DROP THOSE PC ETHNIC ACCENTS.
A hip, intelligent Los Angeles university lecturer was discussing how different his life would have been if he had grown up in Pakistan. But he called it pahk-EEEE-stan. How strange and exotic: I've lived there and visited often, and no one there ever called it that.
I later asked at a gathering of my family, somewhat rhetorically, ``So how again would someone from our country pronounce it?''
``Pahk-iss-tan,'' my mother said, in a far less emphatic, less cartoonish manner than the lecturer did.
I decided to needle the lecturer with this information, feeling I could also spare him further embarrassment. Instead, he insisted I, my family and my entire ancestry were wrong: ``No, it really is Pawk-EEEEEE-stan.''
Ah, to be so snobbishly proper in a manner that exceeds even the specifications of the foreign culture in question. Not only do well-meaning people say Nicarrrrhhhhagua, but we pronounce Guatemala as What-a-malla or Gwot-eeeee-malla, never mind that Guatemalans don't even say it that way.
Utterly assimilated TV reporters put perfect American accents to say, ``Live from Washington, this is David Pehhhrrrrrr-ez.''
Pronunciational correctness is exhausting and time-consuming. If I were to be consistent, Paris would now be Paree, Germany would be Deutschland, sushi would be soosh-EEE, and I would need to pronounce Tony Blair's name with a posh British accent. If I were a TV journalist reporting on Tony Blair meeting with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kawl-eeee-for-nia while they nibble on ethnic food and discuss the state of affairs in Germany, I suspect I couldn't keep up with the demands of the moment.
Me, I'm happy to Americanize my native land into PACK-iss-TAN when I discuss it. Our family Americanized our name decades ago, making it AZ-gar, because the proper pronunciation requires an awkward gargling sound that's just too much to expect out of poor Joe Smith of Canoga Park.
Yet the larger problem with pronunciational correctness is that it smacks too much of the basic PC, which promotes diversity and tribalism above the need for a common and unifying culture. This has dishonored the notion of the Great American Melting Pot, in which every foreign culture melted into every other one, creating a distinctly American experience.
This new tribalism has been fueled by many sympathetic liberals, but it took one of America's greatest liberals, historian Arthur Shlesinger Jr., to warn us a decade ago of the perils of our ``cult of ethnicity.'' As Shlesinger argued, ``The vision of America as melted into one people prevailed through most of the two centuries of the history of the United States.'' But in our PC age, ``Instead of a transformative nation with an identity all its own, America in this new light is seen as preservative of diverse alien identities.'' He warned that the cult of ethnicity dangerously ``belittles unum and glorifies pluribus.''
I used to work in a Loze Awn-gill-eez office made up of hyphens: Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Italian-Americans and me, a Pakistani-American. What made it so special wasn't that we pronounced the names of one another's ethnic cuisines impeccably. What made it special was that we were utterly unconscious about our differences. We were ultimately Americans, each of whom appreciated our individual heritage on our own time, and each of whom appreciated our common heritage during our time together.
Ironically, in Pakistan, they refer to America as Um-reee-ka. To each his own.
A first step in being The Great Melting Pot again is for Americans to go back to talking like Americans. The otherwise-influential Schlesinger couldn't convince people of this, probably because he was ``just a darned white European type.'' Let, then, a noninfluential, nonwhite guy offer his own effort. My last name is AZ-gar. My family is from PACK-kiss-TAN.
Don't be embarrassed to pronounce them like an American.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Mar 20, 2005|
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