It is reasonable to assume that speakers vary in the degree to which they are aware of how they speak their native language. Specifically, they may not always be aware of the fact that in some cases they have silently chosen from a range of variants that may characterize the pronunciation of a certain word. In an extreme case, moreover, the choice of a possible variant may be at odds with what is extant and habitual in the language, particularly as this pertains to the names of persons, where variation is usually strictly constrained by the preference of the person who bears the name.

Here is what can only be called a quasi-pathological case heard on NPR Radio. In a recent broadcast of Weekend Edition Saturday, the host, Scott Simon (whose linguistic manner, incidentally, can only be characterized as pompously precious), while interviewing a correspondent, Scott Horsley, several times mispronounced the latter’s name by rendering the medial s of his surname as a [z] instead of Horsley’s own version with [s]. This kind of lack of self-awareness borders on what is called anosognosia in the mental health literature, defined as a ‘deficit of self-awareness, a condition in which a person who suffers a certain disability seems unaware of the existence of his or her disability’.

A possibly related case pertaining to linguistic self-awareness––also from a recent exchange between two NPR correspondents, Robert Siegel and Michele Keleman, this time on All Things Considered––involved the pronunciation of Iran and Iranian (about which see in detail an earlier post on the subject of broad and flat a in contemporary American English). Siegel several times pronounced these words correctly, i. e., according to the traditional English norm, to rhyme with ran and Pomeranian, whereas Keleman consistently used the forms influenced by foreign speakers (specifically, Iranians) to rhyme with Ron and raunchy. Over the course of an exchange that lasted several minutes, neither speaker deviated from their respective preferred pronunciation.

The degree to which interlocutors confronted with variant linguistic forms are aware of the variation as it occurs is an open question. In the particular case of Iran and Iranian, native speakers who ignore, or are ignorant of, the traditional norm should be informed of the possible deficit in status and power that is comported by a deviation from traditional English phonetics in the direction of a foreign mispronunciation, amounting to an unintended concession as to which of the interlocutors’ utterances are valid or veracious.