(Editor's Note: She's posted this one, then pulled it, then posted it, then pulled it again. She's not sure. She never is, on issues like these, because she knows she can't ever truly understand anything from "the other point of view."
But she's posting it again, anyway, because she thinks her point about American accents not being considered accents is valid, and she'll trust her readers and commenters to straighten her out on the rest of it.)
Hmmm. I read this editorial in the NYT today and thought it was about time I weighed in on the... um... "name thing."
The editorial tells the story of a Hispanic author's experiences with his own name, Manuel Munoz, and his observations that there are two ways of pronouncing it -- the Mexican way and the English way. He notes that he and many of his Hispanic friends and relatives allow their names to be pronounced in the English way for "convenience" and to allow them to "blend in:"
Ours, then, were names that stood as barriers to a complete embrace of an American identity, simply because their pronunciations required a slip into Spanish, the otherness that assimilation was supposed to erase.I won't argue his experience. Munoz goes on to write about how having an easily-pronounced name increases "access" (in the lit theory sense as well as the literal one) in America. It's overwhelmingly present; there is still discrimination against people whose names sound too "foreign."
(As I've noted before, people today are extra-aware that names are everything.)
But there is another side to this story.
It has to do with Munoz' failure to identify the native-born American accent as an accent, with all the quirks and limitations thereof.
He writes as if it were merely a matter of choice that American speakers (read: white) pronounce his name "Man-WELL" without the elisions that a Spanish speaker would use.
This troubles me, because it speaks to a generality: that the "American accent" is, in this country and increasingly worldwide, viewed as a "default." Think of the dialect coaches in India, working to give call center employees default/blank/all-purpose-American accents.
If this "American accent" (never mind the varieties of speech patterns among Americans) is viewed as default, a few other assumptions begin to tag alongside.
The first is the assumption that people with American accents have the ability to say any phoneme they like, or to slip into any other accent unhindered. (After all, the American accent isn't an accent; it's the opposite of an accent: a blank slate.)
The second is that people with American accents have the ability to hear the difference between the way they pronounce a particular name and the way it is pronounced by the original speaker. (Trust me: when we refer to "Dr. Gooooopta," we really think we're getting it right.)
The third, of course, is that all non-American accents are viewed as variant, deviant, of less value, etc.
I'm not sure what the solutions will be to any of these problems. It will be interesting to see how accents change in the next hundred years; whether the "American" accent is allowed to dominate, or whether it becomes tucked alongside a multiplicity of accents and is no longer a "default." Globalism could take us either way.
But -- at the current moment -- to Mr. Muniz and to everyone who's had a name butchered: Some of us, including me, can't always say the words we'd like to say. Forgive us our flat vowels.