Will Sotomayor Make Spanish An Official Language?
June 02, 2009, 05:00 AM
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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.

At the same time, this pronunciation fad is an attempt to sneak Spanish in the back door as a sort of official language—or at least to exempt Spanish names from the Anglicizing process other names go through. Like "Press 1 for English," this is just one more result of having let 40 million Hispanics come live here.

The Chinese have been pushing us around, too. We`re not supposed to talk about Peking or Canton anymore. They are Beijing and Guangzhou. The Communists changed the spelling after they took over in 1949, but only started bullying Westerners about it in the 1980s.

The Chinese claim the new spellings sound more like the way the Chinese themselves pronounce the name. So what? English-speakers have certain names for certain places and we have used them for centuries. Munich isn`t even spelled the same as München and Florence doesn`t sound much like Firenze, but the Germans and the Italians don`t ask us to change. If the French told us to start calling their capital Paree we would laugh at them.

The Japanese have their own names for things, too. They use the same characters as the Chinese but pronounce them differently. So they are the only people in the world who talk about Moh Taku-toh and Sho Kai-seki rather than Mao Tse-tung and Chiang Kai-shek.

The Chinese don`t like that but the Japanese speak Japanese, not Chinese. And Nancy Pelosi could live in Japan all her life but never be anything but Nahnshee Pehroshee.

Like the Japanese, the French have their own ideas about how our names should be pronounced. Our last president was Zhorzh Boosh, and he lived in la Maison Blanche, not the White House. To them, New England is Nouvelle Angleterre and South Carolina is Caroline du Sud.

And do you think Mexicans ever go to New York? No, they go to Nuevo York. In 2001, Hispanic legislators introduced a bill in the New Mexico state house officially to change the state`s name to Nuevo Mexico. When the bill never made it out of committee, sponsor Miguel Garcia blamed "covert racism." [Lawmaker Suggests Racism To Blame After New State Name Axed, By S. U. Mahesh, Albuquerque Journal, February 14, 2001]

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 Puerto Rican." 

Jared Taylor (email him) is editor of American Renaissance and the author of Paved With Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America. (For Peter Brimelow`s review, click here.)