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August 03, 2005


Your point assumes, though, that this "Craig" person has no self-awareness or, at least, is unable to hear himself. Now, if Craig grimaced uncomfortably whenever he said his name as Crayg, then we might assume that (1) it is actually pronounced differently but that (2) he rues his inability to pronounce his own name. But Craig's apparent contentment (or at least lack of discontent) with his own pronounciation of his own name suggests that, assuming he is self-aware, either (1) his pronounciation is the intended one or (2) (and this is a weak point) that he is resigned, happily, to his own idiosyncratic mispronounciation.

Actually I think it's quite reasonable to assume that this hypothetical person with whom you happen, by perhaps extraordinary coincidence, to share a Christian name is unaware to some extent of his own pronunciation. I enjoin you to imagine a phone conversation in which I and hypothetical-Craig (henceforth hCraig) discussed this very matter, and in which I (fictionally) suggested to him that when I say "Cregg" and he "Crayg" he and I are merely giving different flatus to the same underlying, idealized vowel, to speak which would cause our merely human vocal chords to disintegrate. Much as, for example, a young child might announce his age as "fwee", and who, when he hears his age repeated to him—"fwee"—would reply in frustration, "no, FWEE"—he thinks he's saying "three", you see.

Not that hCraig thinks he's saying "Cregg".

I must disagree with your contention that hCraig's lack of a visible grimace when he says his own name shows that he intends that pronunciation (I ignore your point (2) as uninteresting). For you see "Crayg" is such a part of hCraig's very speech that I frankly doubt his competence to prefer that pronunciation, until, perhaps, it is explicitly brought to his attention (perhaps by such as myself)—but even then, how likely is he to abandon his ordinary (and not incorrect, merely not chosen) speech patterns for something new? It gets him nothing, after all.

Would you take the position that hCraig prefers his pronunciation of "egg"?

Is this Crag person from Milwaukee or Wisconsin or something? In fact, it would make sense for Crag to prefer that other Milwaukeeites pronounce his name as he does, while people with Revised Standard Pittsburgh accents pronounce it so as to rhyme with "egg"--or rather, so that it still rhymes with "egg."

I can't speak for hCraig who is, of course, not me. I happen to be from Madison, Wisconsin, though, so I might be able to provide some insight.

My sense is that hCraig's fierce sense of Wisconsite pride is at stake here. Vowel choices, even if initially unconscious (I grant here that, as Ben suggests, the initial vowel choice may well be partially unconscious and may be so innate as to be effectively unheard unless pointed out), become badges of identity. They do so when the pronouncers becomes aware of alternate pronounciations and reacts against them (I here assume that hCraig is capable, unlike Ben's hypothetical child, of altering his pronounciation).

Let us assume that hCraig finds himself at a postgraduate institution in California. There, surrounded by flashy, ostentatiously laid-back types, he might reassert his Midwestern identity by intensifying his accent. Thus, he might not only generally prefer his own pronounciation of his name but, in fact, of similar words (bag, egg, etc.) in a sort of defensive, homesick way--placing the sounds of home in the mouths of others.

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