Thursday, May 28, 2009

Know Thyself: on Mark Krikorian's name

Again we ask: Who let the dogs out? A particularly weak and baffling Mark Krikorian piece over at the NRO is getting a lot of play lately. This fellow seems to object to the way Sotomayor pronounces her name, adding this to the pile of presumed outrages the judge has perpetrated against the American public.

Another gratuitous Rothko to ease the pain

The gentleman says she mispronounces her own name, and would impose this (doubtlessly authoritarian) practice on the suffering American public. To quote Randy Newman here: Maybe I'm doing it wrong. Could be, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.

I'll leave most of this discussion to the big boys (Olbermann ranked Krikorian as the world's worst last night), but there's one aspect of the article that has been ignored. As a linguist, I just can't let slide a remark Krikorian makes about his own name:

For instance, in Armenian, the emphasis is on the second syllable in my surname, just as in English, but it has three syllables, not four (the "ian" is one syllable) — but that's not how you'd say it in English (the "ian" means the same thing as in English — think Washingtonian or Jeffersonian).

This is simply not true. The ending "-ian" is exceptionally common in Armenian names. It is a so-called patronymic, meaning "son of" ("-son"), and has counterparts in every language, like "-itch" and its variants in the Slavic language or the "-ez" in "Lopez" and "Fernandez" and so many other Spanish names, or the "Mac-/Mc-" form in Scots and Irish names. I could go on to list counterparts in virtually every language on the planet, but you get the idea.

In other words, Mr. Krikorian offers a misinterpretation of his own name, while insisting on the mispronounciation of another's. For this fellow, the superficial -- pronounciation -- is more important than the substantial -- meaning -- and his ignorance about the meaning of his own name is a springboard for his clinging to the mispronounciation of another's.

It's also touching that the (incorrect) parallels he chooses are the names of two of the most illustrious figures in American history. (I think a powerful self-assimilationism is at work here, something we often see in conservatives that would in the 1950s have been quaintly called "ethnic.") Still, presumably they knew what "-ton" and "-son" meant.

You just can't make this stuff up.