Sunday, January 04, 2015

The politics of pronouncing foreign words

My guess from reading Mario Cuomo in a New York Times article I linked to earlier is "Mair-ee-oh" ("Marry-o" with the New York pronunciation of "marry") was his reverse snobbery, keeping up the no-longer-true image of the Democrats as the home of working-class whites. Condescending to them? (The NYT article struck me that way too about the sound of the Italian: trying to sound cute using a food allusion.) Unlike some other Italian names that are also spelling challenges (Guglielmo, for example), the name's easy for English speakers. The right pronunciation in English politely approximates the Italian, "Mar-ee-oh," which most Americans know, from a not-very-high class on up. Most Americans can't or won't mimic the original accent ("Mar-yo" or "Mahr-yo"), which would either be showing off that you know Italian ("hear how well traveled and cultured I am") or sound like you're making fun of it, in either event rude.

Reminds me of how white liberals treat a sister Romance language, Spanish. Because it's the opposite of the Cuomo treatment. "Saturday Night Live" once did a wonderful spoof of that when Jimmy Smits (whose mother was from Surinam so he plays Hispanics) was the guest host: a sketch set in an office where everybody (over-) pronounced Spanish or even Spanish-sounding words (Bob Costas' name) exactly as in Spanish. Interesting since white liberals also hate the Catholicism that's rooted in those cultures. My guess is this treatment's because the Spanish fits the white liberals' romantic idea of revolutionaries (cowardly murderer Che Guevara's poster image) and their war on conservative American whites, since Hispanics here are now not considered white. But they bend that non-whiteness when it doesn't fit their anti-white narrative: George "Justice Is Served" Zimmerman, who indeed is not white, vs. Trayvon "Not a Harmless Child" Martin. Anti-"conservative whiteness" seems número one in American lefties' hierarchy of truths so Hispanics' inconvenient Catholicism (or, like blacks, conservative Protestantism; read on) gets a pass — for now. Sort of like the Sixties: in the counterculture's war on the old America, even though by the '50s we Catholics had become an integral part of that America, we (and our constituent ethnicities: "Kiss me; I'm Irish") were cool for about five minutes, partly too because Vatican II had the liberals thinking the church had changed to suit them; then Catholicism of course remaining Catholic (contraception and abortion, the stuff Cuomo tried to shove under a socialist rug) had them hating us again. That and I understand that many Hispanics aren't that devout (it's a mile wide and an inch deep) so many don't practice or become conservative Protestants in America.

By the way, I know Spanish. My treatment of it in English varies: usually I pronounce words their American English way, nice and apolitical, not showing off, but sometimes I say foreign place names in or near the Spanish way. For example, Paraguay is "Pa-ra-gweye," not "Pair-uh-gway," which like "Mair-ee-oh" just sounds ignorant.

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