This is a topic that was being discussed (with much hilarity, I might add) on the radio this morning, and it was prompted by President Obama’s pronunciations of “Taliban” and “Pakistan”. Phonetically, he pronounces them, “TAHL-ee-bahn” and “PAHK-ee-stahn”, whereas the American pronunciations are, “TAL-ih-ban” and “PACK-ih-stan”. (and now my brain is singing “come Mr. tally man, tally me bananas…”)
I’ve noticed this in many situations, not just from Mr. Obama, but from others, as well. Anchormen (anchorpeople?) will spit all over the camera trying to pronounce “Nicaragua” or cities in Mexico like a native of those countries, rather than just saying the words with their own American accent. I don’t think they understand how jarring it is – they’re going along, reporting the news in an American accent, and I can concentrate on the story. I give no thought whatsoever to the words they’re saying – I’m all about the story as a whole. And suddenly, there’s a micro-pause, and you hear… “neek-ah-RAHG-va” with a badly rolled “r” and a weirdly pronounced last syllable. I’m not even sure how they do it – is it a “v” there? A “w”? A slurred “u”? Whatever it is, suddenly, I’m obsessing over the pronunciation of that butchered word, and I miss the rest of that story, and most likely the next three, as well.
I’ve even had this conversation with Steve. His aunt is a missionary in Bolivia – she’s lived down there for more than 20 years. She pronounces some words differently than we do. For example, “llama” becomes “yahma”, and “Yucca” (Americans generally use a short “u” sound) becomes “Yooka”. She and I had great fun correcting each other’s pronunciation of “yucca” over dinner one night – I’d ask her to pass the “yuhkka” and she’d say, “here’s the YOOka”. And we’d laugh.
But Steve insisted on pronouncing llama – which we had living on our land at the time – the way his aunt did. Yahma. Drove me NUTS. Because nobody else knew what he was talking about. “We have yahmas living in our pastures.” And people would look at him like he had an extra head.
Why do people do this? WHY do they suddenly try to affect a Latin or Hispanic accent for words of that origin? We don’t do it with words of Western European origin – Prairie du Chien, WI, for example, is generally pronounced “PRAYR-ie doo SHEEN”, as opposed to the French accented, “prah-REE dyue shee-EHN” with a kind-of-silent N at the end. (French pronunciation is hard to diagram). On the other hand, I think I get “Des Plaines” pronounced as spelled. Otherwise, we’d all sound like Tattoo, running around yelling “DePLANE!!! DePLANE!!”
But why do we do that? Is it political correctness? Are we so hypersensitive that we feel that we must try to pronounce words the way they do in the original country, lest we offend? Does it make us feel superior if we pronounce things the “correct” way if it’s of Latin or Middle Eastern origin? But then why doesn’t it matter if it’s European in origin? We don’t expect people to alter their accents to sound like us – most people I know really enjoy listening to foreign accents. Nothing is cooler to me than an English, Scots or Irish accent, and I know women who absolutely swoon whenever Antonio Banderas opens his mouth.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe we all just want to be Antonio Banderas.