‘Learn How To Pronounce Names’ – Columbia Professor's Public Shaming At JNU Lecture Goes Viral

‘Learn How To Pronounce Names’ – Columbia Professor's Public Shaming At JNU Lecture Goes Viral

A recent lecture by literary critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak at JNU sparked a controversy after a video surfaced of a heated verbal argument between her with an audience member over pronunciation.

Siksha MUpdated: Thursday, May 23, 2024, 09:40 AM IST
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A lecture at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) by literary critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak recently took an unexpected turn, sparking a heated debate beyond the lecture hall. What started as an academic discussion turned into a verbal clash over pronunciation.

Ashok Kumar, who calls himself a Founding Professor and Chairperson of the Centre for Brahmin Studies, posted a video of the incident on his X handle, stirring up the online debate. During the lecture, when Kumar tried to ask a question, Spivak interrupted to correct his pronunciation of W.E.B. Du Bois, a well-known Black civil rights activist.

"Du Bois (pronounced Do Boys). Will you please learn his name? If you're going to talk about the man who is perhaps the best historian and sociologist of the last century and this is supposed to be an elite university, then please take the trouble to learn how to pronounce his name," Spivak said. She also added, "He is an Englishman, not French."

Kumar responded, "If you're done with the trivialities...", which led Spivak to call him rude to an elderly woman. The moderator then asked Kumar to keep his questions short. When Kumar resumed, he mispronounced Du Bois again and Spivak sharply corrected him again as well.  Spivak then ignored his question, and the moderator moved on to other attendees.

Kumar took the issue to X. He said his question was about Spivak's claims of being middle class, highlighting her lineage connected to prominent figures like social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. He noted the "irony" of the situation by referencing Spivak's famous work, "Can the Subaltern Speak?", which critiques the silencing of marginalized voices.

Kumar's post sparked a heated online discussion.

Some users criticized Spivak's behavior as arrogant and humiliating, with writer Meena Kandasamy sharing a similar negative experience with Spivak. Kandasamy tweeted, "Bullying someone over their pronunciation is just not done. You slip in the right pronunciation gracefully when you repeat the same thing, move on, and focus on the content of what is being said. That's what a committed, dedicated teacher does... To snub someone over their pronunciation, in a hall filled to the brim with people, shows insecurity, pettiness, and the unwillingness to be magnanimous."

Others defended Spivak, saying Kumar deserved the correction and praised Spivak for maintaining proper pronunciation standards.

"She was absolutely right to school you”, said one X user.

"When the subaltern finally spoke she rattled," said another.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, 82, is a highly influential scholar known for her contributions to literary theory and feminism.

As a university professor at Columbia University and a founding member of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, Spivak's work challenges patriarchal structures, explores women's experiences in colonial and postcolonial contexts, and advocates for amplifying marginalized voices. Her notable works include "Can the Subaltern Speak?" and "In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics."

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