One of the more telling aspects of the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor is the controversy over the pronunciation of her name. Sotomayor insists on the Spanish sounding pronunciation with flat vowels and the accent on the last syllable. Those who opt for the standard Americanized pronunciation are deemed “racist” and “insensitive.”
But according to Taylor, it is those who insist on the Spanish pronunciation who are showing a glaring bias and double standard. He writes:
“I first recall it happening in the 1980s. You could always tell who liked the Sandinistas by the way they said “NicaRAAAgua,” with an exaggerated Spanish accent.
“Now Spanish pronunciation is everywhere. On National Public Radio, every Mexican name gets a rolled “R” and flat vowels. No one does this with French or German names. Not even the wildest Francophile would pronounce Detroit or Illinois or Lake Pontchartrain the way the French do. But it proves you love “diversity” if you talk about Los Angeles the way a Mexican would.
“Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court wants to give us language lessons, too. We’re not supposed to pronounce her name the way an American would, with the accent on the first syllable and the last two syllables rhyming with “mayor,” as in the mayor of Chicago. She insists on a Spanish pronunciation. Zbigniew Brzezinski and Antonin Scalia don’t tell us to pronounce their names the way their Polish or Italian ancestors did. They are Americans and understand the way Americans speak.
“Not Sonia. As she keeps telling us, although she is American-born, she is a “Latina” — forget that English dispensed with this type of gender distinction a thousand years ago — and she wants to remind us of this every time we hear her name.
“It wasn’t all that long ago that people wanted to fit in, and changed their names to sound more American. Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz and campus radical Mark Rudd started life as Mark Rudnitsky. Volodymyr Palahniuk made things a lot easier for himself by switching to Jack Palance. Of course, no one wants to fit into America any more, not even someone who wants to sit on the Supreme Court. We have to adjust to them, not the other way around.”
Taylor, who is fluent in Japanese and French, notes that these two nations pronounce foreign names and words in their own accents and advocates fighting for our own language. He writes:
“Americans speak English, and not just any kind of English. We don’t talk about lorries and lifts, and we don’t twist our mouths into funny shapes just because foreigners tell us to. Why should this Supreme Court nominee get special treatment? Keep pronouncing her name the way an American would. “
If someone corrects you, ask him ‘What’s the capital of Japan?’ When he says “Tokyo” (and it won’t sound like the way the Japanese say it) explain to him: ‘Obviously you don’t speak Japanese. I don’t speak Spanish.’