Friday, November 20, 2009

Liberal Arrogance - and Guilt

It has been noted many times that the modern American Left - which includes a large percentage of the Democratic Party - seems to be more interested in controlling every aspect of the Little People's lives than they are in anything else. Evidence for this proposition includes the massive government power grab of the financial, automotive and health care industries, as well as the ever-increasing reams of regulation that are mainly spearheaded by the Left.

However, there is another piece of evidence for the predilection - the tendency of self-professed 'elites' in the United States to try to force Americans to pronounce foreign words exactly as a native speaker would. Food Critic and Top Chef judge Toby Young mercilessly exposes this affectation in his Spectator column today, writing,
In the States, pronouncing foreign words ‘correctly’ is a high-status indicator. It’s not just about demonstrating your racial sensitivity. It’s a way of advertising your membership of the elite. Saying ‘py-el-a’ rather than ‘py-ay-a’ is to risk being thought of as lower class.

I don’t mean that they’re concerned about appearing not very well travelled, though that comes into it. It’s more a question of manners. Not tiptoeing around other cultures is considered impolite. To make a ‘racially insensitive’ remark is to reveal a lack of familiarity with the code. They’re worried about appearing ignorant, but not of other cultures. What concerns them is that people might think they don’t know the form. Being politically correct is also socially correct — which helps explain its ubiquity. When a political trend is reinforced by snobbery it becomes an irresistible force, which helps explain the success of the environmental movement.

As a speaker of Japanese, I am well-acquainted with the fact that a Japanese person will not pronounce English words in precisely the same accent as a native American. Words are spoken differently by different cultures. For instance, in English Roma is Rome, 東京 is Tokyo, and Paree is Paris. In Japanese London is 'Rondon' and Los Angeles is 'Rosu'. And why not? Making an effort to pronounce words correctly when speaking a foreign tongue aids communication. However, when speaking English, I do not labor to pronounce foreign words as they would be in their native tongue - I give them the common English pronunciation.

In essence what these elitists are doing is trying both to show their elite status and to force everyone to meet their own narrow ideas of what is 'correct'. As Mr. Young so correctly concludes,
A world in which all ethnic groups speak slightly differently, following their own idiosyncratic rules when it comes to pronouncing words not in their language, is preferable to one in which everyone is forced to pronounce things ‘correctly’ by a bunch of guilty white people. In the end, that’s more ‘imperialist’ than saying ‘py-el-a’.

I could not agree more. Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

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