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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Say My Name


posted by Silvana
Via Matthew Yglesias' Twitter, I see this piece by Mark Krikorian at the National Review that really has to be read to be believed. What's he complaining about now? That people are pronouncing Sonia Sotomayor's name correctly.
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.
The idea that your name is somehow the property or the business of others, and that not only should they not be required to pronounce it correctly, they should purposely pronounce it incorrectly is one of the more brow-furrowing and staggering assertions I've heard come out of a conservative in months. It would be one thing if Krikorian was complaining about people getting lambasted for pronouncing it incorrectly, but he's not. What he's saying is that, despite knowing how to pronounce it correctly, people should nevertheless say it in a way that sounds wrong to the bearer of the name because to pronounce it correctly would be displaying too much "adapting to the newcomer."

What about American Spanish-speakers for whom an incorrect pronunciation would actually take effort, rather than the correct pronunciation which would come naturally? Should we say "Obama" in a manner that rhymes with "Alabama" because that's the American way, and to pronounce his name the way he says it is just kowtowing to the all-consuming influence of Kenyan hegemony? This is the most baseless Sotomayor-related gripe I've heard so far. The lines he draws about where we should make efforts to address people correctly are bizarre:
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.
So what do we do about people from Asia who are visiting the United States? When the famed North Korean leader finally comes over for a diplomatic visit, shall we call him Jong-Il Kim in all the papers?

I understand that some people make concessions to the American inability to deal with "different" names. Some people don't or won't. And I'm cool with that. Both a good friend of mine and my roommate, who are from South Korea and Japan, respectively, have "American" nicknames that they go by. I don't fault them for doing it, but I wouldn't fault them for not doing it either. I try whenever I can to pronounce people's names correctly, but apparently this is because I am a pinko liberal commie. I also like how Krikorian, who's apparently of Armenian extraction, uses the word "multiculturalism" like it's pretty clearly a bad thing. It would be funny, except it's not. You might try and rail against multiculturalism, but given the vast variety of cultures that are represented in the United States, you've pretty much lost the battle at this point.

I think the "conformity" that's required is not getting overly irritated at people who can't seem to say your name correctly, because they can't or because they're too racist to try. I barely even notice when people mispronounce my [real] name (although it does irritate me that my own brother pronounces his name slightly incorrectly as a concession to the mispronouncers, but I let it go). But to suggest that people are somehow awful for trying to pronounce a name the way a bearer prefers, or the way that's correct in the language from which the bearer's name originates, is the height of lunacy.

I know I'm wasting space on an absolutely idiotic piece, but it was too ridiculous to let pass without comment. Shorter Mark Krikorian: if those uppity Hispanics get themselves into a post of importance, we must stubbornly refuse to acknowledge their origins by being American Asshole.

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