I recently had the most interesting conversation with a friend of mine…

D is perfectly fluent in both Spanish and English. She can read, write, speak, and translate both languages seamlessly, and apparently has no discernible accent in either beyond dialectically (e.g. Texas-US English and Mexican Spanish). D is amazing in so many ways, but I covet her skills in this particular arena something fierce.

Anyway, D has done a lot of work in news production, both behind the scenes and on camera. And within the context of her work on camera, almost all of which has been for Spanish language networks and/or programs, she described an interesting conundrum: when speaking Spanish for a story, how does one pronounce a relevant name?

Consider…

When relating a news story about (e.g.) Salma Hayek, does one pronounce her name in English or Spanish? The answer to this question, especially within the context of Spanish-language programming, is pretty clear – Spanish.

But what about when relating a news story about (e.g.) Ronda Rousey – on a Spanish language program, Spanish or English? The implications of either choice are huge.

Ronda is a person whose name, when given, was likely pronounced in English; and this version seems to be the way she refers to herself today. Consequently, to pronounce her name in Spanish is essentially incorrect. However, for folks who generally hear about Ronda and her exploits via Spanish-language media, does the English pronunciation connect properly? Further, and this was a direct concern of D’s: is it alienating to a viewer to (possibly) perceive a socio-structural class-based marker (read: taunt) embedded in an English name dropped in the middle of a Spanish spoken sentence?

I was fascinated but this conversation as it really touched on a wide scope of identity and authenticity issues – the topic-at-large’s identity (e.g. Salma’s, Ronda’s), the speaker’s identity (in this case, D’s), and the identities’ of viewers and consumers.

Who takes precedence? The answer, if there even is one, is complex.

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(pictured: my brain, while thinking about this stuff… image via Shutterstock)

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One thought on “Whether Spanish or English, pronunciation is key

  • May 28, 2014 at 7:59 am
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    If the point of reporting or presenting is to convey information about the topic, then pronunciation should be in the language, dialect, of the audience. When a reporters pronounce their, or their subjects’ names, in a way that I (and educated, bi-lingiual, well-traveled man) cannot understand (NPR is notorious for this), it makes no sense. Identity politics should not trump conveyance of ideas.

    Reply

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