Rage at final stress

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… in Sotomayor, blogged about by Mr. Verb, Language Hat, and Motivated Grammar.



60 Comments

  1. Arnold Zwicky said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 11:08 am

    Still another pronunciation, reported by Jerry Cohen on ADS-L a few minutes ago:

    Yesterday on “Meet the Press” moderator David Gregory at least twice pronounced the name of Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor as Sotomai-eer (i.e., the last syllable was mispronounced).

    After a moment’s reflection it occurred to me that Gregory might have been influenced by the pronunciation of “Golda Meir” (former prime minister of Israel; d. 1978). After a commercial break Gregory had occasion to mention Sotomayor again, and this time he pronounced it right. I assume someone clued him in during the break.

    Indeed, Sotomayor with primary stress on the final syllable has the same stress pattern as Golda Meir (and Zsa Zsa Gabor, Anna Nicole, Kalamazoo, etc.).

  2. John Cowan said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 11:38 am

    Hmm. “We’ve got a judge named Sotomayor” (Glenn Miller)? “Ran up the flag and all the way out to Sotomayor” (Ben Folds Five)? “Got his own *@#$ judge named Sotomayor” (Primus)?

  3. greg said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 11:39 am

    By sheer coincidence, I was reading Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye and noticed that one character’s name is Soto-mayor. I don’t recall if the name is mentioned in the movie version, but I wonder if Chandler imagined the character pronouncing it the same way as the Sotomayor of current common discussion.

  4. Dan T. said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 11:49 am

    I have no problem with the final stress of “Sotomayor”, but that might be because when I was a kid I knew a Sotomayor family (I have no idea if they’re related to the current nominee), so I knew how it was pronounced.

  5. Coby Lubliner said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 11:58 am

    The funny thing about final stress is that the very common Spanish surnames Chávez and Pérez, natively stressed on the first syllable, are usually pronounced shuhVEZ and puhREZ in the US. In fact the same thing happens with English surnames, such as Burnett, Cottrell and Gerrard, which normally carry first-syllable stress in the UK.

  6. Mark Liberman said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

    Not to speak of Ali, which should (I think) have initial stress in Arabic, but is usually pronounced with final stress in the U.S.

  7. Cheryl Thornett said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

    A number of languages, Farsi as an example, have equal syllable stress within words, so when English speakers hear Farsi names, the lack of stress on the expected first or second syllables is often misheard as a stress on a third or later syllable which is then mistakenly stressed when speaking. (Information courtesy of a kind Farsi-speaking colleague, very tolerant of English speakers in general, and of my attempts to pronounce her name accurately.)

  8. Arnold Zwicky said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

    Coby Lubliner mentions the stress shift from front-stressed Spanish Chávez and Pérez to English end-stressed pronunciations. This is usually attributed to “Frenchifying” borrowed names in English — adopting some pronunciation patterns from French.

  9. Bloix said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

    I once appeared in court in a southeastern Texas city to argue a motion before a state court judge. Our position was that the result should be determined by reference to a prior decision in a case that I referred to by the name of one of the parties, a Mexican company called Helicopteros – which I pronounced “Heli-COP-ter-ous.” After the argument (which I lost, as it happens), a local colleague told me it was clear that I was a carpet-bagger, as anyone local would have known to say Heli-cop-TAIR-ose.”

  10. Charles said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

    I find Canadians are much more inclined to make at least *some* effort to pronounce a name properly.

    To my ears, stressing the first syllable in Sotomayor sounds really artificial. If anything I’m inclined to pick the third syllable in a 4-syllable word (e.g. satisfaction, rutabaga, misconception, Sakamoto). Which is still wrong but perhaps a more understandable choice.

  11. David Eddyshaw said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

    I would imagine that in the original Western Armenian the name Krikorian also has stress on the final syllable.

    Personally I find that “Krikorian” sticks in my craw, even if stressed on the second syllable, and feel that Mr Krikorian should pronounce his name “McGregor” for euphony.

  12. Philip said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 2:10 pm

    Arnold Zwicky: Thanks for the links.

    Bloix: I think you were misinformed. It is he-li-COP-ter-os; the written form carries an accent mark over the first “o.”

  13. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

    A neighbour with the maiden name “Martinez” mentioned the other night that she used to have trouble with Americans stressing it on the first syllable. (Now her surname is “Bartoszek”, which brings with it a whole new set of problems.) My suggestion was that this could’ve easily been avoided by telling people it was French and insisting on the pronunciation “mar-ti-NAY”.

    (Note that French, like Persian, is another language where English-speakers often reinterpret lack of strong word stress as obligatory final stress.)

  14. Rob P. said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

    Bloix: further to Philip’s correction, the company was Colombian, not Mexican.

    More on-topic, I pronounce my name puh-REZ, unless I’m speaking Spanish or to a Spanish speaker. I wouldn’t have attributed that to anything to do with French, though (maybe I’m misunderstanding A. Zwicky’s post). That’s the way my (a couple generations removed from Mexico) family pronounces it in West Texas. Heck, if I pronounce it in the Spanish way to an English speaker unfamiliar with Spanish names, they sometimes hear it as Bettis.

  15. Troy S. said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

    @Cheryl: Farsi almost always has final-syllable stress, the exceptions mostly being words with enclitic suffixes and a few particles like اگر “agar” (meaning “if.”) Out of curiosity, what is your friend’s name?

  16. Martin said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

    @Daniel von Brighoff:
    Martínez does not have final stress in Spanish, but penultimate stress: mar-TI-nez. My first name is actually pronounced /mar”tin/ in Spanish, and a few of my American friends insist on anglicizing it /mA:r”ti:n/ out of deference to my origins I imagine. Whenever I have to give my name to people over the phone, I invariably use /”mA:rtn/ to avoid ambiguity.

  17. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 3:47 pm

    @Martin: You may have misread my comment. Telling her to use Frenchy final stress is a joke, like suggesting to our classmate with the Swedish surname “Twenge” that she should tell everyone to pronounce it “twon-ZHAY”. It mocks the snobbishness of people like Hyacinth Bucket (“It’s pronounced ‘boo-KAY'”) in the BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances.

    Not that I’m suggesting Rob P. and his family are snobbish for stressing “Perez” finally; in all likelihood they were just acceding to the will of majority on this, which insists on giving final stress to a wide variety of names which lack them in their respective languages of origin. To these Spanish-derived examples and Coby’s English examples, I have to add a whole pile of German-Jewish ones, like “vee-ZELL” for “Wiesel” or “man-DELL” for “Mandel”.

    There’s a good monograph out there on how shifts like this, as well as the substitution of [ʒ] for /dʒ/ and [ʃ] for /tʃ/ (e.g. Taj Mahal, bruschetta), reveal that the default foreign language for American English-speakers is French–or, at least, a particular folk model of it. (Since, as mentioned before, certain features of it such as final stress arise from English-speakers’ reinterpretation.) I’ll track it down and post the citation.

  18. Nathan Myers said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 4:04 pm

    Not “el-i-CO-pter-os”? Do Spanish-speaking people, like most English, reflexively split up “pt” between syllables?

    It amazes me that I never noticed “pter”, wing, in there before. I’m going to say “helico-pter” from now on.

  19. Bloix said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 4:18 pm

    Rob P – you have, as the judge I clerked for used to say, an unerring instinct for the capillary.

    Phillip – so what you’re telling me is that my colleagues, seeing the word without an accent in English language texts, were hyper-correcting. Interesting.

    Rob P does make a useful generalizable point with when he says that his name, pronounced as it is in Spanish, would be heard as “Bettis.”

    We almost never pronounce foreign words and phrases as they are pronounced in their language of origin (a few self-conscious college student left-wingers used to try to do it with Spanish names in order to demonstrate ‘solidarity’, but it’s incredibly annoying).

    The choices we have are to pronounce the name using English-language sounds in a manner that approximates the correct prononciation, or to read the name out loud as if it were pronounced according to English rules. Some people choose one, some the other.

    So Antonin Scalia is “scuh-LEE-uh” not “SCAL-ya,” and Terry Schiavo was “SHY-vo” not “She-AH-vo,” but neither one is anything remotely like a true Italian pronunciation.

  20. marie-lucie said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 4:41 pm

    DvB: the substitution of [ʒ] for /dʒ/ and [ʃ] for /tʃ/ (e.g. Taj Mahal, bruschetta)

    I don’t know about Taj Mahal, but bruschetta is Italian, not French, and the ch is pronounced [k], so [brusketta] (stress on the e), there is no /ʃ/ or /tʃ/ in the word.

  21. J. W. Brewer said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 4:54 pm

    I would think the potentially apt pop-culture reference would not be so much Bucket/boo-kay as “it’s pronounced ‘frahnkenshteen.'” But I just don’t think it can be made to work here because not enough Americans have consistent pre-existing intuitions as to what stress pattern for Judge Sotomoyor’s surname might signal anglicized/assimilated and which rival stress pattern would instead signal old country and/or affected and/or “multi-culturalist.” (My intuitions may be messed up, however, because I have personally known the “right” pronunciation of her surname, or at least that generally current among non-Hispanophone lawyers in NYC, for many years.)

    Like Bloix I remember some college students of the Communist-sympathizing subgenre back in the ’80’s saying, e.g., “El SalvaDOR” instead of SALvador, but I at least didn’t draw from that a general rule that any final-syllable stress in a word of Spanish origin should be viewed as carrying the same sociolinguistic signal.

  22. Simon Cauchi said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 5:07 pm

    Thank you, marie-lucie, for explaining it’s [brusketta]”: you beat me to it. And in Italian you’d pronounce both the Ts.

    It’s [dʒ] not only in “Taj Mahal” but also in “the British Raj”, something that’s also often got wrong.

    @Nathan Myers: helico-pter = screw-wing. Obvious when you think about it (to quote from a recent cartoon).

  23. Simon Cauchi said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 5:12 pm

    @Arnold Zwicky: Coby Lubliner mentions the stress shift from front-stressed Spanish Chávez and Pérez to English end-stressed pronunciations.

    So don’t people understand that in Spanish the acute accent indicates stress?

  24. Bloix said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 5:31 pm

    No, Simon, many of us don’t – because (at least until this generation) far more educated Americans studied French than Spanish, and in French the acute accent doesn’t indicate stress.

    And I think JW Brewer may be on to something if he is implying that for some aging right-wingers, So-toe-may-OR has a lefty ’80’s feel to it. (You remember how some of the NPR reporters used to say Nicaragua on NPR? Nee-ha-RAH-wa? Then you’d hear it from some British journalist as “Nic-a-rahg-you-are.”)

  25. Mark F. said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 5:33 pm

    Simon Cauchi — I think people see these names a lot in newspapers without the acute accent.

    On another related note, I know a couple of German speakers who, when talking in English, Anglicize “Euler” to “you-ler,” on the theory that they’re speaking English, and that’s how it’d be pronounced in English. We’ve told them that people here actually say “oiler”, but it just doesn’t stick.

  26. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 6:06 pm

    @Mark F.: Assuming you’re not the only English-speakers they know, they may well know something you don’t. Most (but not all) anglophone mathematicians and scientists pronounce it “oiler”, at least when referring to Leonhard Euler, but your friends may have learned from experience that most English-speakers see their name and pronounce it “yooler”. (But I’m just guessing here; you may well be right.)

  27. Bloix said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 6:11 pm

    Ah, the names of freshman shame: Euler, Freud, Nietzche, Wagner, Wittgenstein, Yeats, Bach, Donne.

  28. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 6:12 pm

    bruschetta is Italian, not French

    Yes, and Taj Mahal is Urdu/Persian, not French. The actual origin of the words in question is not the point.

    Clearly I need to either (a) track down that citation or (b) find a way to explain this phenomenon such that I don’t invite misunderstanding and helpful “corrections”.

  29. Nigel Greenwood said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 6:13 pm

    @ Simon Cauchi: helico-pter = screw-wing. Obvious when you think about it (to quote from a recent cartoon).

    So the pluperfect passive is “scrod” & the present participle is “helicopter”. Some irregular verb!

  30. Dan T. said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 6:14 pm

    There was formerly a football team called the Houston Oilers, but they were never the Eulers!

  31. Bloix said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 6:28 pm

    Nigel Greenwood wins the rolling doughnut.

  32. Oskar said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

    I think generally, mispronouncing a foreign name isn’t that big of a deal. My own name, Oskar, is pronounced differently in English and in my native language (Swedish), but I never correct people about it. My name is simply pronounced differently in different languages (lets not even mention my last name…) I don’t think it’s such a bad thing if someone, out of ignorance, says “Sotomayor” in the way that it makes sense for them. Different languages, different pronounciations.

    However, to purposefully mispronounce a hispanic name out of spite is not only an asshole thing to do, it smacks of not a little racism.

    (misspellings, however, are unforgivable in any circumstance. Yes, I know that the name is spelled “Oscar” in English and more often than not in Swedish, but every time someone spells my name that way, I feel a powerful urge to punch them in the nose. It’s my name, goddammit, get it right!)

  33. Simon Cauchi said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

    Unlike the other family in New Zealand with the same surname, we have always insisted on the correct pronunciation: [kaukɪ]. No [ko:tʃɪ] for us! (That’s meant to be an open o but I can’t find the right symbol.)

    @ Nigel Greenwood: thanks for the laugh. I mean, the guffaw!

  34. Arnold Zwicky said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

    As on some of the comments on other blogs, this discussion has drifted away from the original issue, the stress pattern of Sotomayor, to the question of whether names adoped from other languages should be pronounced “as in the original language”. (This sort of drift is why I am almost always reluctant to allow comments on my postings. For special reasons, I allowed them in this case, but it might well have been a mistake.) Nobody is claiming that Sotomayor should be pronounced by English speakers speaking English as it is in (any variety of) Spanish — with dental s and t, monophthongal o, flapped or trilled final r, etc. All of this is irrelevant (although it can be entertaining, as in the wonderful SNL sketch “NBC News Employees” of 11/10/90, with Jimmy Smits).

  35. Stephen said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 7:40 pm

    As Mark F. said. My knowledge of Spanish surnames came via baseball players in the 1970s, when I was growing up. There was Tony Pe-REZ, and Manny San-GUI-llen, and Dave Ro-SELL-o (the LL was pronounced /l/), and Diego Se-GUI, and a bunch of others whose names might not have been pronounced authentically by radio broadcasters and PA announcers.

    I didn’t know any differently–had no idea there were accent marks at all, as accents didn’t appear in rosters or on baseball cards. (I don’t suppose umlauts would’ve either…)

    I’d suspect that a LOT of Americans, especially boys, got their Spanish-surname pronunciations from constantly hearing announcers say Jerry Mo-RAL-es, Keith Her-NAN-dez, and Miguel Di-lo-NE–some right, others “wrong” by Spanish standards and often by the standards of the player himself. These days, announcers, newspaper reporters, etc. make a much greater effort to say and write the names more authentically.

  36. Nathan Myers said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 9:00 pm

    I was told by someone from somewhere west of Milan that they say “brushet-ta”, in more or less the French way, there, because of the nearby French influence, and (I suppose) to be different from the uncouth southerners. Evidently the correct pronunciation actually does vary, so that as infuriating as Americans can be, they aren’t actually wrong in this case. I still enjoy ordering it with the hard, Roman “ch”.

    In Indonesia, “taj” has come to mean “palace”, and “mahal” means “expensive”, so “Taj Mahal” means something rather different than in Hindi.

  37. Mark F. said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

    Ran — “Euler” wasn’t my friends’ name; it’s the pronunciation they use when talking about the mathematician at our seminars. It’s just bizarre hearing a bunch of Americans say “oiler” and then hearing the native German speaker say “yooler”. It drives some of the more pedantic among us nuts.

  38. Stuart said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 9:22 pm

    “In Indonesia, “taj” has come to mean “palace”, and “mahal” means “expensive”, so “Taj Mahal” means something rather different than in Hindi.”

    Not that different, really. If the phrase translates as “expensive palace” in Bahasa Indonesia then the meaning of the phrase seems quite similar to me. I was interested to see the Wiki entry give “tɑdʒ məˈhɑl” for the pronunciation when “tɑdʒ məˈhæl” would be nearer the mark. “tɑdʒ məˈhɑl” would be ताज महाल not ताज महल

  39. Bloix said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

    Arnold Zwicky – why does it bother you that the comments have moved off-topic? We’re playing nicely together, we’re not making too much noise, and we not hurting the grass. When it’s dinner time, we’ll all go home.

    But to get back on topic – yes, if you’re famous, maybe you get to choose how your name is pronounced. But if your an ordinary anonymous person, you get it pronounced the way most people read it. If you belong to a minority language group that is large enough so that general preferences will be recognized, you can expect most people will say your name in an approximation of the “correct” way- Scuh-LEE-uh in the Northeast, K’nute-son in the upper midwest. If you live elsewhere, you put up with the wrong way – SCAL-ya in Florida, NEWT-son in Virginia. And some names are just going to be mis-pronounced everywhere – Polish names for example. If your name is Ochocki, you’re going to hear Oh-Choke-ee a lot more than Oh-Hotski, no matter what your preference is. There just aren’t enough Poles around to get people familiar with Polish pronunciations.

    So Sotomayor, by insisting on the accent on the final syllable, is making a statement – that Hispanics are as significant a minority as Italians. And that, apparently, is hard for some people to take.

    How about you, Arnold? Do you say Zwicky or Tsvicky or Tsvitsky?

  40. J. W. Brewer said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 10:51 pm

    I think one problem with staying strictly “on-topic” is the lack of basic empirical insight into how odd or un-Anglicized the final-syllable stress should be taken to be. What would a bunch of regular Anglophone Americans never having heard the name pronounced but understanding from context that it was “Spanish” guess the stress pattern to be if they weren’t trying to sound all foreign? Leaving aside the politics of Krikorian’s critique, it’s just not clear to me that his claim that the “natural” Anglicized pronunciation would be first-syllable stress is right. But what would be right? I found an online list of what purported to be the 50 most common Spanish-derived surnames. Only two or three are tetrasyllabic (Espinoza, Santiago, and Gutierrez if the middle part isn’t mushed into a dipthong), all of which I would pronounce (w/ no actual knowledge of Spanish) with stress on the penultimate syllable. The only “normal” non-Hispanic tetrasyllabic surnames in the top 250 of the Census Bureau’s list appear to be on a quick inspection Alexander and Montgomery, which exhibit no common stress pattern other than “somewhere in the middle.”

  41. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 11:16 pm

    So don’t people understand that in Spanish the acute accent indicates stress?

    In a word: no. Phenomena such as the “heavy metal umlaut” make it abundantly clear that the typical American English speaker regards diacritics as a form of extraneous ornamentation. (I remember once being asked to translate a short phrase into German and then having the recipient ask in a disappointed voice, “Shouldn’t if have more of those double dot thingies?”) You might think formal foreign language study would clear up this misconception, but that all depends on the quality of instruction. Pronunciation often receives short shrift, and students without a phonics background aren’t especially likely to make a close connexion between it and the orthography in any case.

    I guarantee you, Simon, that there are thousands of people the USA with a year or two of high school or college Spanish under their belts who still have no idea how acute accents affect the pronunciation of a Spanish word.

  42. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 11:18 pm

    I agree that Krikorian is being silly, but maybe he’s accidentally hit upon something:

    In English, is it rare for four-syllable words or expressions ending in R to be accented on the final syllable?

    I can think of expressions like “open the door” and words like “toreador” (which I pronounce with stress on the final syllable, but perhaps not all English speakers do). So I guess there are some, but I retain a suspicion that on some level, it’s the final-syllable stress together with the fact that the name ends in R that causes Krikorian to perceive the pronunciation as so “foreign”.

  43. Diggitt said,

    June 2, 2009 @ 12:14 am

    Sorry I came late to this party/blog. I’m interested in how to pronounce last names “correctly.” My last name is McLaughlin. I was taught to say mick LOCK lin and to put two dots under the c. My uncle’s wife’s maiden name was McLaughlin — her family lived a couple blocks from ours — and my aunt was taught to say mick LOFF lin. (My aunt claims she changed her name when she married my uncle and I guess she did.)

    My aunt and uncle’s son now lives in Paris and became a French citizen. When he did, he was offered the opportunity to change his name to one more, well, suitable. He didn’t take the nation up on its offer and his name is there pronounced mig loff LEEN.

    I have met folks from Ireland who spell their last name the same as mine but pronounce it mick LOW leen or mac LACH lin or mig LOCK lin.

    There came a point where I no longer got miffed by people who couldn’t pronounce my name, if they at least tried. I do recall my high school teacher in Virginia (in the Shenandoah Valley, for pete’s sake) who seemingly had no idea where to start and who just waved her hand in my direction and said, “Mick uh’ ‘ ‘” and thought she had it nailed.

  44. k said,

    June 2, 2009 @ 3:24 am

    > I would imagine that in the original Western Armenian the name Krikorian also has stress on the final syllable.

    Not only that, it’s actually KIRkorian.

  45. Stephen Jones said,

    June 2, 2009 @ 5:38 am

    I guarantee you, Simon, that there are thousands of people the USA with a year or two of high school or college Spanish under their belts who still have no idea how acute accents affect the pronunciation of a Spanish word.

    The real problem is that there are millions of Spanish High School students who don’t seem to have any idea either, if their writing is anything to judge by.

  46. Noetica said,

    June 2, 2009 @ 6:30 am

    It’s [dʒ] not only in “Taj Mahal” but also in “the British Raj”, something that’s also often got wrong.

    Sure. Compare the very common use of /ʒ/ instead of /dʒ/ in Western pronunciations of “Beijing”. Even if our /dʒ/ is not perfectly correct, at least it’s an affricate, and therefore much nearer to the Mandarin than /ʒ/ is.

    As for “bruschetta” and “Schiavo”, compare /ʃ/ for “maraschino” (at least in Australian English). More broadly, and thinking of French as a “default” foreign language, compare /dilətont/ for “dilettante” (four syllables, in its Italianate rendering). Let us remember also the hyperhispanic form “Habañera” (mentioned here recently?).

  47. Tamara said,

    June 2, 2009 @ 10:14 am

    Somewhat off topic but…I remember learning in 11th-grade American history that WEB DuBois’s name was supposed to be pronounced du-BOYSS, because that was the way he pronounced it himself, and saying du-BWAH would be wrong and possibly even a bit disrespectful, in that you ought to at least try to pronounce people’s names the way they do themselves.

    Since then, nearly everyone I’ve come across pronounces it du-BWAH. I don’t know if I was taught wrong or if everyone is hypercorrecting it back to the original French.

  48. Tamara said,

    June 2, 2009 @ 10:33 am

    The worst thing about Mr. Krikorian’s comments is that it undermines my position in an ongoing argument I’ve been having with my husband. He is Nepali, and his last name is Bhandari, pronounced bhun-DAAR-ee. Americans tend to read it as BAN-der-ee. The first letter is an aspirated B which English-speakers have a great deal of trouble producing, but there is really no reason why people can’t pronounce the rest of the name properly. I keep on telling him to pronounce it properly and people will do their best to copy him, it’s only polite. He thinks he’s just adapting to America by telling people straight off his name is BAN-der-ee. And now Mr. Krikorian comes along and tells us, yes, people don’t want to pronounce foreign names correctly. Sigh.

  49. J. W. Brewer said,

    June 2, 2009 @ 11:25 am

    @SQB, is it as simple as: a) English generally doesn’t stress syllables with reduced vowels; and b) word-final syllables ending in -r are highly likely to have reduced vowels, regardless of the total number of syllables in the word? Perhaps if Golda Meir had grown up in the U.S., people would find it a bit odd if she insisted on a pronunciation different from the standard U.S. approach to Mayer/Meyer/Myer/etc.? I don’t find the final syllable stress on Sotomayor weird-sounding, but maybe I’ve lived in the NYC area long enough (or just known the particular individual’s name long enough?) to have become more familiar with the “Spanish exception” to reducing the vowel in this context than the median American would be. (E.g. I’m used to seeing signs in store windows saying “POR MAYOR.”)

    But I remain puzzled by Krikorian’s default to initial-syllable stress using the example of Niedermeyer (which almost makes the whole thing seem like it was intended to be jocular, unless my automatic Animal House association is very generation-specific). Niedermeyer is per the Census Bureau the 42,667th most common surname in the U.S. as of 1990 — orders of magnitude less common than, e.g., Alexander or McAllister, both of which are tetrasyllabic with final r but neither of which has initial stress. One common ethnic/linguistic source of tetrasyllabic U.S. surnames with final r does appear to be German, whether or not Anglicized (consider Reichenbacher v. Rickenbacker), but my guess is that the typical word-initial stress there is driven more by a sense of folk-German than the final r as such.

  50. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    June 2, 2009 @ 11:27 am

    @Diggitt: The confusion goes all the way back to the Irish. There are at least three distinct surnames commonly anglicised as “McLaughlin”: Mac Lachlainn/Lochlainn, Ó Maoil(sh)eachlainn, and Ó Lachtáin. As you can see, their forms (and therefore pronunciations) vary even in Irish–and that’s even before we take into account the considerable differences between dialects.

    @Arnold: My apologies for more off-topic clutter. I tried to restrain myself and failed.

  51. Barbara Partee said,

    June 2, 2009 @ 11:56 am

    I agree with J.W. Brewer. Even though I know Spanish, I started off unconsciously pronouncing Sotomayor wrong (silently), reducing the final vowel, until I heard it. It’s not that we don’t have plenty of several-syllable words ending with that syllable — from pinafore to Bumbledore — but the ones that come to mind end in “-ore”. And we have LOTS of words that end with “-or” where it’s an unstressed reduced vowel, including the word ‘mayor’ itself, as well as ‘major’. So for me, I imagine the -or / -ore contrast overrode my knowledge of Spanish and made me imagine it as “SOto – mayor” initially. And an English speaker who doesn’t know Spanish would almost certainly see that subword “mayor” in there. No problem with Soto — there’s a Spanish explorer de Soto, and my generation remembers the Chrsyler brand DeSoto; I think the problem is just the American reader’s expectations about “mayor”.

    Once people figure out that the -or is “as if it were -ore”, they probably won’t have much trouble with the Spanish pronunciation of “may” – probably quite a few have heard of “Cinco de Mayo” and/or “Vaya con Dios”.

    Here’s a couplet we could offer to radio announcers (since as several posters noted, there are plenty of multi-word phrases with the target stress pattern):

    One, two, buckle my shoe,
    Three, four, Sotomayor.

  52. Bloix said,

    June 2, 2009 @ 11:59 am

    “Perhaps if Golda Meir had grown up in the U.S.”

    She grew up in Milwaukee. She married Morris Myerson and emigrated to Palestine in 1917. In 1956, when she became Foreign Minister, she hebraicized her name, which was a common practice among the early Zionist leadership.

    PS- Babelfish tells me that “soto mayor” means “major grove.” Is it a compound name?

  53. Ombudsman said,

    June 2, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

    I’d be surprised if the origin of Sotomayor wasn’t a military rank name, sub-major so to speak. Compare sub-lieutenant. I’m also a bit surprised that Prof. Partee didn’t immediately (as a speaker of Spanish) etymologize the word. Don’t linguists do that to a fault?

  54. Simon Cauchi said,

    June 2, 2009 @ 4:55 pm

    @Noetica: Let us remember also the hyperhispanic form “Habañera” (mentioned here recently?).

    Now if we could only find some way of getting the tilde to migrate from “Habañera” to “pina colada”. . .

  55. Outis said,

    June 3, 2009 @ 8:22 pm

    Late to this post and new to this blog… Well I don’t know if Mr Krikorian is a racist douchebag. I don’t know who he is at all, but can’t help but think that Mr Krikorian may be taking more heat than he deserves. Now, we know that Spanish and most romance languages stress words with -R ending, along with -N and some other endings, differently from the standard penultimate stress. That’s “natural” in Spanish, where as -R endings “naturally” aren’t stressed in English. So he’s not exactly wrong in saying so.

    But either way I think this phonological PC is a uniquely American phenomenon. Here in Europe people don’t care so much how their names are pronunced; in fact there’s a long history of people fudging their names to fit the local dialect. A Frisian-Dutch friend of mine, who works in the European Commission, once told me that his (slightly rare) name is mispronounced differently by all his colleagues as a matter of course, even though all of them were multilingual and could probably make a fairly good guess of the correct pronunciation.

  56. Franz Bebop said,

    June 4, 2009 @ 12:57 am

    @Arnold: Nobody is claiming that Sotomayor should be pronounced by English speakers speaking English as it is in (any variety of) Spanish — with dental s and t, monophthongal o, flapped or trilled final r, etc. — Arnold, I’m not so sure this is true. Some people do indeed insist on completely correct Spanish pronunciation. In any case, it’s a distinction without a difference. The final stress is just as foreign as the other details.

    It’s unfair to use the word “rage” or “outrage” to describe Krikorian’s post. Krikorian raised some valid points, and his message was not heated at all. A reasonable person can disagree with Krikorian, but to use the word “rage” is not justified.

    Discussions around this topic (the pronunciation of Spanish names in English) usually dissolve quickly into a festival of nasty generalizations about the supposed stupidity of Americans, but all of this is totally unjustified. On the whole, Americans do no worse a job at pronouncing foreign names than any other group. I’ve observed this myself while traveling around the world and talking to people in different countries. Americans have done exactly nothing to earn this reputation. The rest of the world is just as bad as we are.

    Any casual observer of language quickly perceives that names which are used across language boundaries are mispronounced, repronounced, reinterpreted and reinvented. What’s the right pronunciation — is it John, Johann, or Giovanni? What’s the right pronunciation, Hercules or Herakles? What’s the capital of Austria, is it Wien or Vienna, or just Vienne? Shall we scold the Czechs for calling the city Vídeň? Is it a diplomatic insult if someone refers to “President Boosh” or “President Beel Cleenton” ? Are we supposed to be upset if someone in Italy mispronounces “Vladimir Putin”, or if someone in China cannot pronounce “Abdullah Gül”?

    When I traveled around the world, almost nobody pronounced my name correctly, because the correct pronunciation is just foreign to them. Of course I did not bother to correct them — that behavior would have been beneath my dignity, and insulting to the people who were gracious enough to address me. But it would have been even worse for me to condemn or mock these people for their mispronunciation — that would be contemptible behavior.

    No one should be running around insisting that Spanish speakers stop saying “Nueva York” and instead pronounce “New York” with a perfect English accent — that would be rude. But for the same reason, no one should be running around insisting that English speakers always use correct pronunciation of Spanish names. It’s just rude.

    The issue here is not “What is correct pronunciation?” but instead “When is it polite to insist on correct pronunciation rather than just overlooking the so-called mistake?” In my opinion, everyone should cut English-speaking Americans some slack.

    Usually the professors on Language Log take great pains to avoid proscriptivism, but they make an exception for the pronunciation of Spanish words by English-speaking Americans. They should reconsider this position. Insisting on “correctness” is out of character.

  57. Melissa said,

    June 4, 2009 @ 1:18 am

    My mom and her friends went to high school with Sonia Sotomayor, though they were two years younger and didn’t know her. However, my mom’s friend’s sister was in the same year as Sonia Sotomayor’s brother, and says that around Spellman, his name was pronounced like Sodamyer, with the accent on the first syllable. That doesn’t mean it’s what he wanted, but apparently he was either uninterested or unsuccessful in insisting on the final stress.

  58. DaveK said,

    June 4, 2009 @ 9:25 pm

    Franz, I’ve got what you’re saying, and I would have pronounced the judge’s name in the English style myself, but the issue here is whether we do somone the courtsey of pronouncing their name the way they’ve asked us to pronounce it. After all, no one complains that the House Minority Leader, John Boehner, insists–for understandable reasons–that his name be pronounced in an approximation of German as “Bainer”.

  59. Bloix said,

    June 5, 2009 @ 9:14 am

    Boehner is from Cincinnati, a center of German immigration and of German-American culture. (He represents the congressional district just north of the city.) In Ohio and throughout the midwest (e.g. St Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee), “oe” or “oeh” in names is pronounced “ay” as the closest English approximation of the German sound. “Bainer” would be the obvious pronunciation for anyone coming across the name for the first time.

  60. Matt McIrvin said,

    June 6, 2009 @ 2:08 am

    The thing is, this isn’t a case of people being criticized for pronouncing Sotomayor’s name differently from the Spanish pronunciation. It’s a case of the standard pronunciation being criticized for being too much like the Spanish pronunciation, by conservatives who are using their favored pronunciation as some sort of nativist shibboleth. It wasn’t even an issue until they brought it up.

    That’s the craziest thing about modern conservative anti-PC agitation: it’s more rigidly politically correct in its own way than the vast majority of the people being attacked ever were. It’s a lot like the “War On Christmas” nonsense; supposedly in the name of fighting political correctness, conservatives suddenly turned the question of whether you said “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” into a huge political issue fraught with partisan and sectarian implication. Pure projection.

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