Posted at 9:26 AM on January 26, 2007
by Alison Young
Earlier this week, I barged in like a bull in a china shop on one of my colleagues introducing a piece of music on the air. I tried to blend into the background as he announced the conductor of the piece, Hungarian/American Antal Dorati. My colleague gave the name as DOR-uh-tee, accenting the first syllable. After he put the music on, I, a bit impolitely, blurted out "Uh, I think it's dor-AH-tee." And to that he said, "Well, you know, Alison, I dated a Hungarian once and she set me straight on the name."
So, as any self-respecting music host having just opened mouth and inserted foot, I looked up Dorati's name to see who was right. Well, we're both right; sort of. The Hungarians DO say it the way my colleague said it, and old Anton probably grew up referring to himself that way. But by the time he came to America and became a U.S. citizen, he changed his name to his preferred sort of Italianesque pronunciation. In fact, he even added an accent to the second syllable to be sure we all knew what he wanted.
So what about all this pronunciation stuff? I got a real kick out of how NPR handled the murder of Vincent Van Gogh's great-grandnephew Theo Van Gogh. We've all been saying the artist's name "van-GO" for so long, if the reporter suddenly started saying his name like the Dutch say it, "finn-GOFF," people would scratch their heads and be a bit confused just who they were talking about. But the murdered film-maker, Theo Van Gogh, is only fairly recent news to the rest of the world. So in one sentence, the reporter said the two names entirely differently.
The problem gets a bit thorny on the air at Classical Minnesota Public Radio with about 25 hard names, words and titles to pronounce seemingly all at once. I know we give it our best shot and try to say them in a way that is respectful to the origin, while also being easily understood by our (for the most part) American audience. We try to sound educated and knowledgeable without going overboard with, for instance, a perfectly executed Barcelona tongue-through-the-teeth Isaac Albeniz (al-BAY-neeth) or a Parisian close-lipped and swallowed Claude Debussy (di-byu-SEE) I’m sure we’re not always spot on, so, if I haven’t already opened a huge can of worms, I'd love to know if we're making sense to you on the air!