Ranjona Banerji: Peeves about Pronunciation

11 Dec,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


In the Indian Express of December 10, Kabir Firaque wrote an article about how Assamese names are often mispronounced by Indian in general and especially Hindi-speakers. He was referring largely to the little political spat between current Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi and the BJP in the state over this issue. However, the media were also mentioned.


As anyone who is not from the Hindi heartland knows, there is every chance that your name and your language will be mangled beyond repair by journalists on television. Firaque explains how something as basic as murder victim Sheena Bora’s name is pronounced wrong almost every time it is used on TV, which is very often. The “Bo”, he says, is not the “Bo” of “Bose”; it is the “Bo” of “Bond”.


How much effort does it take to get the pronunciation of a word correct, if you’re job is to speak in public? My teeth are on edge every time Kolkata is mispronounced (always). It is not “Kol” as in the “pol” of politics. It is “coal-kaata”, with a soft th. Might as well call it Calcutta as every Bengali has called it in English for years, just as every  Bengali calls the city Coal-kaatha” when speaking Bengali. Even the grating Hindi “Kul-kuthha” is better than the abomination of the Kol-pol.


Okay, rant over.


Of course, no one has more right to complain (sorry, Tarun Gogoi) than every state in South India. The North makes a merry mess of everything to the extent that even those of us who are not from the South know that something is amiss. It started with Doordarshan’s Hindi news bulletins years ago, which referred to the states of “Keral” and “Tamil Nad”. Since then, whatever the Hindi belt things is correct is what goes. The only thing in their defence is that no one from the rest of India can really make out why the “zh” stands for in so many names. The only possibly positive outcome for the media by the shocking revelations of the Niira Radia tapes is that more people now know how to pronounce Kanimozhi’s name correctly. Or somewhere close to correctly.


On a personal note, and this has nothing to do with the media, my own name because of its peculiar spelling has been pronounced wrong my whole life. I now find it amusing, mainly because I’m not a politician trying to win an election on sectarian grounds. The best mispronunciation of my name was in Norway where the offensive “j” was replaced to give me an interesting “Ronya”. Maybe I should have changed it to that to start a whole new merry-go-round!




Is the following sentence incipient sexism or just someone trying to be too clever? The December 10 edition of the Dehradun edition of The Times of India carried a story its front-page News Digest and also on the inside pages headlined, “Girl turns back groom for flunking IQ test”.


Let’s let the “girl” go though if you are old enough to be married legally, you are not a girl but a woman. The first line of the story reads, “God save men from brides like this.” The line is so offensive in so many ways that one can only hope that someone, either the writer or the sub-editor was trying to be funny. The story is about a woman (bride) who discovers that her groom who was supposed to be an engineer was quite clueless about most things and probably lied about his education.


In fact, if I had edited or written this story my first line would have been, “God save women from lying men like this”.


As is clear, I am not with the zeitgeist. Patriarchy rules.


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