Sonia Sotomayor and a New Form of PC: Pronunciation Correctness!

Salon today notes that at least one conservative finds it galling even to pronounce Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s last name correctly:

On National Review’s Web site, Mark Krikorian posted a screed about Sotomayor’s insistence that people pronounce her name correctly. “Deferring to people’s own pronunciation of their names should obviously be our first inclination, but there ought to be limits,” he wrote. ” Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English … and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn’t be giving in to.”

In other words, Krikorian wishes to associate contemporary American conservatism with resistance to pronunciation correctness! And this, ironically, is coming from a writer at a magazine founded by William F. Buckley, famous for his proper enunciation and facility with language.

It is a measure of how far contemporary conservatism has declined that one of the great latinate languages of Western Civilization—the language in which Don Quixote was written in—should be treated by it as an alien tongue and rendered suspicious and in need of adjustment and “anglicizing.” Here’s how Krikorian puts it:

So, are we supposed to use the Spanish pronunciation, so-toe-my-OR, or the natural English pronunciation, SO-tuh-my-er, like Niedermeyer?

But think of how awkward and absurd it would be to turn at least one of the long “o” sounds in “Sotomayor” into a short “o” sound, and pronounce the “mayor” in her name with a flattened “may-er” or “my-er.” The result would be something that chimed with “sodomizer” (which may be the targeted effect, to associate her in the public mind with an anti-gay slur).

Also, when Krikorian says, “Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English”, he is exploiting an artifact of spelling, not verbal pronunciation. If her name were spelled “Sotomayour”, for example, it is no more difficult or “unnatural” to pronounce than, say, the name of the New Yorker journalist, Seymour Hirsch. In short, English has words (such as your, yourself, our, ourselves, tourbus, voyeur, immature and contour) that can lay syllabic emphasis upon the ear in ways akin to Sotomayor’s properly pronounced name. Thus to suggest, as Krikorian does, that English is somehow being infected and “unnaturally” shaped by an “alien” latinization is to completely ignore the fact that English has always been infected and shaped by “alien” latinizations.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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8 Responses to Sonia Sotomayor and a New Form of PC: Pronunciation Correctness!

  1. ben says:

    No.
    The examples you cite do not have four syllables.
    They are not the same.
    It is an unnatural, and thus awkward, pronumciation in English.
    I think if you are speaking in English you should use the pronunciation of English just for the sake of manners.
    When speaking French, I say SARkosY, When in English sarKOSy.
    When Speaking Chinese, I tone Hu JITAO, In English, I don’t
    It just sounds elitist and stipid if I try the other pronumciations.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Ben,

    What does syllable count have to do with it?

    And by your logic, the National Review writer, Krikorian, would be “anglicized” as Kra-kur-ian.

    A rather ironic pronunciation, don’t you think?

    —Santi

  3. santitafarella says:

    Ben,

    And elitist?

    Since when is it a conservative principle to disrespect people, and treat them without good manners and basic civility?

    No decent person speaks the names of other people in a way that they do not choose for themselves, except, of course, as a gesture of cruelty, contempt, dismissiveness, or demonization.

    This is not the way that a conservative like William F. Buckley would be inclined to speak of another human being, nor would George Will. It simply coarsens public discourse.

    Why has so much of contemporary conservatism sunk so low?

    —Santi

  4. oldyurp says:

    you mean “enunciation”, not “annunciation”.
    (or are you a deep cover conservative trying to show that liberals are no good, even at being elitist in their use of show-off vocabulary?)

  5. santitafarella says:

    Oldyurp:

    Oops! You’re right. I’ll fix it. Thank you.

    I didn’t mean to imagine Buckley as the angel Gabriel, putting it ever so delicately to Mary, that she is, um, well, pregnant!

    —Santi

  6. dani says:

    Is it not time for us to leave behind child things???
    I feel like a time tunnel has taken me back to a particularly bad eleementary school where bulies are making fun of the other kids names. What next? rimming her name? in sing song voice????

    Actually please do not leave behind the child like behavior. Keep it up until 2010
    Anyone with a good singsong to send Liimbagh?

  7. santitafarella says:

    Dani:

    If the economy is in recovery, my guess is that the Republicans will lose even more seats in 2010. Obama is playing them like a fiddle with this nomination, drawing conservative prejudice out of its psychological spider hole for all to see, and electorally reject again in 2010.

    It all rides on the economy, though. Better hope it recovers by this time next year or Republicans might gain traction again, and with traction, “legitimization” for the sort of ugly politics that they are playing with Sotomayor. Far right Republicans will claim that their holding to conservative talk radio hard liner-ism pays off electorally in the long run.

    —Santi

  8. stephen says:

    How do you pronounce douchebagsayswhaat?

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