Monday, January 31, 2011

"Assimilated" Pronunciation?

The readings for Week 2 look at folk and scholarly conceptions of "language" and "culture". The debate surrounding the pronunciation of Sonia Sotomayor's surname is an example of some of these conceptions. Mark Krikorian, a conservative commentator for the National Review, posed the following question in a post titled "Assimilated Pronunciation":

"So, are we supposed to use the Spanish pronunciation, so-toe-my-OR, or the natural English pronunciation, SO-tuh-my-er, like Niedermeyer? The president pronounced it both ways, first in Spanish, then after several uses, lapsing into English."

In a subsequent post, titled "It Sticks in My Craw," Krikorian elaborated on his initial statement regarding the pronunciation of "Sotomayor":

"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."


"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."


"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."

Andrew Leonard posted the following response to Krikorian on, a liberal online magazine:

"Who is playing identity politics now? Mark Krikorian, writing at the National Review's Corner, tells us in a post titled 'It Sticks in My Craw' that "Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English.'"


"Personally, I feel that pronouncing someone's name the way they would like it pronounced is a sign of courtesy and respect."


"But most ridiculous of all is the idea that something is not "natural" in English. In all the world, there is no more mongrel or polyglot tongue than English; no language more gleefully willing to taint its purity. English borrows from every other language with abandon, steals 'foreign' vocabulary without remorse, scoffs at any and every linguistic boundary. Such free-and-easy kaleidoscopic adaptability is English's great strength. Hey, gringo! Why are you so gung-ho to get rid of the chandeliers and blitzkriegs?

Multiculturalism is a writer's delight! It gives us more room to play, expands the possibilities built into our minds. Krikorian appears to be suggesting that we emulate the French, who are always striving so hard to keep their language free of foreign contamination. He's either forgotten, or never understood, that what makes the language he speaks so great is that it welcomes all comers and adapts effortlessly to them, without chagrin or fear or hate."

What do you make of this debate? Also, check out the video below to hear how Sotomayor's name was pronounced during her swearing in ceremony.

-J. Rosa 

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