Monday, April 27, 2009


I sometimes take a quick look at the Wall Street Journal so that you don't have to. I mean, seriously, "Markets in Retreat: Fear Swine Flu" sounds like the Weekly World News, not economic journalism. Still, three interesting, but otherwise unrelated tidbits.

First, on April 17, 2009 the Journal SCOOPED (!) the universe by running essentially the same story that the New York Times ran (the Times ran is an op-ed) about artists and others moving into neighborhoods in depressed cities and revitalizing them. The wrinkle? The Journal's story ran April 17, while the Times op-ed was on March 7, and the Journal wrote about Cleveland, not Detroit. Good show, Wall Street Journal! Way to get trounced by six weeks on essentially an identical story!

Sadly for the second and third pieces I must leave (most of) the snark aside, sigh. The Journal ran this story about the German and Austrian Jewish scholars who taught at historically black colleges and universities in the South during and after the Hitler era (1933-1945). Having been the subject of mindless persecution, many of these Jewish scholars would join the civil rights movement, and would mentor young blacks at the schools. Very interesting. Of course, the Journal quotes a letter published in the Arkansas Gazette in 1950 written by one of these scholars. In the letter "he complained that public libraries for African-Americans were inadequate, writing that the only 'practical and democratic solution is that of opening the doors of the main library to all, irregardless of race.'" Irregardless? Really? He was a non-native speaker of English. Nobody could help a Bruder out and edit that?

Finally, the Journal ran this piece about how high speed trains have changed Spain. Spain is, in some ways, just a collection of countries and regions gathered together by various monarchs. The Spanish seem to have a long and strong historical memory for their region. However, the ability to get from Barcelona to Madrid in two-and-a-half hours has served to increase the social mobility in Spain, which ultimately is likely to help build a genuine sense of "Spanishness" even in regions that maintain a strong identity. Kind of interesting. Still, there is room for some snark: "'We Spaniards didn't used to move around much,' says José María Menéndez, who heads the civil engineering department at the University of Castilla-La Mancha." Sure. Other than Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Philippines where have you ever seen evidence of the Spanish outside of Spain?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


The Wall Street Journal (!) had a very interesting little piece on the pronunciation of names. Apparently even by looking at name spellings from immigration to the second generation it is clear that the pronunciation of family names changed. In my own family the French "s" at the end of the name was dropped in the United States in the 1840s or so. This effectively changed the spelling to match the English pronunciation of the name.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in the article is the fact people are using the internet to try to catalog and explain pronunciations. The first discussed is This page is really a series of recordings of people saying their own names. The link is by name spelling, so that you look up the name and hear a person say the name. Potentially very interesting if you are running a graduation, or are an announcer. Of course, there are numerous families that have different pronunciations within the family, but it would give you a place to start from.

The second page is This page is more ambitious in that it is trying to get to a point where you can guess at a name (i.e. I heard the guy say "thriewnjfikjihjf", how do I spell it?) but also relies on user input. Interestingly, this page also has a broader scope in that it includes city names (both entries for the Chi are from South Siders. Good grief) and country names. The founder of the page got the idea when she moved from India to San Jose, CA, and did not know that "J" was "h" in San Jose, so you can see her motivation.

The question I have is not whether people know how they pronounce their own name (they do), but whether they really understand the phonetic spelling that both pages utilize. It seems likely that if linguists ever utilize these pages they will need to back out the errors. Still, it is nice to know once and for all how to pronounce Nguyen.