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« I know it's late | Main | The triumph of Lou Pearlmanism »

January 18, 2005

Comments

Neal

I've sometimes wanted to correct people who introduce themselves as "Sheila," when I happen to know their name is spelled "Shelia." "No, not Sheila. Your name is /sheel-ya/! Can't you even pronounce your own name?"

Janes_Kid

This comment may be related.

The current tennis season started in Australia yesterday. I have it from a highly reliable source, the internet, that the professional tennis association has an official list of spellings and pronunciations for the names of players. It is reported they even sign a contract to use these names. It is further reported that the official names of several of the Russian players are officially pronounced differently than the "real Russian" because of the official contracts.

wolfangel

It's not racially insensitive or culturally insensitive, it is personally insensitive and discourteous. Call someone what they want to be called. Spell it the way they want you to spell it, including whatever quirks of capitalisation they want. (Or do you dislike the iPod etc, too?) Not capitalising some proper names because the owner (designator? whatever) prefers not will not tumble down the edifice that is English orthography, and it's just common decency to respect people's wishes about their names where it's possible: this is certainly a place where it's possible.

Semantic Compositions

Neal: She has two names. That's the problem.

Janes_kid: Barbara Partee submitted some comments to Language Log on tennis player names. You're quite right about it.

Wolfangel: I think your quarrel is more with Prof. Poser than myself. I don't necessarily have answers to all of the questions I raised. My instinct is that personal wishes should be respected in general -- but also that there are limits to what people may reasonably be claimed to be offended by.

In the case of "zeiran r'ei", we may assume that Prof. Pullum got a note regarding typos (hence Prof. P's comment about the capitalization and punctuation being "apparently mandatory"). But surely this then calls for circumlocutions like making sure that zr's name never leads a sentence, in order to respect the common understanding that the first word is capitalized. In response to your comment about iPods, I had a look around -- some news organizations do insist on making it IPod in headlines, if not in body copy, to conform to their standards. Usage is similarly mixed for Qualcomm, a company which tries to enforce an all-caps spelling of its name. I'll post some more on those findings in a few days.

I see something of a control issue in this as well, which is why I raised the questions of what levels offense is being given at. By demanding that Prof. Pullum correct a sentence to start with a lowercase character, Mr. r'ei is asserting a right not merely to demand that his name be spelled as he chooses, but also that other people change the structure of their sentences to conform to his wishes (i.e. by not putting his name at the beginning). If I choose to write Qualcomm because QUALCOMM disobeys capitalization rules, is it less offensive to do so because no individual named QUALCOMM exists to actually take offense than if I capitalize Zeiran? I think Prof. Poser's "ethical" framing of the issue was too strongly worded, but that he was reacting as much to the assertion of a right to control other people as to any specific issue about orthography.

wolfangel

I agree that I am mostly disagreeing with Prof. Poser, not you. And in my post about this, I said that I think it's reasonable to capitalise a first name when it's the beginning of a sentence, even if it's not otherwise capitalised, just like most words are. (I don't know what I'd do in starting a sentence with the word iPod: I would probably avoid it, but that's because of the caps in the middle, not the lowecase i.) But the real question is how people who refuse to lowercase (for example) bell hooks write things like iPod. If they say Ipod and Bell Hooks, then we can disagree about this; if they say iPod and Bell Hooks then there's something more than just "don't want to use non-standard capitalisation".

Yes, I think you cannot be courteous to a company, and you can (and should) be courteous to a person, so there is a distinction between QUALCOMM and r'ei. Qualcomm is not offensive, while Rei is.

Qov

Names are names, and yes, it's rude not to pronounce them the way the owners do. That's why reading rollcall on the first day of class is such a treacherous business.

I remember a first day of Russian class when the professor effortlessly negotiated the pronunciation of every sz, ce, and shch in my classmates' Slavic names, then came to a dead halt at mine: Stewart.

It's also a little rude for people to repeatedly change the way they want their names represented, but your mother didn't teach you to answer rudeness with rudeness.

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Okay, I'm feeling all Will Smith in Six Degrees with this question, so
I'm signing off. Thanks for the full complement and I look forward to
working with you in the future.

Again, best of luck on the project!

Sam

It is further reported that the official names of several of the Russian players are officially pronounced differently than the "real Russian" because of the official contracts. http://www.rapidmediafire.com

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I remember a first day of Russian class when the professor effortlessly negotiated the pronunciation of every sz, ce, and shch in my classmates' Slavic names, then came to a dead halt at mine: Stewart.

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I remember a first day of Russian class when the professor effortlessly negotiated the pronunciation of every sz, ce, and shch in my classmates' Slavic names, then came to a dead halt at mine: Stewart.

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