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Guilt By Pronunciation

Shortly after reading a meditation by Damon Linker on conservative intellectuals that suggested, among other things, that National Review has recently been sinking into populist demagoguery, I happened upon (via David Kurtz) this gem from Mark Krikorian at National Review Online's The Corner:

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....

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.

Lord-a-mercy. Is there anything connected with the Age of Obama that does not denote the collapse of Western Civilization for people like Krikorian?

If Krikorian is offended by the prounciation of the judge's surname as her parents gave it to her (not in some foreign land, but in the Bronx), he'd probably be genuinely outraged by the pronunciation of the name of her father, Juan, which Latino (the word itself being offensive, says Krikorian, because English dropped gender in nouns a thousand years ago) multiculturalists insist upon. What's wrong with "John?"

I do hope Krikorian will show some consistency by insisting that we all begin pronouncing the name of Justice Antonin Scalia in the most natural way for English-speakers, which would be "SCALE-ya" (and what's wrong with "Anthony?")

I'm reminded of a friend of mine back in the 1980s who insisted on pronouncing the last name of the 40th president of the United States as "REE-gun," as a sort of permanent insult. At least he thought he was being funny. I doubt that's Krikorian's motive, given his general commitment to the cause of resisting immigration. More likely, despite his highfalutin language, he's interested in stimulating some Heartland resentment towards these godless foreigners who come in and expect us to kowtow to their strange and unnatural ways. So what if Sonia Sotomayor, a native-born American, rose from poverty and childhood illness to excel at those great Anglo-American institutions of Princeton and Yale, before ascending steadily through that most traditionalist institution, the judiciary? So long as she doesn't encourage us to mangle the pronunciation of her own name, she's just another multiculturalist determined to drown America in an immigrant tide.

Populist demagoguery, indeed.

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Isn't it ironic that the source of this silliness is named Krikorian (KRIK-o-REE-an?)

It's weird, this platonic notion of how much adaptation of the larger society to the individual there "ought to be." Where do we locate and quantify this perfect quantity of native pronunciation of the word "Sotomayor"? I actually pronounced it properly from the beginning, for an odd reason: I'm familiar with the Spanish for the original city center of Aztec Tenochtitlan: The Plaza Mayor. I'd heard it on the Discovery Channel or someplace, and that's how I knew to put the accent on the last syllable. Was I too well informed? Did I compromise the perfect amount of imperfect pronunciation God Almighty decreed at the time of the dispersion of Babel should characterize a people with respect to another people's surnames? I do think there are pretentious people who overpronounce foreign names, and I don't think we have to beat up on everybody who mispronounces them. I absolutely refuse to pronounce the name Carlos "Carlowsh" -- no matter how much the American girlfriend of Carlos insisted I do so. But how much trouble is it, once you've been told to say "SotomayOR" to do so? My mother could easily have mastered it, and she'd never have made it in the diplomatic service. What burr is up NR's ass? If there's anything Anglos can gain from the growing presence of Latinos in America (and sorry, Lou Dobbs, I think there's a lot) it's the opportunity to get a sense of how words like "Toledo," "Cervantes," "Escorial," "Quixote," "Garcia Lorca," etc. (all of which are part of the language of educated English-speaking people) should be pronounced. Knowledge is power, I thought. Well, maybe not if you're a conservative.

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