Racists? What Racists?

by Brien Jackson

One great thing about the nomination of a Hispanic to the Supreme Court is that Mark Krikorian’s head was more or less guaranteed to explode, and that’s exactly what happened. He started by wondering how we should pronounce her name, and then doubled down on that today with a full throated defense of unilateral Anglinizing of the pronunciation of names, whether or not the individual likes it:

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.

For instance, in Armenian, the emphasis is on the second syllable in my surname, just as in English, but it has three syllables, not four (the “ian” is one syllable) — but that’s not how you’d say it in English (the “ian” means the same thing as in English — think Washingtonian or Jeffersonian). Likewise in Russian, you put the emphasis in my name on the final syllable and turn the “o” into a schwa, and they’re free to do so because that’s the way it works in their language. 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. Likewise with the Mexican practice of including your mother’s maiden name as your last name, after your father’s surname.

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.

This is, of course, completely fucking ridiculous. For one thing, Sonia Sotomayor is not a “newcomer,” she was born and raised in The Bronx, which is in New York City, which is in the United States of America. But she has an ethnic name, and she, and her family, prefers to pronounce it based on the rules of its original language. Any decent person ought to respect that, but Krikorian is obviously not a decent person. He’s a shameless hack who heads an anti-immigration special interest group, and opposes all forms of immigration, including legal immigration, and has a particular problem with Hispanics. He is, in other words, a pretty blatant racist (or at the least, an extreme ethnocentrist), who is extremely bothered by the correct pronunciation of ethnic words, like Senator Geary, insisting on calling the Corleone family the “Cor-lee-ons.” 

Because obviously that is the most important issue facing America today.

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