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What’s in a name? Group wants P.K. pronounced ‘Pay-Kah’ during Habs games

UPDATE: Subban responded to questions about the story early Wednesday afternoon in Montreal, saying he thinks the French pronunciation “sounds sexy” and that as long as people are changing how they pronounce his name, he’d rather be called Denzel.

First it was the word “pasta” on a local restaurant’s menu in Montreal, then it was the size of the English lettering on a cupcake shop’s blackboard, and now it’s the given name of an NHL superstar that’s making language headlines in Quebec.

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A French-language rights group reportedly sent a letter to La Presse on Monday bemoaning the pronunciation of Montreal Canadiens superstar P.K. Subban’s first name by local French broadcasters. Rather than the usual “Pee-Kay,” the group says, it should be pronounced “Pay-Kah” en français.

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The Association pour le soutien et l’usage de la langue française (ASULF) is a small non-profit organization and not affiliated with the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), which is the government body charged with monitoring and enforcing the use of Quebec’s official language.

Reached by Global News on Wednesday, the organization’s leadership provided the complete statement, in French, from ASULF president Robert Auclair.

“Common usage means that the speaker in a given language pronounces foreign names based on the phonetics of that language in order to be understood,” Auclair explained.

As such, he said, English broadcasters commonly refer to Canadiens’ great Jean-Claude Tremblay as J. C. (“Jay-Cee”) Tremblay.

“Go ahead and use the French! Your Francophone audience will understand you. This suggestion is designed to be constructive, and not to teach a lesson, I should note.”

ASULF has also lobbied for “Après-Noël” to replace “Boxing Day” in common usage in the province, and for “tailgate” to become “rendez-vous d’avant-match.”

Comments in French posted on ASULF’s Facebook page on after the Subban story broke were less than supportive.

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“I would ask you to keep your ignorance and naivete to a bare minimum,” wrote one user identified as Andy Levesque. “If you want to control the French language in a radical way, do it among yourselves.”

Another user, Catherine Hudon, compared Subban’s situation to that of players from abroad, writing that “sports broadcasters should pronounce the names of foreign athletes with respect for their language and culture, just like news broadcasters do … A bit of education, effort and open-mindedness!”

The comments appeared to have been removed from the Facebook page by mid-day.

As of late Wednesday morning, Subban himself had not commented on the story. Instead, he posted a video to his Twitter feed calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to join him in a new online fundraising challenge using the hashtag #CanadaCarols.

Participants are being encouraged to record and share their version of Jingle Bells using the hashtag, and then to donate to the Children’s Miracle Network.

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