Odious and Peculiar

Philology and esoterica: scribblings, ravings and mutterings.



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Monday, February 03, 2003
 
Something which irritates me:

Many of you have no doubt noticed in the past year the media's laughable attempts to pronounce "Qatar" in a supposedly authentic manner. Why are they inflicting this on us? When conversing in our native tongue, we have no more obligation to pronounce voiceless uvular stops and adhere to barely comprehensible stress patterns than does a poor Parley-voo to know that, say, H. St. John Philby's name is pronounced 'sinjun'. Bruce Sterling predicted a while back that we'd eventually be talking about the renowned nations of Bharat, Zhongguo, Magyarország, Suomen Tasavalta, and so on; and talking about the gulf state of Gutter is certainly a step in that direction.

On a related note, why are we no longer describing a person's nationality with a noun, but only with a substantive adjective? Someone nowadays is Turkish rather than a Turk, Spanish rather than a Spaniard, a pastry rather than a Dane. We do still sometimes hear of Serbs and Croats, and a few things like 'Polack' can be abandoned as legitimately offensive. But a forgotten linguistic treasure like 'Lett' is to my knowledge merely archaic, not insulting. I can only speculate that those under the sway of current ideology think it more acceptable to regard a person's nationality as adjectival, a chance attribute, than as something fundamental to his character, and not necessarily mutable, as a noun might imply. All this is leading to things like idiot newscasters talking about 'Uzbekistanis', which is as ludicrous as my talking about my 'Scotlandian' heritage, or calling myself 'one from the land where the New Mexicans live'. Certainly the Mongols, in my experience, refer to themselves as Mongols in both Mongolian and English, and show no reluctance to associate themselves with the illustrious Mongols of history.