Wednesday, January 30, 2019

How do you pronounce Huawei?

I noticed today on NPR Morning Edition that in one story, Senator Mark Warner, the host Steve Inskeep and White House correspondent Ayesha Roscoe all pronounced Huawei as "Wah-wei." I was about to email NPR to tell them that their pronunciation guide is wrong, but first googled "How to pronounce Huawei" and found this video, which is produced by Huawei itself (on Gizmodo Australia), but they pronounce it wrong! They say it should be "wah-wei", but in Chinese it should have an "h" before the "wah". It is not a common sound in English, but if you can say the Spanish name Juan ("hu-ahn"), then you can say Huawei ("huah-wei", two syllables).

Interestingly, the Gizmodo video/commercial was produced by Huawei to teach foreigners how to pronounce the company name. From my point of view, it makes the common Chinese assumption that foreigners cannot pronounce Chinese, and gives up. They butcher the name, but it's "close enough" and they assume at least foreigners will remember the name. But there is no reason why Americans, at least, should not be able to say Huawei correctly (I can't be sure about the Brits, and Italians can never pronounce an initial "H" so for them it is hopeless.)

Some on the web (e.g. this Quora reply) speculate that some Chinese are mispronouncing it because the Cantonese pronunciation of the character 华 is "wah", but the name of the company is romanized in Mandarin, so "wah" is definitely wrong. But the company is based in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, so it does make me wonder whether their marketing person was a Cantonese speaker who could not hear the difference between "wah" and "hua." Unlikely, but possible.

Part of the reason it is important to pronounce it correctly is so Americans do not sound stupid to the Chinese. It is often a sign of disrespect, I think, to not pronounce names correctly. And the first part of the name, Hua, happens to be a character or word that means "China" in Chinese, so it is pretty important to get that right.

I am not the kind of person who, when speaking in English, pronounces "Mexico" and "Guatemala" in Spanish. Doing that was a marker of being a true "lefty" and "in the know" in the 1980s, e.g. to say "nee-kah-rrah-guah" (with a rolled R for best effect). I don't think my insistence on pronouncing Huawei correctly is in the same category. I think of it as just pronouncing it correctly within the limits of what one's native language allows. And I'm not going to insist on getting the tones right; the vowels and consonants should be enough.

This is why I also complain about the way Americans mispronounce Beijing; the "jing" should be pronounced like "jingle bells", but may pronounce the "j" like "je" in French, which only serves to make Beijing sound French and exotic. There is no reason why Americans can't pronounce "Beijing" correctly, and pronouncing "Beijing" in French is wrong.

We're going to hear a lot of news about Huawei; we may as well pronounce it correctly, as close to the Chinese as is easily possible.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Is it OK to say President Garfield was cute?

Is it OK to talk about people's looks when it has nothing to do with their job or anything else? Or is it naïve, even overly PC, to complain about “lookism”? 

A recent episode of NPR’s Planet Money (transcript here) has two female co-hosts making comments on the attractiveness of 19th century former presidents. I can’t help but feel that if male hosts talked similarly about the looks of, say, the Suffragettes, people would rightfully be angry.

Here is the dialog: 
[Heather Cox] RICHARDSON [a professor of American history at Boston College]: James A. Garfield from Ohio. You know, a Civil War veteran.
 [Sarah] GONZALEZ: Is Garfield the one with the nice blue eyes that you keep mentioning?
 RICHARDSON: Yes, exactly.
 GONZALEZ: Oh, I can see the eyes. Yeah. I can see that.
 RICHARDSON: (Laughter) See?
 [Ailsa] CHANG: Wait, I want to see what he looks like.
 GONZALEZ: All right, let's Google him. OK, look at this. OK, but, like, if you had to choose a cute president from the late 19th century.
 CHANG: I don't think he would be the one.
 GONZALEZ: All right. Fine. James A. Garfield, to me, takes the 19th century cake, but whatever.
 This was in the program itself. Then, after the credits, where podcasts often add humorous bits of dialog that ended up on the cutting room floor (metaphorically, of course), they added: 
CHANG: I would go for Franklin Pierce.
 GONZALEZ: I don't even know who that guy is. That doesn't even stand out as a president to me.
 CHANG: Google. Google. Tall, dark and handsome.
 GONZALEZ: That is not dark.
 CHANG: (Laughter).
 GONZALEZ: Dark doesn't happen till...
 CHANG: 2008.
 GONZALEZ: ...2008.
Ha ha.

I’m puzzled that the hosts and NPR editors think this kind of frivolous commentary is acceptable. Men making similar comments about women’s looks would immediately raise red flags. It might happen in private, but would surely not be put on the air. Given the history of how suffragettes were portrayed as ugly and unwanted, people are rightfully sensitive about commenting on women's looks. And it is also a fact that journalists and pundits comment on female politicians’ looks and clothes in ways they would never do for men (see here).

 On the other hand, there is a kind of egalitarianism here in that we have women talking about the appearance of powerful men, a reversal of powerful men talking about women's looks. But are we not supposed to be getting beyond this focus on appearance?

At the same time, sometimes people’s appearance is relevant to a discussion, and we cannot make it taboo, pretending that we don’t notice looks, or that it is too sensitive to talk about. No one can deny that good looks generally help in one’s career.

Still, the frivolity of these comments offends me. Who looks at pictures of presidents from the 19th century to see if they are “cute”? Seems weird.

This is the kind of double-standard that annoys people on the Right. Some people are quick to criticize men for commenting on women’s appearance, and here we have women gabbing about men’s appearance in a way that would be unacceptable if the genders were reversed. Without being too prudish or PC, the journalists should have had the good sense not to include this as part of their podcast. It was not funny, really.

Actually, it was offensive. Just as it is when men comment on women’s looks when it is irrelevant.