Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Iran, Iran so far away

I don't often read Counterpunch. There are basically two reasons. One, it's something of an echo chamber of bad facts: by which I mean that the same people read the same people and repeat the same things each other says. Which is okay but you end up reading the same essay over and over, and often the same "facts" are repeated, which are not always correct. For instance, Ellen Cantarow
thinks the Jewish National Fund controls 90 percent of Israel's land, which is not true. The JNF doesn't even "control" its own land directly. This detracts from her story, which would be interesting if I hadn't read it a dozen times before, because if you get something like that wrong, what else are you getting wrong? It doesn't help that Counterpunch doesn't distinguish sufficiently strongly between anti-Zionism, which I sympathise with, and anti-Semitism, which I absolutely do not. That's not to say that the website has an anti-Semitic bent: it's not a neo-Nazi site or anything like that, and it's nothing like as bad as Prison Planet. But it posts a lot of stuff that seems to me to be "blame the Jew", rather than fair-minded analyses of Israeli policy.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful rant about how naughty Obama just doesn't pronounce foreign names properly. The author is entirely unaware, it seems, of the convention that languages have their own names for countries. He rails against Obama's pronunciation of "Iran" as "eye-ran" (I pronounce it the same way) and writes this:

I only recently and accidentally, saw a small part of “Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work” on PBS. I was dumbfounded that the Queen England and her Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, could not correctly pronounce the name of their former colony, Iraq. They both reflected arrogant and ignorant colonial pronunciation aired on their propaganda machine, the BBC. It is more shocking because the Queen is supposed to be one of the most educated and experienced political leaders in the world. As for Dr. Gordon Brown, he has a doctoral degree in history. If both are not lost in time, they are lost in space, while maintaining their ugly colonial speech.

Either that or their problem is that they are speaking English, and in English, Iraq is pronounced "ee-rak". You could consider it a "colonial" pronunciation or you could just consider it a genuine attempt to render the Arabic into English, making the word accord to English phonological rules (I don't know why "Iran" is rendered with a different sound).

One wonders how Dr Kamiar pronounces "Germany".

See my trick? Germans, as any fule kno, call their nation "Deutschland". They name it after one of the names for the ethnic group that has predominated in northern Europe over the centuries (which we previously rendered as "Teutonic" or "Dutch": in case you've ever wondered why "Pennsylvania Dutch" people are German, this is why -- like other Germans, they call themselves a variety of "deutsch"). We use a different ethnonym because we base our name for their nation on the Roman "Germania" (it's curious that we didn't call it "Alemania", I suppose).

We also "mispronounce" France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium; indeed, the name of just about every country that does not speak English and probably a few that do. And we didn't even colonise most of them! We completely butcher "Magyarorszag". No true Magyar would call his or her nation "Hungary" after all. They're not even Huns!

One should further note that Iraq was not exactly a "colony" of England, but a mandate of the United Kingdom. Dr Brown, who is indeed a doctor in history, doubtless could put him straight on the difference. He could also discuss with Dr Kamiar the virtue of not making huge errors of ignorance when lecturing others on same. The "Queen England" is of course the queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There hasn't been a king or queen of England for three centuries.


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