I’ve seen it discussed here and there the correct pronunciation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. The correct pronunciation is apparently So-to-may-OR while a lot of people gravitate towards So-to-my-er or So-to-may-er with the emphasis being either on the “So” or the “my/may”. I personally pronounce it as though it were spelled Sotomeyer with no obvious emphasis.

One school of thought is that you pronounce a name as the person whose name it is does so. Since she pronounces it SotomayYOR, so should we. On the other hand, you have others saying that we should resist “unnatural pronunciation” and it should not be insisted upon.

I’m honestly sympathetic to both points of view. On the one hand, we should try to call people what they wish to be called. Doing otherwise can be seen as (and is often intended as) disrespectful. It’s sort of like having a friend named Frank and insisting on calling him Francis because that’s his name. If the two of you know one another and it’s an inside joke or something like that, it’s one thing. Otherwise, it’s one of the things that people do to demean someone else in a way that they see as perfectly defensible because it has its own accuracy. It’s not entirely dissimilar to those that emphasized our president’s middle name or the first name of the governor of Louisiana and objected to all objections because, you know, that’s the legal name. Similarly, calling her Sotomeyer despite her preference and the custom of the language can be seen the same. People that make a point of pronouncing it differently are due particular scrutiny. Of course, you can pronounce it right in a disrespectful manner to. Someone that says “Justice Sotomeyer… wait… sorry, have to be {insert air quotes here} politically correct… sotomaYOR” is being more disrespectful than the guy that happens to pronounce it wrong.

On the other hand, I foresee people being accused of being disrespectful when they’re not intending to be. As Conor Friedersdorf points out in the aforelinked American Scene post, some people are just all jazzed up about accusing people (particularly people with whom they frequently disagree) as racist. But failing or declining to pronounce her name correctly is not racist. Nor is it inherently disrespectful. Some names are just hard to pronounce. To me, the correct pronunciation of Sotomayor is about as unnatural as names come. Something about the four syllables with the accent on the last syllable just ties my tongue in knots. I can pronounce it correctly, but it requires a degree of conscious effort. Maybe somewhere down the road I’ll get it right, but for now if I am mentioning her it’s because I’m trying to convey something about her and it obstructs clarity if I have to take a time-out to construct the pronunciation of her name correctly.

Interestingly, when President Obama announced her nomination, he got it right on the first pronunciation but then in later references he slipped into somewhere in between Sotomeyer and the correct pronunciation. When her name was the object of the sentence, he got it right. But when her name was just included, our well-spoken president wavered. I suspect that this is going to be an ongoing thing. In that vein, I hope that people will do what they can to pronounce it correctly, but I also hope that Sotomayor’s defenders will not use that as a bat to club the people with whom they disagree. And ultimately, I wish that Sotomayer herself would just consent to the pronunciation that is going to cause people the least amount of linguistic gymnastics.

Actually, Sotomayor (if confirmed) would not be the first Supreme Court justice whose name I have difficulty with. At least half the time, I pronounce Antonin Scalia as AnTONin Scal-yah. The first because it’s one letter off from the name Antonio, which I’m more familiar with. The last name is one that I have just never heard with any regularity until I started following the news. Now that I know, I am still used to the old pronunciation and the correct one, while not as unnatural as SotomaYOR, still doesn’t flow off the tongue. It’s kind of funny that I mispronounce an Italian name by my association of it with a Spanish one. It also goes to show that contrary to the assumption of some, it’s not out of disregard for Hispanics that some people have difficult with (or quite trying to find) the correct pronunciation of her name. Some people have only recently learned out Souter’s name is pronounced. I had once thought that it was Sowter rather than Sooter, but once I found out how it was pronounced it was a really easy one to switch to since Sooter/suitor is already an English word.

Interestingly enough, this is an area with which I already have some experience. My name is difficult for Asians to pronounce. Or at least it’s difficult for the Japanese to announce. So when I was working under a Japon in Estacado, he could not pronounce my name to save his life. It would usually come out as Wi-ih or more commonly as Wi-er or Weer. He struggled with this mightily. I could see him try to get it right, but he could not for the life of him get it out. I actually tried at one point to tell him that he could call me Wier if that would be easier for him. He seemed kind of offended by the suggestion. I then lied and told him that it “Wier” was sometimes used as a nickname for “William” and so Wier Truman I became.

Do any of y’all have a difficult to pronounce name? My last name sometimes gets goofed up and my wife’s name gets goofed up regularly. Some people consider it sad that people shorted or anglicized their name when they came over, but I admire their willingness to do so. I don’t know if I would be willing to do the same, but then I’m not the sort to migrate to a new country permanently. Slate had an interesting article a while back on the trend in China to come up with English names. If I were to move to a foreign country, I would at least consider adopting a local first name. Particularly if it were difficult for the locals to pronounce correctly.

* – As most of you know, “Will Truman” is a pseudonym, but in real like my common name actually is Will or contains an “L” in it. The story is essentually true.

-{Note: This is a post about pronunciations of names. It is not a post about Sotomayer’s qualifications for the bench, her ideology, nor the president that nominated her. This marginally involves the conduct and moral turpitude of her supporters and detractors, but I do not want the comment section to veer in the direction of suggesting that people whose opinions on her nomination (or the underlying worldview behind those opinions) differ from your own are morally or intellectually lacking. Please contribute, but contribute with care.}-


About the Author


27 Responses to Wier Truman & Sonia Sotomeyer

  1. Linus says:

    I have no trouble pronouncing Sotomayor’s name, but I tend to pick up languages and accents pretty quickly and I’ve studied Spanish, so I may be a bit of an exception.

    I try as hard as I can to pronounce people’s names exactly as they do. I can sympathize with Asians who have trouble with your name, but in Sotomayor’s case I’m not sure that she should be encouraged to say publicly that So-to-MAY-er (or whatever) is okay too. One-on-one, you thank people for trying and cut them some slack, but frankly, I don’t think anyone should have to approve any pronunciation of their name (other than the one they prefer) on national media.

    The whole “natural pronunciation” thing is completely bunk to me. For a nation of immigrants, we’re embarrasingly mono-cultural when it comes to language. It’s one thing to pronounce Dubois (a town in Wyoming) DU-boys rather than the proper French Du-BWAH or coyote CAH-yote rather than the Spanish cah-YOH-tay (people in the town actually pronounce it that way, so in my mind it’s correct, and coyote is essentially an English word, however changed it’s been from its roots), but everyone deserves to have others at least try to pronounce their name correctly. No exceptions.

  2. Peter says:

    My reasoned observation is that a person’s anger at having his or her name mispronounced rises in tandem with the difficulty of pronouncing the name 🙂 I mean, if you’ve got some complicated name that English-speakers naturally have trouble pronouncing, you should be understanding and accepting of mispronunciations, right? Doesn’t work that way.

    Of course this is easy for me to say, having a simple name that’s easy for almost anyone to pronounce.

  3. trumwill says:

    Linus,

    I don’t think anyone should have to, but I consider it courteous (particularly when asked about the pronunciation). Something like “I pronounce it SotomaYOR, but I respond to Sotomeyer as well.”

    I consider there to be a substantive difference between Dubois, Coyote, and Sotomayor. Namely, once the pronunciation of the first two are outlined, they are not difficult to pronounce. For Dubois, Dew-Bwa is pretty easy. Placing the accent on the second syllable instead of the first for coyote isn’t tough since most people are not unaccostumed to accents falling on the second syllable. I don’t know anyone that pronounces Gonzales as GONzales, for instance. Accents falling after the second syllable are much more rare.

    The whole “natural pronunciation” thing is completely bunk to me. For a nation of immigrants, we’re embarrasingly mono-cultural when it comes to language.

    Though I would agree that it would assuredly be better if more Americans could speak foreign languages (and Spanish in particular, for that matter), English is our primary language and its syllablic patterns are what our tongues are used to. These patterns are not superior to others by any means, but there are words that fit naturally into its dynamic and words that don’t. The same is true of any language. It’s why people have accents (and, for that matter, one reason why I consider it tacky to criticize, heckle, or mock accents).

    Anyway, we’re not really on opposite sides of this. I believe mostly in meeting people half-way. One person tries to get the pronunciation right and the other person is patient that some people can’t (or it’s more difficult than its worth to try).

  4. thebastidge says:

    The problem is that adults learn new words by reading them more often than by hearing them. And so they gain the habit of Anglicizing everything as thought they are reading an unfamiliar word in English.

    This is why it is best for adults to learn to read non-Roman script before attempting to learn the language with any depth.

    Then work on devloping the habit of listening rathern than parsing foreign names or words into written English in your head. English is not a soundpoor language. Your Japanese example is so because Japanese does not have certain sounds and phoneme combinations that are common in English, so their tongues literally are not practiced at the combination- it’s a lack of that particular fine motor skill.

    In English we have a problem with certain combinations, but we do have almost all of the basic phonemes possible, largely because of the polyglot nature of English and our adoption of so many foreign influences.

    As a former professional linguist, I’m rather pedantic about pronunciation when it’s merely a matter of laziness and attention to detail. Your attitude towards pronouncing difficult words and names is common in America, but I hate to see it. It is very grating to hear your name slaughtered without even a “best effort”. And you may not find it disrespectful, but most people do. It’s like someone who doesn’t mind slamming their door into your car, but it’s “no big deal” because it didn’t leave much of a mark. I wopuldn’t say the interpretation of disrespect is all on the side of the aggreived party, but too many people just think that disrespectful behaviour is just no big deal, and wonder why other peolpe get upset about it. The formality of giving overtly respectful forms of behaviour is a social lubricant that is necessary when dealing with people with whom we have no personal ties.

    I was reading Hayek the other day and this conversation reminded me of a phrase that, while not directly applicable to this conversation, nonetheless strikes a chord, an elliptical similarity: We need principles which enable us “… to work with people whose moral values differ from his own for a political order in which both can obey their convictions. It is the recognition of such principles that permits the coexistence of different sets of values that makes it possible to build a peaceful society…”

    To work with other people peacefully, we should adopt the highest standards of respectful behaviour, not the minimum. This is not to say that all people all the time deserve our overt respect. It is merely to say that overtly respectful behaviour should be the default position until proven otherwise.

  5. PeterW says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bU70qAfQAo8

    Seems to me a question of perceived causality. People with unusual names believe that other people should make a good-faith effort to pronounce it. People trying to pronounce it expect that the oddly named should be used to people butchering the name and have a thick skin about it. Because people have a buffer zone of civility this usually works out; you usually have a problem only when one or the other is unusually testy .

  6. web says:

    My (real) last name is only 4 letters. Despite this, I’ve seen at least 3 dozen ways to misspell it, and an equivalent number of ways to mispronounce it. I’ve given up caring.

    I’ve equally given up any bother of “respect” for people who are so stuck up / egotistical that a mispronunciation of their name is somehow an “insult,” and even less so when the name in question uses phonemes (such as the rolled ‘l’ or ‘r’ sound, nasals, or accented/umlauted phonemes) that either do not exist at all in the speaker’s native tongue, or that “exist” but only as an approximation.

    And yes, I’ve heard someone drone on a good 3-second rolled “r” onto Sotomayor’s name, as if that would be any more “respectful” (or probably, more to the point, emphasize her “ethnic heritage” since I would never guess, just by the face, what her “race” is).

    I mean, if you’ve got some complicated name that English-speakers naturally have trouble pronouncing, you should be understanding and accepting of mispronunciations, right? Doesn’t work that way.

    Peter,

    I’ve noticed this as well. Further, it seems that the sense of outrage is generally directly proportional to how “separate” the speaker’s racial subculture wants itself to be and how strident the person is about their subcultural identity. For instance, while I’ve yet to see someone with an ethnically Indian or Asian name who took offense at a native English speaker tripping over a few vowels or consonantes, and I’ve met a small (but enough to remember a few) African-immigrant (e.g. non-US-born) and European-immigrants who reacted that way, the predominant presence of name pronunciation “outrage” seems to be a distinctly Latino/Mexican/etc thing.

    In fact, it (along with the insistence of “you should all speak not just Spanish but Mexican Spanish in particular” prickliness in the Colosse area and the general southern American area taken as a whole) seems almost deliberately designed to emphasize the “otherness” of those who take outrage – a brash and intended-to-irritate statement of “you should conform to us, rather than our becoming part of you.”

    South Park (the show) has also mocked this ruthlessly – they have several times made a point of going to “a reporter with a latino-sounding name”, who speaks perfect, unaccented english throughout the report, only to sign off with a name concocted of just about every phoneme that is present in Mexican Spanish but unused in American English.

    The whole “natural pronunciation” thing is completely bunk to me. For a nation of immigrants, we’re embarrasingly mono-cultural when it comes to language.

    Linus,

    Like it or not, language is a singularly unifying cultural phenomenon. Further, a simple accent identifying origin of birth or having lived in an area of a country during one’s formative years (such as pronouncing the name of the 21st state as el-i-noi rather than il-i-noi or il-i-noiz, indicating the local Chicago area accent, somewhere else in the state, or outside the state entirely) can have this effect.

    Then, too, prior to a certain point in recent American history, the preservation of “family names” was not nearly as big of a thing. Most families that came through Ellis Island, for instance, either had their name’s spelling changed (names like Wyss and Roos and NĂĽchter became “Weiss” and “Rose” and “Nichter”), the name itself shortened, possibly “locked in place” (if they came from a country that was still using patronymic naming), or even directly translated (from “Czar” or “Kar” to “King”, for instance).

    Not just that, but many immigrants later changed their names after the fact – either to make life easier on themselves, their families, or to make their “break” with the old country cleaner. The name they picked might have nothing to do with anything, or be picked based on a favorite author, book character, movie character… very similar to how people (such as a certain friend of myself and Will’s) pick a changed last name today.

  7. web says:

    thebastidge,

    As a former professional linguist, I’m rather pedantic about pronunciation when it’s merely a matter of laziness and attention to detail. Your attitude towards pronouncing difficult words and names is common in America, but I hate to see it. It is very grating to hear your name slaughtered without even a “best effort”. And you may not find it disrespectful, but most people do. … The formality of giving overtly respectful forms of behaviour is a social lubricant that is necessary when dealing with people with whom we have no personal ties.

    For some reason, this xkcd strip comes to mind. Also, the phrase “most people do” seems not to be the case.

    To work with other people peacefully, we should adopt the highest standards of respectful behaviour, not the minimum. This is not to say that all people all the time deserve our overt respect. It is merely to say that overtly respectful behaviour should be the default position until proven otherwise.

    Part of the problem there is that culturally, and even sub-culturally, a “token of respect” from one side is viewed as either disrespect or outright hostility in another. For example, making eye contact – in most of Europe, making eye contact is respectful when carrying on a conversation, but in many Asian cultures, it’s the very height of rudeness, particularly when not on an entirely socially equal footing (and in these cultures, usually and especially in a workplace setting, the idea of a “socially equal footing” is very hard to achieve regardless).

    For many parts of the US, the idea of a mispronounced name is not even a plausibility of insult, unless very deliberately done (turning someone’s name round into a cussword or insult itself if they are unfortunate enough to have a twistable name, such as turning “Dunlap” into “Dunce-lap“, or a certain A&W root beer commercial). Again, this is what I pointed out above – it seems that this phenomenon, at least in my observation, is rather tightly limited as an “otherness-emphasizing” trait of a certain monolithic subculture.

  8. trumwill says:

    Thanks a lot for your comment, Larry. It’s given me a lot to chew on.

    One question I have is what, in your mind, constitutes “butchering” a name.

    I work with a whole lot of Indians. I make an effort to get their names 100% right, figuring that effort will get me 75% there. Then I don’t sweat the other 25% unless I’m given a reason to. They, in return, pronounce my prototypically American name about 75% right.

    If I were sent overseas to work in a country and was informed ahead of time that it was extremely important that I got it 100% right, I would put forth more effort and maybe get 100% right. Along those lines, if I knew a Sotomayor whose pronunciation of her name were extremely important to her because of the reason that Web gave, that it was a cultural tie to a heritage with which she does not bear a striking resemblence, I would go the extra mile there, too. But to me, that’s more in the territory of granting (and being requested to grant) extra consideration rather than avoiding disrespect. “That” being going from accenting the first syllable to accenting the last. Going from Sotomeyer, which I admit partially is just laziness along the lines of Scalia (which itself is as much about habit as laziness), to SOTOmayer with the more natural-to-me pronunciation is much easier and is arguably more about respect. I’d actually already have arrived at SOTOmayor if I weren’t trying to wrap my tongue around SotomaYOR.

  9. thebastidge says:

    Will,

    It’s unavoidable that we will sometimes mis-pronounce a name or word. That doesn’t even take into account regional differences in accent or idiom. I don’t consider that “butchery”. There are many words that I regularly mis-pronounced as a younger person and most likely still do some of them. Dangers of being mostly self-educated and learning large parts of my vocabulary from reading obscure books beyond my grade level, and never hearing them spoken, while simultaneously being too involved in the story to get a dictionary.

    However, I do find it somewhat irksome when someone has been repeatedly corrected or had something like this Sotomayor case break the level of consciousness and still doesn’t make the effort. (I don’t even like or respect her as a potential SCOTUS judge, but that’s another issue…) I do understand and acknowledge the power of habit and early conditioning. I understand that some people will not pick it up right away because for some reason they lack the fine distinction of a trained ear. What I don’t understand is knowing the difference and giving it a “meh”.

    It’s much like calling someone by a nickname they dislike. I understand it may feel a bit unnatural to emphasize a pronunciation that is not native to you. It gets more natural with practice.

    I was watching the Daily Show last night, and Stewart was talking about Ahmedinejad. For years these useful/less idiots made fun of Bush mangling the man’s name, and they still don’t say it properly. It is A(h)MED-neh-jahd. The “h” or “ch” between the first and second syllable is a soft glottal stop. The “hmed” is the emphatic syllable. The “i” exists merely as a pause on the way to the next consonent. Shi’ite Iraqis of my acquaintence who actually speak Farsi do not understand “ahmmuhDEENuhjahd” to be the man’s name. I would think if one were making fun of someone else mangling a name, one would make sure to have it correct oneself.

    Webguy:

    “For example, making eye contact – in most of Europe, making eye contact is respectful when carrying on a conversation, but in many Asian cultures, it’s the very height of rudeness”

    Much more is made of this than I have ever been able to discern in reality. Outside of completely xenophobic shut-ins, most people understand that other cultures have different standards. Often it is easier to be accepted when one maintains distance. For example after 5.5 years of living in Korea, if I made a gaffe in using “bahn mal” or casual, disrespectful speech to someone of higher status (greater age) than I, it was much more serious than if someone who can barely speak the language were to do so. A foreigner who speaks with blunt broken sentences is “cute” for their efforts to fit in. My fluency indicated more knowledge and therefore greater culpability for disrespectful behaviour- quite simply, I should know better.

    I am not disagreeing that many “white folks” don’t think it is a big deal to mangle a foreign person’s name. That’s kind of my point- too many people say something to the effect “I’ll never be able to say that. I’m going to call you Jimmy.” But this is a pretty disrespectful thing to do, objectively. You’re saying it is not important enough to get it right, and that this outlandish foolishness of foreign-sounding names is just better left outside our country. Many people with non-English names either find it annoying or bumpkin-ish that Americans don’t make the effort. Making the effort has always been rewarded, in my experience. Even foreigners who have given up on getting mainstream Americans to pronounce their name properly appreciate the individuals who do so. I once spent 3 drinks worth of time in a Georgetown bar learning to properly pronounce a beautiful Polish exchange student’s 4 names. She insisted, (in a cute, playful way) and it was worth my time.

    I don’t think there would ever be a situation iun which pronouncing a person’s name correctly is rude as compared to mis-pronouncing. There are situations where it is rude to address a person directly but there’s no situation where mis-pronouncing it is equivalent to pronouncing correctly.

  10. trumwill says:

    Larry,

    It’s not just that I don’t think it’s a big deal to get a pronunciation wrong when saying a foreigners name, I don’t consider care if they mispronounce my name, either. Even before inquiring and finding out why “Will” was so difficult for my former boss, my take was that I didn’t want him to trouble himself with it. I want people to be comfortable around me and if that means calling me Guillermo instead of William then I will add Guillermo with Will, Willie, Billy, Liam, Sherwood, Trumwill, and Wier on the list of names that I respond to.

    In cases where it’s apparent that the pronunciation is important to them for one reason or another, I will of course make every effort to put them at ease. As in many other issues, I just think that more people should approach this issue as I do :).

    Regarding Sotomayor, I’ll probably get it eventually. At least to the point that I will be able to stop myself and say it right when I need to, as with Scalia.

    I don’t think there would ever be a situation iun which pronouncing a person’s name correctly is rude as compared to mis-pronouncing. There are situations where it is rude to address a person directly but there’s no situation where mis-pronouncing it is equivalent to pronouncing correctly.

    That’s interesting. In some ways it feels like trying to catch the intricacies and getting it wrong is worse than a more English-friendly variation in that sort of way that trying to be hip and getting that wrong is worse than not trying. Sort of condescending and posing.

    You have a ton more international experience than I do, so I will defer to your experience in that regard. Particularly when overseas.

  11. trumwill says:

    PeterW,

    You’re probably right about causality. Perhaps part of the reason I take a laid back attitude towards such things is that my name is rarely mispronounced. Some of it is that I think American culture genuinely is less concerned about these things even amongst ourselves than at least some other cultures.

    Thanks for the link to the video. Hilarious. In The World According to William, Jonathan would have just said somewhere early on “Call me Jon, if that’s easier for you.”

  12. john says:

    I’ll be honest. I pronounce it “sot-oh-mare”. Intentionally. Yes, I am intentionally showing disrespect. I am calling attention to the fact that she is NOT American – that, in fact, is the reason why she was selected. If she had inherited that name from her great-grandfather who came over at Ellis Island, I’d be more willing to make the effort.

    I’m not saying that every judge needs to be a Stevens or a Roberts, but I object to our government being taken over by Husseins and Sotomayors. I also object to the notion of a “nation of immigrants”. There was a time when immigrants came here to become American, not to shape America in their image. The first Americans, the colonists, were not “immigrants”. They were conquerers. It was the Age of Conquest, and they conquered all of North America and most of South America.

    These two, Obama and Sotomayor, are SECOND GENERATION immigrants. People with the bare minimum attachment to American society required to be a citizen. And they are being elevated to the absolute highest positions in the land. I’m not a descendant of the Pilgrims or anything, but I see a huge danger in anchor-baby Presidents and Supreme Court Justices. It’s only one small step away from foreign rule.

    Anyway, on to the more general point. We are constantly preaching tolerance. Shouldn’t that include tolerance, by foreigners, of Americans pronouncing their names wrong? Especially when, in so many cases, a name can be spelled the same but pronounced differently for two different families?

    Personally, I have a common but mildly ethnic name. No one, and I literally mean no American pronounces it correctly. Especially non-white Americans. But I tolerate it. When doing simple things, like making a reservation, I just use a common Anglo name.

    It’s not America’s fault that my name is fundamentally incompatible with the English language. It’s my parents’ fault for giving their American son a name with non-English phonemes. What’s in a name anyway? No matter how mangled the pronunciation, I always know who they’re referring to.

    So in this sense, the minor controversy over Sotomayor’s name reflects a larger issue. If you showed up in China one day and started getting indignant about people pronouncing your name wrong, or someone else got indignant on your behalf, you would be engaging in intolerance and, in a sense, cultural imperialism. Here in the US, we are so caught up in embracing other cultures that we have become intolerant of our own.

    Personally, I am more annoyed when people try to fake an accent to pronounce my name correctly. I am an American, exclusively, and I accept the Americanization. We would all be well served to encourage others to do the same.

  13. Brandon Berg says:

    Will:
    I personally pronounce it as though it were spelled Sotomeyer with no obvious emphasis.

    As far as I know, every four-syllable word, no matter how you pronounce it, has a syllable with major stress and one with minor stress. Maybe it’s just not obvious to you because you think of it as natural. Probably you put the major stress on the first syllable and the minor stress on the third.

    Something about the four syllables with the accent on the last syllable just ties my tongue in knots.

    This is actually a fairly common pattern in English—it’s just that it almost always spans multiple words:

    Blueberry pie.
    Not anymore.
    Going to bed.
    Saturday night.
    Kick in the head.

  14. trumwill says:

    Brandon,

    It’s interesting you should say that. As I’ve been thinking over the pronunciation and the easiest way for me to do it is to split it up into two words. If I am saying “Soto Mayor” it’s actually easier for me. The problem is that the name isn’t two words.

    I have noticed the multiple stresses in four-syllable single-words, but I almost always put the major stress first and they’re one apart. Saying SoTOmaYOR (heavy accent on the latter) is possible (if not “natural”) but SOtomaYOR or sotomaYOR without the second accent) Much tougher.

  15. trumwill says:

    John,

    The first half of your comment fails to steer clear of the intention of my lengthy note at the end of the post. How untrustworthy Sotomayor and Obama are is beside the point.

    The fake accent irritating you is kind of what I was referring to in my comment to Bastidge about how it seems to me that trying and failing can actually be worse than just altering it to something that comes off your tongue a little easier.

  16. thebastidge says:

    Yes, I have met people who were pretentious about pronouncing foreign words. It doesn’t need to be like that and it’s usually fairly obvious from context. A good-faith effort is usually likewise obvious.

    As an aside, another word constantly mis-pronounced that grates on my ear is “Hyundai”. This is partly because of the transliteration system used to approximate Korean words in Roman characters. It is practically impossible to mispronounce if you read it in Korean.

    Obama is not a second generation immigrant. His mother is American. Without getting into my opinions of her either.

    Tolerance is not “celebration”. Just because people don’t appreciate their name being pronounced incorrectly doesn’t make them “intolerant”.

  17. trumwill says:

    Uh oh, we’re moving further apart here. Whatever sympathy I have with someone torn between a name difficult for Americans to pronounce and their heritage, Hyundai chose to market to the US under their name. Not only is there the pronunciation issue, but it’s also easily confused with Honda (though maybe that was a feature and not a bug). Very poor branding.

  18. web says:

    Obama’s a big question mark whose story on the matter(s) seems to keep changing (if you track his public statements at different times, and the contradictory statements in his two autobiographies), and that’s all I’ll say in this post in deference to Will.

    I’m also convinced the Honda/Hyundai brand confusion is deliberate on the part of Hyundai. I don’t think it is “very poor branding”, I think it’s a Korean car company that decided a great way to get into the US market was to have people think they were a Japanese car company instead. A number of asian manufacturers in general (and Korea/China in particular) tend to do stuff like this, not to mention making cheap ripoffs of brand-name clothing/sunglasses/purses/etc, all the time. I think the only surprising thing about Hyundai is that they’re a Korean company that makes cheap rip-off cars rather than cheap rip-off trinkets.

  19. trumwill says:

    On the matter of who Obama’s mother is and grandmother (on his mother’s side) is, Obama’s story has been consistent. Enough of this.

    I would think that it was deliberate more strongly, but they named themselves decades before entering the US market. So I shouldn’t have said they “chose that name” so much as “chose to keep that name” for the US market. Had I been in charge, I would have seriously considered marketing in the us as “HMC” or something else altogether. That’s assuming, of course, that they didn’t want to be confused with Honda. While they didn’t name themselves specifically in order to be confused with Honda, they may well have decided not to change their name because being confused with Honda would not be so bad.

  20. thebastidge says:

    Well, before moving into the American market, they probably didn’t see them as being close in pronunciation. “Honda” is actually “hone-da” and Hyundai is “hyun” (like “hun” with a “yuh” sound inserted) “day”. Hyun-day

    Honda is compiled from two Chinese characters (Kanji) meaing the “main field”, and is the founder’s name.

    Hyundai is composed of two Chinese characters (Hanja) and means “modern”.

    Reading each of these words in their respective script, it is impossible to confuse them. Reading them in ideograms they are even further apart.

    BTW, I drive a Hyundai (and an F-150, and a Kawasaki) and am supremely happy with the Tiburon (Espanol for “Shark”, which I would pronounce with a long “O” if I were speaking to a person of Spanish derivation). It’s the best car I have ever owned (although for full disclosure it is also the first brand-new car I have ever owned.) I would buy another Hyundai before any American car for quality, and before any Japanese car for price, as I see their quality being equal. The cars built for the American market are better quality than the cars for domestic consumption, at least they were ten-twelve years ago when I had the chance to drive them in Korea.

  21. thebastidge says:

    Whoops, hit ‘send’ too soon.

    There’s nothing about “hyundai” that is difficult to pronounce. We merely don’t put “hy” together very often. It’s an easy but unusual combination in English.

    Hyundai is one of the largest chaebol in Korea, and one of the largest companies in the world. Honda is a huge keiretsu with multiple business lines all over the world. I doubt anyone there is personally offended when the name is pronounced incorrectly- they’re both more concerned with the bottom line and brand recognition- any publicity is good publicity, pretty much. Individual Koreans or Japanese would probably rather you pronounced it properly, and most probably don’t realize that we don’t, because in their written language, there are not nearly so many exceptions to rules of pronunciation. Korean Hangul and Japanese Kana are very precisely/scientifically designed scripts. They’re nowhere near perfect: they probably codified and ossified the sound-poor nature of the spoken language a bit sveral centuries ago, but you can almost always pronounce things properly from reading them; you don’t need a pronunciation key like we have in dictionaries to help us figure out how to pronounce English words written in our native Roman characters.

    Again, this seeming defect in our written language is from the inclusive nature of English and the multitude of small ethnic groups living in close proximity in Europe while English was forming. In contrast, Koreans are located on and around a peninsula and Japan is a chain of islands. I use these because they are the languages (besides English) that I know best, and are merely for illustrative purposes. There are plenty of other examples but I know them by description and academically, not from personal experience.

  22. trumwill says:

    Somebody, somewhere should have told them coming in that there would be some confusion. Maybe someone did and Hyundai decided that it was the kind of confusion that they didn’t mind (and it probably has served them well).

    Hyundai advertisements tend to drop the “Y” on Hyundai, don’t they? So we have Hyun-day, which is how you say it should be pronounced, Hunday, how they pronounce it (in the US), and Hyun-die, how people prounounce it when they’re trying to get it right and failing. Talk about confusion.

    Shoulda just gone with HMC :).

    I completely bypassed Hyundai the last time I was looking for a car because their subcompact model was too short. I did look at Kia Rios and was really pleased with what I saw, but then read customer reviews and that scared me away but good. The Hyundai prices seem pretty good. I had more-or-less settled on a Nissan Versa, if I could find one I liked.

  23. thebastidge says:

    The Kia Rio is one of the cheapest cars on the market. If price is your main differentiator, then they are the one. Moving up the scale a bit, Kia has put out some decent vehicles.

    I’m 6ft tall, about 235 and my Tiburon fits me nicely, with extra head room. Of course, the seat is all the way back and there is really no room for people in the back seat. It’s also VERY low to the ground and my older relatives don’t like it for the reason. It’s very much a single person’s sporty-but-not-quite-official “sports-car”

  24. Peter says:

    Some years ago, TV commercials for Poulan chain saws played the name’s difficult pronunciation for laughs. It’s a French name from Louisiana and is pronounced “Poo-LAHN.” Seems straightforward enough, but apparently many people said Pole-in or Pool-lann or Pool-in. From what I recall, the ads poked mild fun at these mispronunciations while letting viewers know how it should be pronounced.

  25. trumwill says:

    I think it’s because its uncommon that it’s difficult. I have to stop and think about it the same way I don’t for Honda. I imagine if I owned a Hyundai that I would get past that. To date, I only know one person (IRL) that drives one. It’s one of those things that if you ask me to say it by itself, it’s not hard at all. When listing auto manufacturers, though, it can trip me up. That’s if I’m adding the “y” and not just saying “Hunday” like in the ads.

    Price was the big attraction to the Rio. Not just a low sticker price, but that the low price includes things standard that other manufacturers don’t necessarily (MP3 player is very important to me). But I was scared off by the negative reviews and the trouble that some people reported having trying to get one repaired. The Versa had better reviews and was only a bit more, though the gas mileage wasn’t as impressive as with other subcompacts.

    I’m over 6’3″ and long in the trunk (my wife and I have nearly the same leg-size and she’s 5’10”). The Kia was tall enough (I drove a rental while my Escort was in repair), though the alignment was off so it wasn’t a pleasant experience. ceiling space is actually more important to me than leg-room. I think because I’m so used to my legs being crammed (my knee used to change the radio volume back before I got the radio replaced) but it’s harder to get used to not being able to sit upright.

  26. thebastidge says:

    On the other side of the aisle, I had to laugh my (then) Korean GF started talking about buying an S coupe (a model available in Korea back then.)

    I had no idea at first what she was talking about, this “Scoop”. Then I started laughing so hard I couldn’t explain why.

  27. Becky says:

    My last name gets butchered all the time — but it’s not pronunciation. They actually change letters around and it’s a completely different name. It’s annoying b/c it’s no where near accurate, but I don’t think they’re being racist or disrespectful — they just can’t pronunciate or read 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

If you are interested in subscribing to new post notifications,
please enter your email address on this page.