Thursday, April 18, 2013

Stories from My Mission: Who in the world is Tina Danner?

[Author's Note: Those who have been following my blog for a while may have noticed that I never use my own name on my blog. There really isn't any reason for it, I just like having an "online persona" for my blog. The concept of having a pen name really isn't that uncommon, and in some cases it helps writers from getting their readers mixed up with their other works. So I am going to do something I normally don't do and that is mention my real name, because it is integral to the story.]

One of the subtle things about learning another language is learning how to pronounce the different sounds. Even with Spanish were the alphabet is essentially the same there are subtle differences in how certain letters are pronounced. For example, the most obvious ones that every student who learns Spanish learns right off the bat is the difference in how you pronounce a /j/. In Spanish it is pronounced with like the English /h/. Another very subtle and less known example is the difference in how /d/ and /t/ are pronounced in Spanish.

English has a very hard /t/ sound, and in the most extreme instance it sounds like we are spitting. In Spanish there is no such thing. The /t/ in Spanish sounds almost exactly (or even in many situations, exactly) like the English /d/ sound. It is not as close as the Spanish /b/ and /v/ which are effectively indistinguishable (and of course leads to some of the most common spelling errors in Spanish, and coincidentally a major test of whether or not someone is a native Spanish speaker).

So when I first got to Argentina and I had to introduce myself I would typically say something like, "Hola, me llamo Elder Tanner" with a strong English /t/ (note: all male Mormon missionaries use the title "Elder", even when we are speaking Spanish, which, because it is an English word, causes confusion). In my first area when I first introduced myself to the Church members they would all pause and then ask, "What was your name?" Some of the members had extensive experience with American missionaries so English (or American) names were not that unusual for them. But for others my name was very unusual, and the fact that the /t/ in my name was followed by an /a/ made the /t/ that much more pronounced (my companion's name was Elder Tenny, and he never seemed to have my problem with the /t/, except he had to deal with the fact that everyone wanted to pronounce it "Tennis", because of the /y/ on the end, which in Argentina sounds like /sh/).

In English, if I introduce myself as "Elder Tanner" saying "Tanner" with the normal English /t/ no one notices, since a strong /t/ is common. But in Spanish, the /t/ sounds hard and harsh. Which meant that people would try to imitate the way I said my name and would say, "Elder Ch-anner". There was one member who thought it funny and every time he saw me for the next 6 months would say "Elder Channer" with emphasis on the /ch/ and each time would practically spit his teeth across the room, and then smile slyly like he had just made the best joke in the world. I hated it.

But that was not the only misunderstanding with my name that happened on my mission, which finally brings me to the subject mentioned in the title, how I found out that I am "related" to Tina Turner. Before my mission I had heard of Tina Turner, and I even knew that she sang songs, but if you had shown me a picture of her I would not have recognized her, nor would I have recognized any of her music. After my mission I think I have listened to a grand total of two of her songs. But apparently she was uber-famous in Argentina, as in everyone, even in the most remote hamlet in the middle of nowhere, had heard of her. Even though they had all heard of her, to them there was no difference between the names Turner and Tanner (hey, there's not a lot of difference in English), so I had only been on my mission about a day when I first got the question, "Are you related to Tina Tanner?", except they would say it, "Tina Danner".

The very first time I got the question I was confused, because I had never heard of someone named, "Tina Danner" or even "Tina Tanner". I think my companion Elder Tenny realized the mistake the first time and corrected them and said, "No it's Tina Turner". After that first time I think I was asked if I was related to "Tina Danner" about once a week for the first three months. After that it slowed to about once a month or so, and I typically was asked the same question without fail at least once a month, and sometimes more, for the rest of my mission.

After my first area I learned to say my name with a softer /t/, but apparently in my second area I wasn't saying it soft enough since I still had a few people call me "Elder Channer" or maybe "Elder Danner". By my third area I had fully transitioned over to introducing myself as "Elder Danner" with a very soft /t/ that to an English speaker would sound like a /d/, but to Spanish speakers they could tell the difference, even if the /t/ was practically a /d/. I got a lot less confusion over my name after that.

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