At the instigation of a certain Sébastien, I am posting here a Heckler complaint that I submitted to the Sydney Morning Herald a few years ago. It was rejected; it must have been – as I feared – unprintable.
This Heckler is unprintable. Not because it is offensive or in poor taste but because my rant is typographically inclined.
The observant will have noticed that the Sydney Morning Herald routinely drops foreign accents from any word or name that may require them. This is evidently a style policy on the part of the paper – exactly why it is so completely mystifies me. We’re talking about a modern newspaper with sophisticated page layout technology, a paper with an online presence (where on rare occasions the accents have appeared), a paper that can print in full colour and which can accommodate the application of annoying promotional sticky notes to the front. But give it an umlaut or a circumflex and it shudders and recoils and the offending accent is dropped forthwith.
I am not concerned about foreign words that have been anglicised. In Australian English a premiere is a premiere, even without the grave on the second “e”. A fete need not have a circumflex, so long as there is fairy floss and a sausage sizzle. But there are words that become ambiguous when the accent is removed, and – more important – there are many names that are simply misspelled and may well be mispronounced without their accents.
We live in an international world and foreign names are all around us, within the Australian community itself as well as further afield. What a discourtesy we do to others when we cannot take the trouble to accommodate a special character in their names. And how insular it makes us appear.
I follow the Sydney Morning Herald arts pages, which regularly mention performers from Finland, Germany, Norway, France and other countries with interesting characters in their alphabets. In the Herald Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä loses both the umlauts from his surname, changing the pronunciation completely not to mention the name itself. (Is there a Vanska in the Finnish phone book? Perhaps.) Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk appears as “Mork” without the crossed “o” (historically a ligature of “o” and “e”), to the same effect. With the Herald as your guide you’d be forgiven for thinking that a certain Swedish trumpeter’s name was pronounced “harken” rather than “horken” – all because the style guide won’t permit the “aa” ligature in Håken Hardenberger.
Were the French baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure (no accent, rhymes with “four”) still alive and singing Fauré (with an acute accent, rhymes with “foray”) the Sydney Morning Herald would no doubt be in a pickle. Or is that ‘dans le pétrin’? – acute accent on the “e”, of course.