Wednesday, May 27, 2009

There's Rude, and Then There's the Wingnuts

sotomayor, krikorian, pronunciation, conservative, wingnut,
When I read Mark Krikorian's latest, my intial reaction was "seriously?" And then I thought, "no, really?" And then I thought, "um, wait, what?"

Most e-mailers were with me on the post on the pronunciation of Judge Sotomayor's name (and a couple griped about the whole Latina/Latino thing — English dropped gender in nouns, what, 1,000 years ago?). But a couple said we should just pronounce it the way the bearer of the name prefers, including one who pronounces her name "freed" even though it's spelled "fried," like fried rice. (I think Cathy Seipp of blessed memory did the reverse — "sipe" instead of "seep.") Deferring to people's own pronunciation of their names should obviously be our first inclination, but there ought to be limits. Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English (which is why the president stopped doing it after the first time at his press conference), unlike my correspondent's simple preference for a monophthong over a diphthong, and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn't be giving in to.

For instance, in Armenian, the emphasis is on the second syllable in my surname, just as in English, but it has three syllables, not four (the "ian" is one syllable) — but that's not how you'd say it in English (the "ian" means the same thing as in English — think Washingtonian or Jeffersonian). Likewise in Russian, you put the emphasis in my name on the final syllable and turn the "o" into a schwa, and they're free to do so because that's the way it works in their language. And should we put Asian surnames first in English just because that's the way they do it in Asia? When speaking of people in Asia, okay, but not people of Asian origin here, where Mao Tse-tung would properly have been changed to Tse-tung Mao. Likewise with the Mexican practice of including your mother's maiden name as your last name, after your father's surname.

This may seem like carping, but it's not. Part of our success in assimilation has been to leave whole areas of culture up to the individual, so that newcomers have whatever cuisine or religion or so on they want, limiting the demand for conformity to a smaller field than most other places would. But one of the areas where conformity is appropriate is how your new countrymen say your name, since that's not something the rest of us can just ignore, unlike what church you go to or what you eat for lunch. And there are basically two options — the newcomer adapts to us, or we adapt to him. And multiculturalism means there's a lot more of the latter going on than there should be.

Allow me to explain something to you, Mr. Krikorian, no matter how "unnatural" you find it to pronounce words correctly, not doing so makes you an ignorant idiot. (Correctly pronounced "idjit".) Not pronouncing a person's name correctly, after you have had your mispronunciation corrected, is rude. That's it, rude.

Your deliberate mispronunciation of Ms. Sotomayor's name makes you the rude one. The fact that you'd like her name to be pronounced some other way does not make Ms. Sotomayor the rude one.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the correct pronunciation of "Pakistan" is "pock-i-stahn", and the correct pronunciation of "Iran" is "Ee-rahn" and the correct pronunciation of "Krikorian" is "ignorant wingnut asshole". Was that so hard?


  1. LOL... this is very true, for example my friend in grade school's last name was Gauthier pronounced Go-tea-eh which is french, my Mother's maiden name is Gauthier pronounced Ga-th-ier... same name, different pronunciation... one is french the other is basterdized American ;p

    And that was the best I could come up with to make the pronunciation, sorry. Feel free to try and correct it if you can think of a better way :D

  2. I just bet he's one of those people who says "Eye-rack" and "Eye-ran".

  3. All right. On the one hand, I will say that when I studied in Paris, I expected to be called "Ah-Lee-Sun," emphasis on each syllable, with no one ever calling me "Ali," because they don't fly with the whole two-syllable name thing, apparently. And I didn't really mind. Of course, I want to *be* French, so I loved it. Moving on...

    Is this guy seriously trying to tell someone how to pronounce her own name? I mean, is he really? Has he not noticed that Spanish is incredibly prevalent in our country and that we, in fact, have no official language? Has he not noticed that immigrants and their languages have vastly informed myriad aspects of our national and regional speech? Is he, in short, living in a cardboard box?

    Oh wait, probably yes.

  4. Kerri, that reminds me of a restaurant in town. The name is Giacomo's, there are a lot of Italians in this old mining community, everyone pronounces it gia-co-moes. The family that runs it and their relatives spell their last name the same but pronounce it the proper Italian way jack-a-moe.

  5. You know he says Eye-ran and Eye-rack.

    We have a few Italian restaurants around here with names that people don't even try to pronounce, they just call it "the pizza shop" or "the italian restaurant" and then give the address.

    For the record "Buona" is pronounced Bwah-nah by the owner.

  6. I personally agree with something I saw someone post on another blog covering this same bit of bile:

    Krikorian, for the sake of simplicity, should just be pronounced "krak-HORE-ee-an." I think you can see where I'm going with that.

  7. I read this yesterday and was astounded that he actually expected it to be OK to pronounce a persons name however he wanted.
    These are the people slowing killing the English language.

  8. Actually my boyfriend has the same problem his name is Paulen and it's pronounced Paul-en but some people think it's french so they pronounce it poulan with the n almost silent. :)

  9. Teh Hubby's last name (no, I didn't change mine) gets regularly mangled, so I sympathize. I don't see anything wrong with mispronouncing someone's name the first time, it's continuing to mispronounce it after you've been corrected that's rude.

  10. i can't pronounce many, many names. there was this guy, a decade or so ago, sooooooo awsome... his name was Bertran. and i can't say it. i always ended up saying "bear-tron" which IS NOT RIGHT. so eventually (after may saying over and over "i'm so sorry, berrrtran? no?") he said to call him Bert
    i had a crush on the guy. sigh.

    but i TRIED. i can't say many many many things - anything Arabic-ish? i spell, now, because i mangle it. but i TRY. because, as you say, it's polite, and i find it hideously embarrasing when it happens.

  11. I can sympathize with you on that, I for the life of me can’t say fibromyalgia; the myalgia part gets stuck in my mouth for some reason :)

  12. i don't say "fibromyalgia" correctly - hell, half the time i can't *spell* it correctly - and i have heard many doctors say it different ways.

    we need easier words. for everything.


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