from Monday, April14th of the year2008.
I have been meaning to write for a couple of days, but I have been living in a house with No Internet, which is actually pretty amazing. When is that last time that’s been the case?
An Observation about British Food. I think, you guys, that we are over the hump with this. Now, it’s easier to eat well than it is to eat badly. Jaffer and I have eaten basically nothing but excellent, excellent food for the last seven days, which is a real triumph. Of course, the trick is to make as many meals as possible happen at either St John or St John Bread and Wine. I went the other night and ate Cuttlefish in Her Owne Inke, Pig’s Ear and Sorrel, Ox Heart Salad, and an epic, delicious Steamed Lemon Sponge. I salivate now just at the thought. Also, the variety of bacons available for purchase in the market is inspiring and wonderful. Also: the video player at St John Restaurant is amazing and you all need to go right now.
An Observation about my Visual Proclivities. I had to meet a friend at the National Gallery, but arrived very early, as is my wont, and wandered around the 16th century Italian art galleries for twenty minutes. I went to the gift store afterwards and saw the following postcards:
My first thought to myself was, “Ooh, that’s a handsome G!” And so I marched up to the lady and was like, “How much for that G?” and she said, “Sir, those are just the letters to tell you the names of the artists reproduced on the cards. They are not for sale, I am sorry to inform you.”
It is a handsome G, though.
Some Observations about Chronic Mispronunciation in England and among the Elderly. I was walking down the street and noticed a series of ads for the wonderful LastMinute.com, the copy of which reads, “This Weekend, Go Somewhere You Can’t Spell:”
Now, of course, England People and America People and basically Anywhere People have their own pronunciation preferences and I’m not going to get into a whole conversation about that here. What I wanted to talk about is this completely insane English practice of re-accenting foreign words.
I have a friend who came to visit me in New York just after he and his family had come from the Vèneto. See that accent there? That’s where the accent goes. Now, in Italian, you can print the accent or not, but everybody there would certainly pronounce it as I have just rendered it. My friend went to about as fancy a sequence of schools as money can buy, and is generally well-read and -travelled. So, what is it that would compel him to say Venèto? He wasn’t hesitating, either, it was like, Venèto this and Venèto that. What instinct governs this rule?
More jarringly, a few weeks ago, an English artist friend of mine – my age! – was talking about other artists’ use of color and referenced the Spanish artist Joan Miró. Now, I think in basically all contexts, the accent on that Ã“ is both printed and pronounced. Homegirl, similarly, has had as posh a schooling as is available on this Island, and he was saying it not once, twice or thrice but like four million times with the accent on the first i. MÃro. Now seriously, you guys? What is this about?
I was thinking about this in the context of some other weird interviews I’ve had recently, where people ““ usually around my parents’ ages ““ have seemingly deliberately mispronounced the names of other artists ““ sticking H‘s up in Antony’s name, rendering the J in Björk’s, even pronouncing my own name Nicko, despite the IPA guide I put at the end of my bio (“His name is pronounced [Ëˆni ko] [Ëˆmju: li]).” Nobody is asking for people to render Sigurðsson or Hrafnhildur with native perfection, but, where does the tongue twister leave and general politeness take over?
[A note to my Webmistress. Is there a way to have a style sheet for single letters as themselves? As in “it was a U-shaped road” ““ aren’t you meant to make that U a special sans-serif deal? I know Jenny has blogged about this most cleverly, but I can’t seem to dig up the entry…]
When I was growing up, my father would chronically mispronounce my friends’ names if they were remotely not New or Old Testament; he too is well-travelled and read, and is not what could be described as culturally insensitive. I think what it does is establishes the Mispronouncer as the linguistically dominant party in a conversation, as if somehow the introduction of a foreign word is an offense to the sovereignty of his knowledge (not to offend him, a loyal reader of this space! Perhaps “offense” is too harsh a word: a grain of sand in the espadrille of his knowledge?). I know that I engage in a lot of this kind of play to reinforce that language is there to be played with – replacing w‘s with v‘s, older pronunciations, older spellings, and I know that what it does it shines the light of my own life on the sentence that I’m speaking; it’s on purpose. I do tend to try to leave people’s names out of it, preferring an aggressive nickname to an aggressive mispronunciation, because at the end of the day, your name is your whole joint, you know?
The other advantage of a deliberate mispronunciation is that it can be subtly dismissive of a topic that you, the Mispronouncer, are somehow ashamed to admit to knowing too much about. One time I have caught myself doing this is with the artist M.I.A., whom everybody had been talking about in, like, 2003. So as not to appear deliberately branché (BRAHN-shay) about her music, I caught myself talking about her like, “Oh, I was just listening to…how do you say it, is it Miyya? Emm Eye Ay?” and of course, it’s an asshole move, and it slows the pace of conversation. I heard myself do it, and vowed never to do it again.
Anyway, this sort of deliberate mispronunciation of foreign words can, I think, be culturally useful in Island places; in a sense, it nativizes and neutralizes the intense ““ and debatably problematic ““ amount of foreign influence in an otherwise closed culture. It says, your word has been transformed by its introduction to this conversation, house, location, culture. It’s a fascinating move; I just wonder what Miró and the good inhabitants of the Vèneto have to say about it. Maybe they don’t mind. I have found that people with, for instance, the Icelandic name “DanÃel” (which is a spikey, three-three syllable affair) will readily introduce themselves as “DAN-yell” in non-Ice contexts; similarly, when in France I will spondee-out “Nico” as is the native custom.
This is not to say, however, that I’m proposing that everybody be super NPR about pronunciation or that anybody should ever rock out a fully rolled “Croissant” up in the Dunkin’ Donuts (has anybody ever tried to render the word Croissan’wich in this fashion?). NPR is the worst, when they play that racist-ass generic third world background noise (goats, chickens, children weeping) and then say that they are reporting live from Baghdad, rendered like Ø¨ØºØºØº-Ø¶Ø§Ø§Ø§Ø§Ø§Ø§Ø§Ø¶ or God forbid, somewhere in the Quechuaphone world.