Kamala pronunciation

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natkretep

Moderato con anima (English Only)
English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
I know this has been mentioned in many articles and there are videos available discussing the pronunciation of Kamala Harris's given name. I understand this is a Sanskrit name, pronounced something like /ˈkamala/ with the stress on the first syllable. The issue is then how do you deal with it in English? It seems clear that the Vice President herself is happy with the unstressed syllables to be reduced to schwa in English. She herself said it should be pronounced 'comma' + 'lah'. That description would probably not be helpful in my accent. I hear over television:

1 ˈkæmələ (same vowels as in Pamela)
2 ˈkaːmələ (a lower, but still front, first vowel and lengthened)
3 ˈkɑːmələ (a long back vowel)

I'm interested to know whether 1 would be considered a 'wrong' pronunciation, or whether it is an acceptable variant (like in the first <a> of Pakistan) due to English accent variation.
 
  • Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Some of Kamala Harris's political opponents have deliberately and derisively mispronounced Kamala, implying that there is something pretentious or silly about the way she pronounces her name.

    As a consequence, a point has been made of letting people know how she pronounces it. Although it is natural for a speaker of American English to assume that Kamala rhymes with Pamela -- a more familiar name -- but people who use that pronunciation may be seen as being deliberately disrespectful.
     
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    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Harris’ first name is pronounced “KAH’-mah-lah” — or, as she explains in her biography, “‘comma-la,’ like the punctuation mark

    I listened very carefully, and that's exactly what I heard. 'Comma-la like the punctuation mark' doesn't help me much because my British accent doesn't give 'KAH-mah' but I think of 'CALM- luh, and that seems to be acceptably near enough.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Not having come across it before (I've don't think I've ever seen it used in the UK) I'd have instinctively pronounced it
    kamˈɑːlə
    (a long back vowel)

    What I tend to do - and I suspect a lot of people do the same if they've never heard the person themselves say it - is to compare it with something spelt in a similar way (I matched it with the Ugandan city Kampala) - and use that. :)

    I'm not sure British people go in much for deliberately mispronouncing politicians' names to indicate our dislike of them - we go in more for nicknames instead. :D
     
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    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Thank you for all your points! :) I accept ordinary speakers will mispronounce unfamiliar names, but news agencies to provide guidance to reporters and newscasters. Yesterday, I generally heard the version that rhymes with Pamela - which, as Cagey says, sends particular signals in the US, but does not outside of the US (and might be seen might be seen as an acceptable way of pronouncing a Sanskrit name in English).
     

    Wordy McWordface

    Senior Member
    English - SSBE Standard British
    With names, I would follow the stress patterns from the US guidance i.e. Xxx as in Pamela rather than xXx as in Kampala, and then approximate the vowels to the nearest familiar ones.

    Of course, the 'like in "comma" ' hint only works if you're "thinking" in an American accent. This hint presumably tells North Americans to use the aah sound they'd normally use for 'cot', as opposed to the ehh sound which they'd expect to hear when they see 'cat'. It doesn't work for other accents.

    I agree that SSBE vowel in 'calm' gives us the best approximation of the first syllable of her name: something like /'kɑːm ə l ə /. Even though that pronunciation might suggest to fellow non-rhotic English speakers that there might be an 'r' in the first syllable (as in 'karma'), that's not likely to be a problem - we've all seen her name written a million times so we're hardly likely to misspell it.
     
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    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    the version that rhymes with Pamela - which, as Cagey says, sends particular signals in the US, but does not outside of the US (and might be seen might be seen as an acceptable way of pronouncing a Sanskrit name in English).
    :thumbsup: I'd certainly pronounce it to rhyme exactly with Pamela, and not have it occur to me that I was mispronouncing it. I'd simply be 'assimilating' it.

    EDIT: Which is basically what WMcW said :cool: (P.S. My original 'cheat word', before I learnt better, was impala rather than Kampala :) )
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I've been pronouncing it to rhyme with "Pamela" - but now I've read Cagey's post 2, I'll change the first syllable to /kɑː/.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    One TV commenter said, "You pronounce the first part like the punctuation "comma", plus "la".

    It seems pretty close to what I hear on TV and radio.

    This from Wiki:

    Kamala (name)

    Kamala is a first name and surname. It means lotus in Sanskrit.



    I would note that Sanskrit is reputed to be the oldest language in the world and all other languages were supposedly derived from Sanskrit at some point. The language originated about 5,000 years B.C.E.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    The name comes from a syllable-timed language, not a stress-timed language. I worked with a woman from South Asia named Lavanya (la - van- ya) and it was very hard to learn not to pronoun it as La Vanya (luh VAAAHn yuh) since it looks like more familiar names (La Toya Jackson, Uncle Vanya for example) but it was only slightly easier to learn Gowthami's name - (gow-tha-mee, not gow-THAAAAAH-mee which is what most people called her).
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I know a Lavanya too - pronounced LAV-uh-nyuh /ˈlævənjə/, with the stress on the first syllable, and with reduced vowels elsewhere. But the stressed vowel is the English cat vowel.

    The point is that the Sanskrit nudges the English pronunciation in a certain direction, but cannot always determine it. The person herself would have a strong say on this, I suppose.
    I would note that Sanskrit is reputed to be the oldest language in the world and all other languages were supposedly derived from Sanskrit at some point. The language originated about 5,000 years B.C.E.
    Sorry, I don't think that can be right. Sanskrit is an Indo-European language (in the Indo-Aryan branch). English is from the Germanic branch. Here's the time chart from Wikipedia Indo-European languages - Wikipedia
    1611236262221.png
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I know a Lavanya too - pronounced LAV-uh-nyuh /ˈlævənjə/, with the stress on the first syllable, and with reduced vowels elsewhere. But the stressed vowel is the English cat vowel.

    The point is that the Sanskrit nudges the English pronunciation in a certain direction, but cannot always determine it. The person herself would have a strong say on this, I suppose.

    Sorry, I don't think that can be right. Sanskrit is an Indo-European language (in the Indo-Aryan branch). English is from the Germanic branch. Here's the time chart from Wikipedia Indo-European languages - Wikipedia
    View attachment 52531
    I looked online and it appears my memory is off by one decimal point. I defer to your data.

    While online I came across wyzant.com, a referral service for Sanskrit tutors (in case any WR readers want to brush up on their Sanskrit.)
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I would note that Sanskrit is reputed to be the oldest language in the world and all other languages were supposedly derived from Sanskrit at some point. The language originated about 5,000 years B.C.E.
    That's a popular idea among some people with close ties to Sanskrit but it simply isn't true. Not even close. Indo-European is a Johnny-come-lately in many respects and Sanskrit is simply one branch of that. There were languages already there that were replaced when the people who spoke it (or its ancestor) moved in. Not to mention other language families that have no relation at all and are from other parts of the world.
     
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    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    That's a popular idea among some people with close ties to Sanskrit but it simply isn't true. Not even close. Indo-European is a Johnny-come-lately in many respects and Sanskrit is simply one branch of that. There were languages already there that it replaced when the people who spoke it moved in. Not to mention other language families that have no relation at all and are from other parts of the world.
    This appears to be a long-ago taught false fable. I am losing trust in my high school teachers (circa 1964 - 1966).

    Everything I thought I knew is now suspect. :eek:
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Harris’ first name is pronounced “KAH’-mah-lah” — or, as she explains in her biography, “‘comma-la,’ like the punctuation mark

    I listened very carefully, and that's exactly what I heard. 'Comma-la like the punctuation mark' doesn't help me much because my British accent doesn't give 'KAH-mah' but I think of 'CALM- luh, and that seems to be acceptably near enough.
    :thumbsup:
    (I typically hate pronunciation threads where someone says word 123 is pronounced like the word 789 when there is variability across the English-speaking world about how 789 itself is pronounced :) The AE short o, compared to BE short o is a hot-button issue - and then I found out that IPA symbols do not always represent the same sounds when people try to write sounds down :eek: so I am not trying to use IPA below, except for ə and æ ).

    When her name became more common in the national press (as opposed to the California press), there were those (typically not Democrats) who put the stress on the second syllable (kə-MAH-lə), and that's what I thought was the "deliberately" mispronounced/racist version. This thread suggests separating the issues into 1) where the stress is placed and 2) the sound of the first vowel.

    It seems established now that the stress is on the first syllable and that the first a is the issue being discussed in this thread.

    An AE speaker saying the word comma is usually different from a BE speaker saying comma. The short o in the LOT vowel is handled differently by the two forms. (When speech recognition came out on iPhones, my BE pronunciation of "podcast" was interpreted (by an AE-speaking iPhone :eek:) as "pawed - cost" - my BE "short o" was deemed to be an AE "aw" and my "broad a" was deemed to be an AE "short o"). In contrast to a person's ability to form vowels "properly", anyone can place stress correctly and someone continuing to stress the second syllable kə-MAH-lə after being corrected to K??-mə-lə (where the ?? represents the variable vowel, see below) could be construed as deliberately "racist".

    For the first vowel, I see three words that can show the spread: cam, calm and con.

    Cam - I think most English speakers say this with an æ, as in lamb, dam, clam, cat (and Pamela) etc, and this is too short to represent the sound she uses when she says her name ( or the word comma). If someone deliberately keeps using this after they have been told that it should be closer to comma, calm or con, then we might level the "racist" (or at least antagonistic) card at them.

    How a person normally pronounces the vowel in calm and con (and distinguishes between them - or not) has surfaced in this thread in the context of how they might say comma. For some people, their vowel repertoire may not normally include the sound that Kamala uses for the first vowel in her name (and comma), so when they say her name it sounds "different". That now seems to be interpreted as deliberately racist (in some cases), but it may have nothing to do with that. It resembles (for me the (mis) pronunciation of the music icon Bach by some AE speakers when it comes out closer to Bock (at least the way I would say Bock with the LOT vowel). This whole world of "short o vowel repertoire" had been opened up for me when I arrived in the US from Canada decades ago and rented an apartment in upstate New York: the landlord assured me he had turned on the hat wadder (his version of hot water). For me, this leaves only KAM- ə - lə as potentially "racist" and then only if the speaker is capable of a longer vowel like calm or con, but chooses to persist with æ . Even then, they may not "hear" much difference among those options - the way I don't always hear subtleties of other languages, and learners here have difficulty hearing differences we depend on, because those sounds or distinctions don't exist in their language).

    /short o rant
    EOT
     
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    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    So the lesson to be learned is that if you want your daughter to go into politics, name her "Sue", "Anne" or "Joan". :D
     

    KHS

    Senior Member
    She herself produced a cute video about the pronunciation that now appears on YouTube (helped by young friends).
    Since direct audio links aren't proper here, I will say that you should start the link with the usual YouTube URL, and at the end put
    ................................watch?v=XYkZkpLQUS0
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    You pronounce pamela like the word pommel?
    The interpretation of the first vowel in that Forvo entry exemplifies that issue with the "AE" short o. The o in pommel would not be pronounced like that in BE. The AE version is moving from a short o towards an ah. Donny's comment about slight accent is likely to mean moving away from æ (in Pam) towards ah. I think the Forvo entry is fine, and the issue concerns discussion of what words in which form of English it "sounds like" :)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    The Forvo entry is fine, but it's not close at all to pam, ham, lamb for me.
    Nor for me either - and the difference between Donny's Pam and this entry is likely the cause for saying the person has an accent . But I'll let Donny speak for himself when he gets back (which has the Pam vowel æ). We have a local news reporter whose name is written Andrea but she says it Ondria (perhaps how her (?) non-English family might say it, with a slight accent)-these threads on "sounds like my pronunciation of word 789" can go, well, an and an :D
     

    KHS

    Senior Member
    That sounds just like "pamela" to me with a k instead of a p, albeit with a slight accent. :)
    In my ideolect, the vowel for the first syllable of Pamela is very different from that of Kamala. So, best to go with audio pronunciations (or IPA symbols) rather than making parallels with other words (as has been mentioned since the first entry, of course).
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Nor for me either - and the difference between Donny's Pam and this entry is likely the cause for saying the person has an accent . But I'll let Donny speak for himself when he gets back (which has the Pam vowel æ). We have a local news reporter whose name is written Andrea but she says it Ondria (perhaps how her (?) non-English family might say it, with a slight accent)-these threads on "sounds like my pronunciation of word 789" can go, well, an and an :D
    That's possibly conceived of as a feminine version of Andre (which I would pronounce ON-dray) rather than Andrew. So, yes, exactly, the pronunciation of <a> is especially tricky in English, especially when played out in different English accents, what more non-English accents!
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    That's possibly conceived of as a feminine version of Andre (which I would pronounce ON-dray) rather than Andrew. So, yes, exactly, the pronunciation of <a> is especially tricky in English, especially when played out in different English accents, what more non-English accents!
    I also assumed that was where it came from, but only used it as an example of the problems. When Barack Obame came to the front pages, there was also learning curve on where the stress went in each name. BAR-rack OWE-buh-mah was not uncommon, at least for some BE spekaers who had seen it before hearing it. :)
     
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