective of our association was then very pertinent. You agree?

Even if it means repeating myself, I invite you to remember the difference between the pronunciation of a name and the pronunciation of the abbreviation of that name represented by a letter of the alphabet. When we criticize the pronunciation of Pee and Kay in French, we are aiming at two letters of the alphabet and not the names behind these letters. According to our point of view, Mr. Subban having not been informed correctly by the English-speaking medias, we wrote to him on that question. A copy of that letter is enclosed, it could help you.

You wonder on what would be the answer of Asulf if Subban was named Peter. Would it be Pierre? Not at all. You are asking that question after having written that “Mr. Subban’s name is P.K.” What a confusion! P.K. is not a name, it is the abbreviation of two first names. Now, to answer your question, we would say logically Peter like we say Pernell, but we would pronounce, in French, Pay for the letter P. in both cases. It’s so simple!

While ending this letter, I am thinking a moment to the leader of the Opposition in Québec, Pierre Karl Péladeau. If you call him Pee-Kay, I won’t tell you what to say.

                Yours truly,

RA/ac                Robert AUCLAIR 
c.c.   Letter to Mr. Subban 
        Leaflet Asulf

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