Gallstones of the Unexamined Life

There is a very popular mispronunciation here in which they say the J like a Y. But a Spanish J is not the equivalent of a Y, it is a velar fricative. I’ve been corrected on the pronunciation of my own name twice this week by people who think they are rightly more knowledgeable of Spanish than I am since I’m a foreigner, when in fact they are committing an act of ignorance. “Are you going to teach me,” one of them said indignantly, “how to pronounce Spanish?” You could use the lessons—I thought, but really there is nothing to say to that person, not without a phonetic manual from the Real Academia in Madrid. This one had the effrontery of telling me that the pronunciation of names is constant. I wish it were: then I’d have no problem.

On the first occasion, the rather dim-witted security guard corrected my pronunciation (they really believe that it should be pronounced Yoel, and that’s fine in Hebrew and even German, but what bothers me is that in Spanish it makes me feel complicit in their ignorance) and then wrote my name Jhoel—which shows there is clearly something like a bad conscience, or bad unconscious, about the aberrant pronunciation: that combination of letters does not exist in regular Spanish. They regularly mispronounce their Js in names begriming with JO, but not elsewhere.

It is a difficult situation because the English J is a very difficult sound for them, and I think what is happening is that they’re trying to Americanize their names. They like to use William instead of Guillermo, Henry instead of Enrique (with the aspirated H, oddly enough), they really like the name Freddy and Jhon Freddy is popular; I’ve had friends called Earl Douglas and also Erwin: for a long time in Colombia there has been a sort of sense that American is cool and so they follow along . . . as best they can.

I was actually named the way I am, partly, I understand, because my parents wanted a name that translated, not some problematic sound like, for example: Curt or Stan (they just don’t work, and both people with those names I know here go by something entirely unrelated). So that’s three things that make it hard to bear: it is ignorant, it is probably an attempt to be cool (how intellectually repugnant!), and it foils the plain purpose of my naming.

You can see how galling it can be to have your name so used, especially when the insinuation is that I am the ignorant party in the dispute.

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