Since the inception of this Blog in 2008, we have been one of the most determined & tenacious voices against expressed contempt of Indian Culture & Dharma in American media. Much of our work is in private engagements with senior management of TV & Print media companies but on several occasions we have gone public with our activism. The most recent case was against CNN’s deliberately disgusting & false portrayal of what they called Hinduism in a show hosted by Reza Aslan. After trying to reach to Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, we wrote an open letter to the Board of Directors of Time Warner, CNN’s parent company and followed up by a detailed rebuttal of Time Warner’s response.
Today we find ourselves in the unusual situation of having to defend a CNN anchor against wrong, ignorant and abusive criticism of what might actually have been a smart statement by her. The CNN anchor in question is Alisyn Camerota and the issue is what she said to Ananya Vinay, the 2017 Spelling Bee champion on air.
First a disclaimer – We don’t usually watch the CNN Morning show (we tend to focus on Financial TV in the morning) and so we have little personal experience of watching Ms. Alisyn Camerota or her co-anchor Mr. Chris Cuomo speak & argue on air. Our basic sense is that they both hate President Trump and that’s about it.
So our defense of Ms. Alisyn Camerota is entirely focused on what she said to Ms. Ananya Vinay & the abuse she took for it. What is the issue? Ms. Camerota asked Ananya Vinay to spell “Covfefe” the word or non-word made famous by a tweet from President Trump:
First our own outrage against Ms. Camerota who butchered the name Ananya. She pronounced it as Anaanya instead of the correct Ananyaa (the “aa” sound at the end instead of in the beginning). Shame on you Alisyn Camerota. Can’t you find out how a Sanskrut name is pronounced & practice it before the show? Or are you such a supremacist that correct pronunciations of Indian words doesn’t matter to you? By the way, Jeff Zucker might recall we have been diligent in expressing our outrage against such mispronunciation based supremacist insults since he was the President of NBC.
But no one else seems to have cared about this obvious insult to Ms. Vinay and by extension to the entire Indian diaspora. Instead they focused on the last statement of Ms. Camerota:
- “It’s a nonsense word. So, we’re not sure that its root is actually in Sanskrit, which is what you’re probably, uh, used to using, so, I don’t know. Anyway,” [emphasis ours]
Note that Ms. Camerota didn’t assume or say that Ms. Vinay spoke or even knew Sanskrut. She simply assumed that Ananya Vinay would be familiar with words whose roots are in Sanskrut.
This is a non-trivial and critical point, one for which we must thank Ms. Camerota.
1.Kudos to Alysin Camerota
In case you didn’t know, both the first name & last name of Ananya Vinay are actually Sanskrut names as are the majority of Indian names. The vast majority of Indian languages are directly derived from Sanskrut. Virtually every religious & religio-social function in the global Indian Diaspora features a recital of one or more Sanskrut shlok (verses). So the assumption that Ms. Ananya Vinay would have familiarity with words with “roots in Sanskrut” is not just fair but actually complimentary.
But what is the relevance of “roots from Sanskrut” to spelling bee competition in English? If you ask that, then you demonstrate your own ignorance & show yourselves to be less familiar with both Indian Culture & basic Linguistics than Alisyn Camerota.
Because Sanskrut is the foundational Indo-European language and the oldest known language of the Indo-European language family. Look what even a non-scholarly source like Wikipedia reveals:
- “The most widely spoken Indo-European languages by native speakers are Spanish, English, Hindustani, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, and Punjabi, each with over 100 million speakers, with German, French and Persian also having significant numbers. Today, about 46% of the human population speaks an Indo-European language as a first language , by far the highest of any language family.”
So 46% of the human population is exposed to words with roots in Indo-European of which Sanskrut is the oldest, richest, most developed & the only continuously used language since known time. From what we have learned, German is the closest modern European language to Sanskrut and English is derived from Germanic.
If you listen to Ananya Vinay, you would hear her saying she tries to “figure out language patterns” to come to spelling of a word.
So given all the above especially the foundational role of Sanskrut in Indo-European languages and how Ananya Vinay tries to figure out language patterns, wasn’t it smart of Alisyn Camerota to make her comment about “roots in Sanskrut” of words?
How many American anchors even know enough to wonder about Sanskrut roots of English words? Not even 5%. So by her smart & actually insightful question, Alysin Camerota distinguished herself as a rare American anchor who actually knows more than 95% of American anchors. And she got condemned for that? Nuts!
So we say Kudos to Alysin Camerota and we ask every honest person who criticized her to apologize to her.
2. Shame on Huffington Post/Washington Post & Lesson for Hindu Activists
Our first exposure to this issue came from an email from a friend & a reader who provided a link to a Huff Post article titled CNN Anchor Mocks Indian-American Spelling Bee Champ. This is one of the most disgusting articles we have read and that is saying a lot.
Written by a Ms. M. K. Ansari, Writer, Lawyer, Social Justice Advocate, the article mocks Sanskrut after making a “fake” claim against Ms. Camerota:
- First of all, newsflash to the CNN anchor— nobody really speaks Sanskrit anymore. It’s like telling an Italian “it’s not like Latin, that you’re probably used to speaking.”
Newsflash to Ansari – go to any Indian religious or religio-social function to see that Sanskrut is a live language. And where did Ansari come up with “speaking“? Ms. Camerota had used the term “roots in Sanskrut” and never assumed Ms. Vinay spoke Sanskrut. Then Ansari makes the utterly stupid accusation of “white privilege” against Ms. Camerota.
How ignorant is Ansari? Ansari clearly doesn’t know that English & other “White” languages are Indo-European and thus linked with Sanskrut. May be that is because Arabic, the language her “Ansari” name comes from, is not an Indo-European language. Or may be because Ansari, besides being contemptuous of Sanskrut, is a White hater. What makes us think that? She abuses Ms. Camerota for being, in Ansari’s words, the “blonde-haired anchor of a national news network“. Then Ansari gets lower:
- What’s perhaps the most shocking in this blatent display of racial arrogance is the fact that Camerota is a national news anchor. Of course, the bar is really low nowadays for what we expect out of mainstream national news anchors. For women, the bar is even lower— show a toothy grin and toss your hair. … Now, if you look good in front of the camera and can speak clearly, you’re in. Bonus points if you’re a D cup or higher.
So apart from Ansari’s own ignorance, Ansari’s biggest problem about Camerota is the color of her hair and cup size? Clearly Ansari doesn’t read her own garbage or even she would see that the only “blatant display of racial arrogance” comes from Ansari. How bigoted is Ansari? She actually calls Reza Aslan a “brilliant host”! Guess this Arabic-named woman really despises Hindus if she praises Aslan.
We know that Hindu activists like our friend are still livid at CNN for the Reza Aslan denigration of Hinduism. But that anger shouldn’t lead them to circulate bilge like this Ansari article that actually mocks Sanskrut & praises Aslan while launching disgusting attacks on a CNN anchor.
That brings us to Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard whom we respect and her misguided tweet:
- Tulsi GabbardVerified account @TulsiGabbard Further evidence of the need for America in general, and
@CNN in particular, to get educated about Hinduism & India
Ms. Gabbard actually gave a link to a Washington Post article in her tweet titled A CNN host assumed an Indian American spelling bee champion could read Sanskrit. Guess Washington Post is so used to publishing “fake news” that they used a “fake title” for this article by Kristine Phillips. If they had read what Alisyn Camerota said, they would have realized that she never said the spelling bee champion could “read” Sanskrut.
The Kristine Phillips article goes on to ridicule Sanskrut studies in India, a study that is foundationally about India, Indian Culture & Hinduism. And this is the article Congresswoman Gabbard used to blame CNN for not being educated about Hinduism & India? Doesn’t Ms. Gabbard know that there is no Hinduism or no India without Sanskrut or that the names “India” is itself a Latin derivative of the Sanskrut name Sindhu (Sanskrut Sindhu >> Greek Indus >> Greek Indica & Roman India)?.
We think Congresswoman Gabbard is still so angry at CNN for the denigration of Hinduism in & by the CNN-Reza Aslan show that she, like our old friend, latched on to any piece she could find that was anti-CNN and used it. She didn’t realize that she was playing into the hands of Washington Post that is much more anti-Hindu than CNN is.
That is just as true of the many Indians who latched on to the anti-CNN diatribes without recognizing that they were being wrong & unfair to Alisyn Camerota and that they were actually strengthening the hands of Huff Post & Wash Post that are dedicated to removing Sanskrut & Hinduism from India.
If they had thought about what Alisyn Camerota said, they would have realized it contained a huge & realistic compliment to Sanskrut which is India’s greatest heritage. If they spend more time learning about Sanskrut & its uniqueness, they would congratulate & thank Alysin Camerota for opening a dialog about the deep relevance of Sanskrut to Spelling Bee Competition.
3. Relevance of Sanskrut to Spelling Bee Competition.
Think about what a spelling competition is – you have to store a whole lot of words in memory & you have to have fast access techniques using a verbal or pattern trigger to search your memory for the closest spelling. You don’t learn or get these techniques/skills easily by learning languages by reading. So what gives young kids a natural advantage in such memory storage & speech-triggered search?
The answer we came to is Sanskrut. For those who care, we discussed this on September 26, 2015 in an article titled Why Indians Win Spelling Bees & in Silicon Valley? – An Underlying Historical Advantage?
To provide a quick synopsis, Sanskrut was fully developed into a rich language BEFORE writing was invented. That means Sanskrut was constructed to be mastered by storing it in memory rather than in physical form such as written scripts. Even today, Sanskrut is best learned by recitation and not by reading. We can testify that, to this day, we can recite verses or compositions that we learned by reciting them in our childhood, verses that we have NEVER actually read and some we still can’t translate word by word.
What about searches of memory? Sanskrut developed a science of three levels of content creation & storage; the first or lowest (Vaikhari) being tangibalized content in speaking or writing form; the second (Madhyamaa) being the middle stage (that answers in which language do you think) and the third highest (Pashyanti) being the “get it” stage. There is a fourth or highest (Paraa) stage that is beyond the scope of this discussion.
The point is Sanskrut was constructed to store content directly into the third or “get it” stage whereas latter languages were formed via storing content in the first or lowest stage. Just as rowing downstream is much much easier & faster than rowing upstream, downloading content from the third or highest stage to the lowest or first stage is much much faster than uploading content from the lowest to highest stage.
If you begin looking at these advantages of thousands of years of Sanskrut learning from an evolutionary view, you could infer that Sanskrut-heritage Indian kids have a natural advantage in memory + search based competitions like Spelling bee.
The above is why we say Thank you Alisyn Camerota for opening an important topic, a topic that all Indians should be proud of. And Kudos to you for demonstrating you know more about diversity than 95% of American anchors.
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