"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

speling iz imporetunt

As a person who spends a lot of time dealing with the insufficiency of the Roman alphabet in differentiating the subtle shades of pronunciation that can change meaning in a foreign language, I can actually sympathize with the recent error made by the flunky of Prime Minister Stephen Harper who misspelled the name of a town on the PM's itinerary. Mistakes do happen sometimes. But when dealing with a transcription and Romanicization of a language that you are unfamiliar with, surely it behooves (yeah, I said "behooves" and I wasn't calling you "Shirley") the person preparing the document to check with someone who is familiar with the that language.
The names of people (something that doesn't appear anything like often enough in Japanese newspapers) can be written in such a way that there could be several radically different pronunciations and so Romanicizing them is not as straightforward as it might seem. That confusion between "L" and "R" by Japanese that North Americans find so amusing (Yes, Japan will have an erection on Aug. 30 har-de-har-har, you stupid plicks) exists because both sounds are combined in the same character in Japanese.
In translating Japanese to English, place names can be tricky to spell, so we check them. If only the Prime Minister's Office would do the same, then Iqaluit (Village of Many Fish) wouldn't become Iqualuit (Village of People with Unwiped Bums).

tip of the toque to Peterborough Politics, now known as Dispatches by Northwestern Lad

1 comment:

Shinigami Kayo said...

I regularly (as you know) butcher my own language. Bad typing skills mostly. However in my industry, I have met many from abroad who we do business with, or just tour our facilities for a political photo op. We ALWAYS double check how to pronounce people's names for the up coming formal greeting. Its a no-brainer to us. When working in any kind of diplomatic office this is also standard practice. Mister Harper I guess feels he is leader of our country so can not see a need to direct staff on accuracy of such things. I mean he only just learned Northern Quebec Inuit are actually in the artic.

I do confess to chuckling when a foreign exchange student we once had from Japan kept saying tutle instead of turtle to discribe a pet I once owned.