Language and the Habs

Imagine the reaction if the Leafs captain addressed his fans solely in French

Sports et politique

If only all our problems were so easily and quickly solved. Only a week ago, sovereignist Guy Bertrand complained that Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu had shown "contempt for our language" by speaking English only in a video played at the team's opening game at the Bell Centre.
Bertrand delivered his complaint at a public consultation of the Bouchard-Taylor commission on accommodations, which has become the place to go to make complaints about minorities.
Only two days later, the Canadiens played another version of the video, and this time Koivu uttered a few words in French. And yesterday, Bertrand self-importantly issued a 469-word statement declaring himself satisfied, the Finnish-born Koivu an asset to Quebec and "l'affaire Saku Koivu" closed.
This is not the first time Koivu or one of his predecessors as Canadiens captain has been publicly criticized for not speaking the language of the majority of the team's fans.
Last year, there was a brief controversy over whether Koivu should have learned to speak French after 10 seasons in Montreal.
And shortly before the 1995 sovereignty referendum, deputy premier Bernard Landry called it "an example of the threat of extinction of the French language in North America" when Canadiens captain Mike Keane told a reporter he saw no need to learn French.
Only in Quebec, you say. Just as only in Quebec is there a law regulating the language of commercial signs.
What language does a hockey puck understand, anyway? In the history of the game, has anyone ever talked the puck into the net?
You're right. Quebec is the only place the question of the language skills of the captain of the local professional hockey team would and do come up.
That's because, of the 30 teams in the National Hockey League, the Canadiens are the only one based in an area where the fans are not predominantly English-speaking.
As Keane noted 12 years ago, English is the language of the NHL, including on the ice and in the dressing room.
So it's unthinkable that any team, even the Canadiens, would have a captain who can't communicate with on-ice officials, his coaches or teammates in English.
And it's "natural" for those other 29 teams to have captains who can speak the language of the majority of their fans, just as it's "natural" for English to predominate on commercial signs there, without any need for a law requiring it.
But with the decline in the number of French-speaking NHL players with the stature to be team captains, it's not surprising that the Canadiens should have a captain such as Koivu who is not comfortable speaking French in public.
Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois, who leaped on Bertrand's complaint to suggest that the Canadiens might require that their players learn French, should be sympathetic to Koivu. She, too, feels self-conscious about speaking English in public, and sometimes refrains from doing so.
Anyway, the Canadiens have no means of compelling or inciting a player to learn French. For example, the collective agreement between the NHL and its players would forbid the team to offer Koivu a bonus as an incentive for him to improve his French.
And aside from a few vocal sports commentators, there's not much pressure on the Canadiens to have more players with whom fans can supposedly identify. Despite the decline in the number of prominent French-speaking players on the team, the Canadiens continue to set records for home attendance and ratings for the French-language broadcasts of their games.
Even Koivu's defenders say it would be preferable if he spoke French in public, and concede that the Canadiens organization was boneheaded to have its captain speak in English only to the home crowd.
But try to imagine the reaction of the crowd in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver or even supposedly bilingual Ottawa, if the local NHL team played a video in which its captain spoke in French only. It wouldn't be pretty.

Laissez un commentaire

Aucun commentaire trouvé