Conservatives Double Down on Names

by Brien Jackson

I, and just about everyone else, made note of Mark Krikorian’s racist/stupid argument yesterday that ethnic names should be anglicized in their pronunciation as a rule, regardless of how the individual prefers their name be pronounced. Rather than slink away hoping the incident recedes from memory sometime in the next decade, Krikorian’s back today with more, and he’s joined by Derbyshire. First, Krikorian:

Lots of the responses focused on my various bodily orifices and what should be done with them, but for those actually interested in the point, here’s what I was trying to get across: While in the past there may well have been too much social pressure for what sociologists call Anglo-conformity, now there isn’t enough. I think that’s a concern that most Americans share at some level, which is the root of the angst over excessive immigration, bilingual education, official English, etc.

Well, no. Stephen “Cole-Bear” seems like a pretty popular television show host to me, and I don’t see any outraged revolt over his refusal to call himself Stephen Cole-Bert. Similarly, the fucking President of the United States pronounces his name Ba-Rock O-Bah-Mah, as opposed to Bare-rack O-bama (as in Alabama). So this outrage is apparently limited to Krikorian’s imagination, or people who are as hyper ethnocentric as he is. What’s particularly odd though, is one of the examples Krikorian uses to back up his argument:

Some years ago when, rather late in his career, the baseball player Jorge Orta became an American citizen, he made a point of asking announcers, reporters and fans to change the pronunciation of his first name from “Hor-Hay” to “George”, as in Washington.  He said something to the effect of, I’m an American now, I should have an American name.  While I thought it a bit of overkill, I also found it very moving.

But what, exactly, does this prove. If Orta chose to start pronouncing the name in an Anglicized way, then where, exactly, is the point of this? To the extent that the main criticism of Krikorian’s point, from an etiquette standpoint, is that you should pronounce a person’s name however they prefer, there isn’t anything to disagree with here. It’s also has nothing to do with Krikorian’s original argument, which was, essentially, that sportscasters should have been calling him “George” even if he preferred “Hor-Hay.” Which, I suppose, is an indication that Krikorian realizes, on some level, what an idiot he sounds like, and is trying to walk this back. Which brings me to Derbyshire who, in trying to defend Krikorian, winds up proving far too much:

Each language has its own repertoire of sounds, that cannot be matched up exactly with those of any other language. The human vocal tract — throat, nose, tongue, teeth, lips, cheeks — can make sounds in an infinity of ways; or if not an infinity, certainly a much larger number than any one language needs. Each language picks a selection from all possible sounds, and builds its spoken words around that selection. No two languages use the same selection. A French “t” is by no means the same as an English “t.”

But, of course, what goes unsaid here is that, with regards to proper names, Americans use the French pronunciation all the time. I very much doubt that Derbyshire has ever discussed the French impressionist Mon-net with anyone, or that he makes an exaggerated effort to pronounce the Cole-burt Report. It’s true, of course, that most people wouldn’t affect a French accent for these sounds, and it’s also true that East Asian sounds are extremely difficult for Anglicans to pronounce but, again, this proves too much. The reason it’s hard to pronounce Asian names is because the alphabets are different, and in many cases there simply are no phonetic equivalents in the basics of the language. But the various Western languages don’t really have problem. All of the phonetics involved in the pronunciation of Mo-Nay or So-To-My-Or exist within te English language. It’s not hard to pronounce at all. Which means thi is just more ethnocentric hackery, arguably even worse than Krikorian’s.

On a more general note, is this really what the supposed flagship of conservative intellectualism has come to?