Friday, December 7, 2012

Do You Know the Way to Oaxaca?

This is one of the more hilarious, tongue-in-cheek blogs that I follow.  I was rolling on the floor reading this entry about how we mis-pronounce names around the world.  Having spent so much time in Jolly Olde Englande, I particularly enjoyed the ones from there.  I remember a car trip one year with my mom and our English friend Judith, jumping from one small, obscure Cornwallish and Devonish town to another, staying at Beds and Breakfasts (some quaint and charming, some not so much) making history with our mispronunciations.  One exquisite little town was called "Mousehole" (how much more adorable can you get?) which is pronounced "Muzzle".  What, is it too much trouble to open your mouth for the long vowels?  We also purposely mis-pronounced some signs: "No Through Road" became "Naw Throff Road".

Imagine the embarrassment of asking for the way to Phuket, Thailand.  Be careful, be very very careful with that one!  I can't even mention the name of an Austrian town that is beset by British tourists who keep stealing the road signs.  (Okay, here's a link if you must).

There is a town south of me called "Buda" which always made me think of my young years in Tokyo.  But no, it's pronounced "Byoo-da".  That little town east of Austin on 290?  Is it Elgin or Eljin?  Don't ever say "Palestine" when you mean "Palesteen" Texas.  The only way to tell if you're a native of New Orleans is to know the proper pronunciation of Tchoupitoulis (not to mention the spelling!!) and Terpsichore.  "New Orleans" itself has been butchered by thousands -- please, I'm begging you, don't ever call it "New Or-LEENS".  Unless, of course you're talking about Orleans Parish or Orleans Street.  They like to keep you on your toes down there, sha (the correct pronunciation of "cher" or dearie).  Don't come down with your fancified knowledge of French and think you're going to impress anybody.  My mom insists on calling a "po'boy" a "poorboy" and we all cringe in unison.

For some strange reason I am offended on behalf of the citizens when people mis-pronounce the names of their countries.  The biggest offenders, unfortunately, are we (us?) Americans.  I can't tell you how much I have shuddered over the past twelve years, when I hear "EYE-ran" and "EYE-rack".  It should be "EE-rahn" and "EE-rock".  And yes, I admit I have been obnoxious and have tried to correct a person or two at times, only to be told, "Whatever."  Would we be as blase if someone from overseas came here and started pronouncing Arkansas phonetically?  I think not.

Get your mind out of the gutter.  It's Pen-i-sten.
I guess growing up as I did gave me a double, no triple dose of respect for the cultures into which I was dropped.  To me, it's an insult to take a name, be it a town or a country, and recreate it to match your own cultural identity.  It's like meeting a guy named David, and taking it upon yourself to call him "Dave".  (My first husband, much to his chagrin, deals with this all the time).  It's just rude.  On the other hand, we Americans tend to be Hooked on Phonics, and are only trying to do our best with Worcestershire (a mouthful!) and Gloucestershire.  

So how do YOU pronounce this?

However, it may be a function of no one taking the time to tell us how to correctly pronounce a word.  How many times have we listened to a song on the radio and mis-heard the lyrics?  Remember the Elton John classic, "Hold me closer, Tony Danza"?  Could the fear of an embarrassing mis-pronunciation be the reason some are so hesitant to speak a foreign language to a native speaker?  Could be.  Who wants to be immediately marked as a "tourist" by asking where the train to Green-wich is (rather than Gren-ich).

Does this all really matter?  My kids are always rolling their eyes when I attempt (emphasis on the "attempt") to correct their pronunciation or grammar.  I can't even resist the urge to correct them online.  It's a terrible terrible vice.  I could write a whole 'nother post about apostrophes and semicolons; you get the picture.  I guess it's my feeble attempt to slow the whole societal slide into the abyss of ignorance.  It's a Sisyphean effort.  Indeed, but don't ask me how to pronounce it.

**Y'all do know to click on the word "this" to get to the link don't you?  My mom didn't.  

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