What it reveals when senators repeatedly mispronounce the names of Kamala Harris and Sundar Pichai


People throughout just about each ethnic group have needed to take care of others struggling to get their names proper. And the drawback appears to persist regardless of how highly effective or seen an individual turns into.

Despite the proven fact that Pichai runs one of the world’s strongest firms and that he had testified on Capitol Hill earlier than, senators nonetheless could not appear to pronounce his title accurately — as a substitute calling him variations of “Mr. Pick Eye” and Mr. Pish Eye.” (It’s pronounced “pih-CHAI,” like the spiced beverage.)

Then there was Sen. David Perdue’s handling of the Democratic vice presidential nominee’s name earlier this month during a rally for President Donald Trump. The Georgia Republican referred to his colleague, Sen. Kamala Harris, as “Ka-ma-la or Ka-ma-la, Kamala-mala-mala,” punctuating that with “I do not know, no matter.”

(Harris has served in the US Senate for almost four years and pronounces her name “COMMA-la,” like the punctuation mark.)

Continually mispronouncing somebody’s title is lazy at best and malicious at worst, as many individuals have been fast to level out. And too typically, the names which might be thought to be “too difficult” to be taught belong to individuals of colour.
To paraphrase what actress Uzo Aduba said her mom informed her rising up, “If they will be taught to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky,” people can learn to say Sundar Pichai and Kamala Harris.

Ultimately, expert say, the issue boils down to power and respect.

Botched names are often tied to race

Encountering unfamiliar-sounding names is inevitable in a country as multicultural as the US, and stumbling a few times at first is normal.

You might recall how many Americans tripped up over the name of former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg (it’s pronounced “BOOT-edge-edge”), prompting his husband to tweet several phonetic pronunciations.

Non-English names, naturally, employ stress patterns or sounds that aren’t used in English, and remembering those sequences can be challenging, says Megha Sundara, a linguistics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The issue, though, isn’t unintentional mistakes, but rather how people recover from them.

“You can double down out of embarrassment, or apologize and repair it,” Sundara wrote in an email to CNN. “Because ‘say my title’ is maybe the most elementary manner by which we ask others to acknowledge our existence.”

So when someone doesn’t take the time to learn the proper way to pronounce another person’s name — or worse, intentionally mocks it for being “too arduous” to pronounce — it can come across as malicious.

It additionally evokes the nation’s historical past of dominant teams forcing new names on individuals of oppressed teams, reminiscent of enslaved Africans and indigenous kids in authorities faculties, says Rita Kohli, an affiliate professor of training at the University of California, Riverside.

“There is a longstanding historical past of forcible assimilation on this nation as a strategy to keep the energy construction,” she wrote in an email to CNN. “To make sure that White Anglo Saxon, English, Protestantism stayed dominant, those that didn’t match have been made to vary issues reminiscent of their language, their names. It has created a tradition the place those that are dominant haven’t needed to have interaction in reciprocal relationships of studying.”

That dominant groups dismiss certain names as too hard to get right is tied to racism and other forms of oppression, Kohli added.

Perdue’s derisive mocking of his fellow senator’s name amounted to “disrespecting and deprofessionalizing a Black and girl of colour vice presidential candidate,” Kohli said. (A spokesperson for Perdue’s campaign has said that he simply mispronounced the name and didn’t mean anything by it.)

“One factor is for positive, in case you have identified anyone for a very long time, and are nonetheless saying their title flawed, guess who has energy in that relationship?” Sundara added. “It’s not the one that can neither right you nor make it stick.”

Some children of immigrants adapted their names to make them ‘easier’

Having others constantly mess up your name can be so exhausting that some people with non-English names decide to adapt or change them.

One way is by adopting an Anglicized pronunciation.

For example, many South Asians pronounce Kamala, a common Indian name, as “come-luh” or “come-uh-luh.”

“People ask me how you can pronounce it. There are some ways,” Harris stated in a 2017 interview with David Axelrod. “If you have been asking my grandmother, she’d say ‘come-luh.’ I often assist individuals pronounce it by saying, ‘Well, simply assume of a comma and add a “-la” at the finish.'”
It's 'comma-la': How to pronounce Kamala Harris' name

Others, like Mindy Kaling, shorten their given names.

The actress, whose birth name is Vera Mindy Chokalingam, told NPR’s Terry Gross that when was performing standup comedy early in her career, emcees had trouble pronouncing her South Indian last name — so she shortened it, even though she had mixed feelings about the decision.

“It’s bittersweet, however I’ve to say, it was such a assist to my profession to have a reputation that individuals might pronounce,” she said in the interview.

And then there are some who choose to go by a different name altogether, like former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal.

Jindal, whose mother and father immigrated from India and who was born with the title Piyush, started going by the name Bobby as a boy as a result of he recognized with a personality in “The Brady Bunch.”

But some people are pushing back

But many people of color are no longer willing to accommodate the dominant, White culture at the expense of their own heritage.

Last year, comedian Hasan Minhaj appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ show and refused to move on during a segment until the TV host pronounced his name correctly.

“When I first began doing comedy, individuals have been like, ‘You ought to change your title,'” he said on the show. “I’m like, ‘I’m not going to vary my title. If you’ll be able to pronounce Ansel Elgort, you’ll be able to pronounce Hasan Minhaj.'”

Harris, too, has insisted that people get her name right, tying her experiences to what so many others go through.

“That the highest elected leaders ought to conduct themselves like they did when they have been kids on the playground, it speaks poorly of their appreciation for the duty of the position that they’ve,” she stated on The Daily Show. “And I feel it’s a mirrored image of their values and their maturity.”





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