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News You Can Use
By David Bachelor, PhD
In the lead up to Super Bowl LVII, as commentators speculated which team would emerge victorious, there was another subject on sportscasters’ minds, “How do you say the name of the artist who will perform the Halftime show?” This placed the unlikely topic of pronunciation among the nation’s headlines.
The Sporting News provided the correct enunciation in its Sunday article, “How to Pronounce Rihanna’s Name: A Guide to Saying the Super Bowl Halftime Show Performer’s Name.” The article acknowledged that this query started back in 2003 when the Barbadian singer debuted her first American album. To instruct the proper diction posed in their headline Sporting News stated, “Rihanna went on record in 2010 to clarify that her name is actually pronounced ‘ree-AN-uh’ and not ‘ree-AH-nuh.’” However, Rihanna accepts either pronunciation.
Two scientific journals offered medical reasons for foreign pronunciations. On February 10th, Livescience.com carried the story, “Italian Woman’s Rare ‘Foreign Accent Syndrome’ Caused Her to Sound Canadian.” Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) has only been diagnosed 150 times since it was discovered in 1907. The Italian woman went to the emergency room after she began speaking both Italian and English with a “Canadian-like” accent. Doctors were unable to determine the cause of her change in enunciation. The origin of FAS in an American man was not a mystery. The February 8th edition of Sciencealert.com featured the headline, “Rare Cancer Causes US Man to Suddenly Develop an Irish Sounding Accent.” The article states, “FAS is an unusual speech disorder that can cause a person to suddenly break out in a ‘foreign’ accent for no known reason, with pronunciation shifting in ways that resemble – superficially at least – the cadence of another dialect or language.” While claiming ‘no known reason’ the usual suspect is some form of brain trauma.
Foreign pronunciation was the subject of story making headlines in Texas. On Super Bowl Sunday, San Antonio’s KSAT had the headline, “SCAM ALERT: Caller Impersonating BCSO Sergeant, Demanding Residents Pay Up to Avoid Arrest.” The article offers two clues for Bexar County residents to recognize this scam: (1) The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office never accepts payment over the phone; (2) Actual county employees know how to pronounce “Bexar.” A sheriff spokesman told KSAT, “‘If you live in Bexar County, you know the correct pronunciation is NOT ‘Bex-ar’ County. If you hear a mispronunciation, it should alert you that it may be a scam.’”
The issue of foreign accents started at the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:6-7).Several Biblical accounts feature the common pronunciation among the same ethnic group to detect outsiders. In the Book of Judges there was a war between two tribes of Israel. The Gibeonites defeated the tribe of Ephraim. When survivors from the Ephraimite army tried to escape through Gibeonite checkpoints, “The Gibeonites demanded each fugitive say, ‘Shibboleth.’ If the person said ‘Sibboleth’ instead, (like an Ephraimite) the Gibeonites would seize him” (Judges 12:6). Even the apostle Peter was betrayed by his pronunciation. When Peter snuck into the high priest’s courtyard to see what was happening to Jesus, one of the high priest’s staff challenged Peter as an outsider. The other people around Peter said, “Surely you are one of Jesus’ people, your accent gives you away” (Matt 26:73). Peter learned that a Galilean accent in Jerusalem made a person stand out even in the dark.
In the new Jerusalem believers will not have to worry about their pronunciation marking them as foreigners. God told the prophet Zephaniah, “I will restore to the peoples the pure language. Then they may all call upon My Name and serve Me with one accord” (Zeph 3:9).