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Why the mispronunciation of your name...or anyone else's...matters

23 January 2021 2:48 PM
Tags:
Discrimination
names
language
mispronunciation

Studies have found that habitually pronouncing an unfamiliar name incorrectly is a form of implicit discrimination.

If you are something whose name is consistently pronounced incorrectly you'll know just how infuriating it can be. But on a deeper level, you may find it hurtful or demeaning for people to continuously mispronounce your name, says presenter Sara-Jane King.

In fact, experts say that although many people don’t realise it, habitually pronouncing an unfamiliar name incorrectly is a form of implicit discrimination.

Last year when a guest tried to correct Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s mispronunciation of “Kamala” on air in August, the TV host, “So what?” and mispronounced it again several times.

Sara-Jayne King, Presenter - CapeTalk

A 2012 study titled “Teachers, Please Learn Our Names!: Racial Microaggressions and the K-12 Classrooms” found that when students of color had their names mispronounced in the classroom, it affected their social-emotional well-being and by extension, harmed their ability to learn.

The study also concluded that mispronouncing the names of students of color constituted a racial microaggression because it created shame and disassociation from their culture.

Sara-Jayne talks to Tessa Dowling, a lecturer at the School of African Languages and Literatures at UCT, about the mispronunciation of names.

I think it was Dale Carnegie who said, a person's name to that person, is the sweetest sound.

Tessa Dowling, Lecturer - UCT School of African Languages and Literatures

Just somebody hearing your name, and remembering it, gets one on the right track,

Tessa Dowling, Lecturer - UCT School of African Languages and Literatures

Dowling says getting the pronunciation right shows a willingness to learn and engage with the person and their culture.

You're not just going flippantly well 'what does it matter....so what? It is not 'so what'.

Tessa Dowling, Lecturer - UCT School of African Languages and Literatures

She says South Africans do care about how names are pronounced. And she adds, in Nguni languages, for example, mispronunciation may change the entire meaning of the word and hence the name.

For example the beautiful name 'Sipho', if pronounced 'Sifo' as we do in English it means 'disease' and not the actual meaning 'gift',

Tessa Dowling, Lecturer - UCT School of African Languages and Literatures

She says mispronouncing a name the first time is ok if you do not know the language. But ask how it should be pronounced, find out the meaning, and get it right the second time.

Listen to the interview below:




23 January 2021 2:48 PM
Tags:
Discrimination
names
language
mispronunciation

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