Thursday, October 9, 2008

On Pronunciation: A Prelude

Some day I am going to write a thesis on a certain sort of Americans' strange fixation with over-pronouncing foreign words. Today, someone took offense to Ramesh Ponnuru's Pakistan-pronunciation drinking game from the debate:
The only thing worse than being a moron is celebrating your moron-ness. I can't believe you would actually attack Obama for pronouncing words correctly.
I love the layers of assumptions packed into this statement: that the hifalutin' international media pronunciation is correct; that of course Obama would be the one pronouncing it correctly; and finally that this guy would know better than someone named Ramesh Ponnuru how to pronounce words of South Asian origin. Also: "moron-ness"? Huh?

I can say this with the authority of someone who's spent several years now studying Near Eastern languages: you're not going to get it right, so stop trying. Of course, the stress patterns of Arabic being rather counter-intuitive to a native English speaker, the hifalutin' international media pronunciation is as often as not further from the original language than the way us ign'int yokels say them. Not that they really care, since it's more about differentiating themselves from the ign'int yokels than it is about fidelity to the original language.

In the meantime, I'm going to demand that European newspeople pronounce the name of my country correctly: the word is 'Murreka. Just like Toby Keith says it.

10 comments:

Jungle Mom said...

One of the things that tics me off is when the media elites pronounce Chavez as 'Shavez', with a French 'ch' and the accent on the accent on the second syllable.
It's not French, it's SPANISH!
But then I also hate it when most Americans say "Hugo" with a hard 'H" when it is a soft one.
( My linguistic roots are showing!)

elephantschild said...

I do believe the correct term would be "moronic-ness," no?

this guy would know better than someone named Ramesh Ponnuru

Ha, ha.

-your sister, formerly of M'walkee.

Evan said...

You know, when I was out in CA, there was a car on base with IL license plates that read simply: SHKAGO. None of my non-midwestern friends got it.

Shane said...

Reminds me of this Russell Peters bit on Spanish pronunciation (it starts around the 1:45 mark, and the part I'm talking about is around the 3:00 mark.)

I'm somewhere around the middle on this one - I pronounce most Spanish proper nouns as close to the Spanish pronunciation as possible while still sounding at least somewhat like English. Mainly I get irritated when people get the syllable emphasis wrong.

And in Chinese I don't bother with the "proper" pronunciations of Shanghai, and really any names with "ang" in them. Like Chang, Wang, etc. But I still kinda try to pronounce Szechuan like sss-chwon. Really, it's a case by case basis for me - I guess you won't ever see me strain to pronounce something unless it's at least working TOWARDS the native language.

Though, I do get made fun of in my platoon for pronouncing it "ee-rock" and "ee-ron."

Evan said...

See, Shane, that's the trap you fall into. Once you start trying, there's no end to the madness, and no hope of having any sort of consistency about it. Incidentally, the most "accurate" comfortable pronunciation of Iraq is simply "a rock". Personally, despite having a solid command of Iraqi dialect, I still say "eye-rack" when speaking English.

The Nordlinger piece that Ponnuru links really puts it all together.

Evan said...

On that note, I heard a completely unsubstantiated rumor from somewhere that the new government has been considering changing the English spelling to Araq, both to assist the pronunciation issue, and as a break with the past.

elephantschild said...

Araq = /AY-rack/

They'd have to change it to Arock to get it pronounced like you suggest, and even then, the media would be sure to mess with the syllable emphasis.

Jungle Mom said...

What other languages do you speak?

elephantschild said...

He'd tell you, but then he'd have to K!LL you! bwahahahahah!

Jungle Mom said...

Hmmmm...
Well, I have been accused of being CIA before, so, maybe you can tell me?????