A Cautious Man
May 27, 2009
I Like To Be In America
Immigrant goes to America,
Many hellos in America;
Nobody knows in America
Puerto Rico's in America!
- "America", from West Side Story, Music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Some right-wing clown named Mark Krikorian warns that once we have to pronounce people's names correctly, anarchy will follow.
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 ...
He then proceeds to explain how he is such a wimp that he happily lets people mispronounce his own name -
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.
It's all for a higher purpose, however - nothing less than preservation of American culture -
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.
We're not talking about throwing widows on their husbands' burning funeral pyres, we're talking about how people say their own name!!!! It's almost as if there is a deep-seated conservative need to use schoolyard taunts as a way to assert themselves, whether it's deliberately mispronouncing someone's name (especially if that name is Hispanic) or referring to the "Democrat Party".
Something tells me that when Mr. Krikorian and his fellow-travelers think about Judge Sotomayor, this is what they see in their minds -