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Foreign accents and (Mis)pronunciations

I have often noticed that people (especially in the news media but not exclusively) cannot pronounce foreign names correctly if their life depended on it! And sometimes it seems like they do it on purpose. I could be wrong here. But consider this. Do you really think that former US President Bush, or his then VP Dick Cheney did not know that the correct pronunciation is ‘Iraakh’, not ‘Eye-rack’? One may say that this is a trivial matter but I do not think that it is. If you do not bother to learn the correct way of pronouncing somebody’s name, what good are you at public relations? And is that all the importance you give to another culture? This matters a lot if one is in the spotlight or public eye all the time.

Like newsreaders, for instance… I just cannot stand it when those BBC newsreaders pronounce Anna Hazare like Anna Kournikova. I mean, c’mon now! Seriously? Anna Hazare is an Indian male activist… that’s right, MALE! His first name is pronounced like ‘un’ (as in unbelievable) + ‘na’. Why would a Gandhian figure have a female-sounding Western name? And don’t get me started on Gandhi! Or Ghandi or Gandi.. ugh! How hard is it to pronounce and spell correctly? And these are not even long names. By the way, I like how Obama correctly pronounces words like Iraq and Pakistan. He knows that it makes a difference, no matter how small, in foreign relations. And it is not just Westerners mispronouncing Eastern names. It is sometimes the other way round too. But western news media such as BBC and CNN simply have more exposure on TV and consequently are under greater public scrutiny.

The other thing that drives me up the wall is seeing, for example, people using an obviously fake and extra-heavy British accent to report for a channel like the BBC. I wonder if they are required to do this in order to keep their job… Can somebody confirm this? If that is the case, I think it is beyond ridiculous! Some newsreaders of course do seem like they are Easterners who were born and brought up in Britain. In such cases, I can at least sort of understand. But how does a reporter regularly covering for the BBC from Mumbai develop a thick British accent living in India? It is funny as heck but mostly just cringe worthy. One must not be required to change one’s cultural habits so drastically in order to do the job.

Anyway, this is something that has always bothered me and I debated in my mind whether to post this or not. But I do not mean any disrespect to anybody. I just find it funny that some people go out of their way to pronounce foreign names correctly and others just don’t seem to give a damn.

Gaddafi death in the media

Muammar Gaddafi

I happened to listen to Redi Tlhabi’s show on Talk Radio 702 yesterday when I had to step out of the office for a bit. She was asking for listeners’ opinions on whether it was right to show deposed Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi’s bloodied face and dead body openly in the media. There was a handful of people calling in, saying that they were shocked and disturbed to see it and there were others who were unfazed by it, calling it a dose of reality or whatever. One of the main concerns from the former group of callers was that their children could easily see the major newspapers at supermarkets flashing his gory mug shot on their front pages. The latter group felt that we do not need to be protected from what is happening out there in the world. I think there are valid points on both sides but let us get something straight here… This man not only forcefully ruled a nation for forty years, he killed and even burned alive several of his own people who dared to oppose him. Posting a bloodied photo of him in the media not only serves as proof for everyone to see that they really did get him, it delivers a sense of relief that this despicable monster is well and truly no more. I think doing this is essential no matter how gory or difficult the image. Sure, in the case of news media perhaps the photo could have been featured inside rather than on the front page, as some callers suggested. I agree to that. But the story needs to be told nevertheless. History must teach mankind the valuable lesson that one cannot simply torture one’s own people for decades and get away with it. Look what happened to Saddam Hussein. And what better lesson than visual proof?! And surely we can handle the gore, c’mon! We watch movies that are way more violent than this. Some video games have blood splatters every few seconds as the score goes up. But I can understand how different people have different sensitivity levels and that is when it becomes a difficult call. Anyway, I cannot imagine how relieved the Libyan people must feel now. Let’s hope America doesn’t take over.