Thursday, 11 August 2005
You Say 'Toe-mott-toe,' I say 'Ne-gere'
First, they changed Peking to Beijing. And have you noticed lately that 'Mumbai' is what we're calling Bombay these days? No problemo. I can keep up. After all, Britain -- a putative bastion of tradition -- has gone through at least three, maybe four official name changes. England, to Great Britain, to United Kingdom, and, if you fancy, you can even tack on Northern Ireland to the UK moniker. Number four? (And wasn't there even some business in the country's name a while back involving India and Empire?)
Anyway, if it's OK for the UK, why should a backwater not be able to switch nameplates? Take the corrupt, black Zimbabwe brand, say, to replace the former corrupt, white Rhodesia brand. Besides, does anyone remember Iran's last name when it was ruled by Shahs, not mullahs? (Hint. It starts with the 'P').
What I'm getting used to now is a zee-bra/zed-bra of another stripe, namely some funny business in mainstream English pronunciation regarding other place names. No, not weird British-isms. Or even weirder Indianisms. Just English.
For instance, strict grammar rules that English speakers should pronounce foreign words as closely as possible to their own correct forms. Unless, of course, there is a recognised, time-tested English alternative pronunciation for the foreign word. In other words (be they English or French), we say 'Pa-riss' (English) for 'Paree' (French), but 'Rance' (French and English) for Rheims. (Never mind that Brits pronounce 'France' as 'Fr-AHH-ce,' as they were actually speaking French, for God's sake, which we all know, for the English, at least, is a linguistic impossibility).
What I've been hearing lately on the tube (no, not the Tube, the boob-tube, that is)baffles me a bit, though. First, it was this 'Cutter' business for Qatar, one of the Gulf states. When I was travelling in the region, we used to call the country 'Ka-Tar.' Did it change? Or, did I just have it wrong?
As far I can tell, the latest, evolved place-name prounciation is for Niger, the much-hungry West African country that's been going without for far too long. Personally, I've always known the country as 'Nigh-jer.' Ear-jarring, yes. But English. Now, we're hearing, from CNN to Radio Times, 'Ne-gere.' Sounds sorta Frenchy, dunit? I suppose it should since the French used to run the place. And probably named it, too. (Cause for re-branding any time soon? I hope not.)
For my part, 'Ne-gere' gets my thumbs up. It's kind of melifluous; kind of exotic, too. This for a country that's otherwise a tragic wreck in almost every way. Life expectancies for males and females hover around 41 years. The land-locked pile is served by no railroad. It does have 27 airports. But only nine have paved runways. There's no cell phone service, which, of course, could be a good thing. But despite its misfortune, Niger has at least one thing in its favour. Thanks to the French, the country is a constitutional republic with an elected, democratic government. This in a country, moreover, where 80 percent of the populace is Muslim. Take that Iraq!
In addition, nothing beats the other best thing going for the Republique de Niger -- its sweet-sounding name. With its French twist, of course. Never mind that this version breaks the English rule about recognised, time-tested pronunciations. With all its woe, 'Ne-gere' needs something beautiful. Even if its just a name.
-- Richard Carreño