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Pronunciation and Culture – “Cultural Amnesia” – Clive James

October 2nd, 2011 · No Comments · Art, Civilisation, Culture, Elitism

Gauguin did the same for me before I could pronounce his name. (I called him Gorgon.) Degas I gave an acute accent over the “e,” not realizing that the “De” was an honorific prefix: “duh” would have been closer to the right sound, and certainly would have conformed to my general reaction when faced with his genius. Adding tear sheets from magazines to a small stack of thin books, I built up an archive of reproductions, calling him Day-ga until a kind woman from Vienna at last corrected me. (She ran a little coffee house in the Strand Arcade. How young and foolish of me not to quiz her on the story of her life.) From then on, I never laughed at anyone who mispronounced an artist’s name, because it usually only meant that what he had read had run far ahead of what he had heard, and I knew too well how that can happen. When you are learning a new language, there is a blissful moment when, from not knowing how to, you pass to not knowing how not to. The second phase is the dangerous one, because it leads to sophistication, and one of the marks of sophistication is a tendency to forget what it was like to be naïve.

Urgh – I never knew this. Duh-ga is close to my favourite artist and I’ve been mispronouncing his name for years! I love his conclusion about someone who mispronounced a cultural phrase though…

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