Friday, May 29, 2009

Sotomayor is a Perfectly Good Choriamb

Over at the National Review, Mark Krikorian stirs up a minor tempest over the most pressing issue surrounding the Supreme Court nominee:
So, are we supposed to use the Spanish pronunciation, so-toe-my-OR, or the
natural English pronunciation, SO-tuh-my-er, like Niedermeyer?
He goes on to write about how "putting the emphasis on the final syllable is unnatural in English", and expecting Americans to adapt to that is just multiculturalism gone too far. Once past my initial puzzlement at how Niedermeyer was more English than Sotomayor, what stuck in my craw was the claim about emphasis on the final syllable being unnatural in English. That would certainly be news to people in VerMONT, TenneSEE, or IlliNOIS, in DeTROIT, Des MOINES, or San JoSE. (Or perhaps Krikorian thinks San Jose in "natural English" rhymes with banjoes.) It's true that the preponderance of Anglo-Saxon surnames are "trochees", the technical term in prosody for two-syllable words whose cadence is STRONG-weak. JACKson, LINcoln, WILson, REAgan, CARter, CLINton. But it doesn't mean that "iambs" (weak-STRONG) are unheard of. MonROE, for instance. Those iambs, because they change it up, can give a cadence that's distinctive but hardly unnatural to English. Just ask Shakespeare, who wrote most of his work in iambs. They're hardly exotic. Without iambs, Krikorian wouldn't be able to proPOSE or deBATE, atTACK or deFEND, reFUSE or aMAZE. Let aLONE deNOUNCE a SuPREME court nomiNEE. You get the idea. Now he might protest that iambs are fine, but a four syllable word with final stress is just a phoneme too far. But it turns out that a four syllable pattern with the cadence STRONG-weak-weak-STRONG has a name, a "choriamb", because it carries a distinctive punch. That's why "hip hip hooRAY" sounds right, and that's why "seventy-six" sounds more catchy that "sixty-seven". A choriamb is quite natural in English, and as American as "blueberry pie" or "four on the floor". SotomayOR is a perfectly good choriamb, no more of a tongue-twister than "American flag" or "not anymore". So I say: Open the DOOR for SotomayOR.

1 comment:

Michael said...

I like to roll my "r" on the end too - just for effect.