The Trump-Kim Summit in Singapore is over. We’ve been treated to lots of spectacles on the streets, like the two leaders’ great motorcades that caused half-hour jams at rush hour, KJU’s running guards, and the dotard gushing over the despot.
But it is sheer coincidence, I assure you, that my post immediately following the summit is one about apes. In particular, the orang utan, indigenous to Southeast Asia, my part of the world. Much has been said about them as endangered species, and it’s awful that palm oil producers are callously destroying their habitat. They are lovely, gentle creatures, and very human. I was inspired to write this after reading this post from ‘From Hiding to Blogging’ where she captures a lovely photograph of a female orang utan showing her in all her humanity.
My problem is how many people mangle the pronunciation of the word ‘orang utan’. So let me set things straight…
First, it is spelt as two separate words. Orang, space, utan. It is actually a Malay word: ‘orang’ meaning man, and ‘utan’, meaning jungle/woods. Man of the jungle. Spelling it as one word is as arbitrary and baseless as turning the word elephant into ‘ele pha nt’.
Then we come to my biggest beef—the pronunciation. In almost every nature documentary (yes, I love watching them, especially those migrating wildebeest ones), I hear narrators refer to orang utan’s as ‘arangatang’. I cringe and get annoyed. To me, this is a matter of respect. Don’t mangle someone else’s language. It should be pronounced as ‘or-rahng oo-tahn’. And it should be said in the same rhythmic cadence as how you would pronounce two words like ‘fire station’.
Why do I get so annoyed? Frankly it really is a matter of respect. Respecting someone else’s language is tantamount to respecting their culture and identity. Not knowing how to pronounce it is okay, but not bothering to find out and continuing to push on publicly in that manner—and I am again referring to these nature documentary productions—is to me a disregard and disrespect for someone else’s culture. Yes, calling it ‘arangatang’ may be a ‘small thing’, but that small thing is to me a manifestation of a wider attitude of disrespect.