Friday, February 09, 2007

You name it, they mangle it

What is it with the English people who cant be bothered to pronounce – or who comment that it’s too difficult to remember - names which they consider foreign? Shilpa Shetty is a perfect case in point. Two syllables, that’s all – “Shil” and “pa”. How difficult can it possibly be to pronounce it, or remember how to? It’s not like they were faced with Tripurasundari or Kameshwari. Not that those are difficult to say – they just LOOK formidable. Break ‘em down into individual syllables and they’re easy enough.

But no, people (even a friend of mine, not in the least prejudiced or closed-minded, who claims she simply cant remember how to say “Shilpa”) have to bumble around with Shipla, Shupla, Shulpa, Sheepa and so on. Not even the simplest names are exempt - Sunita becomes “sun”ita, as in that great orb of fire in the sky; Kumar becomes Coooma, Guru becomes Gooroo, Adi, is Addy, Suresh is Soorash, Abdul Rahman is AB-dull Raamun, and so on.

At work I kept taking calls from someone whose name I simply could not figure out. It sounded vaguely Arabic (Al Peche Metta), and what made it more confusing was that the moment I told him MY name, he immediately asked if I was from India. Now most people here cant tell where I’m from (not over the phone, certainly), and equally certainly they’re not savvy enough to place which part of the world I’m from, just by my name. So this Al Peche fella had me stumped.

Until I happened to catch sight of a letter addressed to him – and THEN the penny dropped like a tonne of bricks, removing all confusion. Alpesh Mehta. THAT’S what his name was. Alpesh – which should have been pronounced Alpaysh, not AL-pesh. Phooey.

I’ve noticed that the Brits tend to consider the letter “r” at the end of a word as silent. Which is why the name Kumar becomes Cooma, or at best Kuma. But then they go and add an “r” to words that end in “a”, so it all tends to become quite puzzling. For instance, if they’re saying “in India and other countries”, it automatically becomes “In Indiar and other countries”. It’s like they cant have two consecutive words that end and start with the same vowel (or sound).

But note this - an “r” in the middle of a word, especially following an “a”, is taken as an extension of the “a” sound – “aa”. Pete is simply incapable of saying “Sharma” the way an Indian would – which is to say, Shar-ma, with the “r” clearly sounded. He says “Shaama”. Which is also why, when my sister-in-law spells my name as “Sharm”, in her head she’s actually saying “Shyam”. Pete’s aunt routinely spells my name as “Chyrmala” on her Christmas card to us, although I always sign myself with my full name – Shyamala – in the hope that she’ll notice and correct herself. I don’t have a clue how she managed to come up with “Chyrm” to signify “Shyam”, though. Heehee!

I can understand if the Brits have a difficult time with difficult names, to get back to my original point. Then again, my family have come up with some rather strange pronunciations for Rebecca, Pete’s daughter. Re-bake-ah, Rebukka, Ray-bukka and other variations. I’ve asked them to call her “Bex” or “Becky” instead. That’s easy enough for anyone.


Pri said...

heeeeeee in the amreeka its no better. i have a friend called tushar. they call him tusss aar. its sounds like a bad noise. like a firecracker that wouldnt go off.

Revathi R said...

it's just the effort you take to pronounce right. Attempting to get the right way of pronouncing any name reflects your character.
Have you heard of the Carnatic musician Jon B. Higgins and his classical rendition of songs in various Indian langiages, Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit?
Perfect! 'Enneramum undan sannidhiyile naan irukka vendum ayya...' what a beautiful composition by Gopalakrishna Bharati!