Can you spell ‘awkward’? CNN host assumes Indian-American spelling champ reads Sanskrit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 2:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 10:08pm

A CNN anchor became the target of rebuke for assuming that the 2017 US national spelling champion, a California resident who’s of South Asian descent, is “used to using” Sanskrit.

Alisyn Camerota and Chris Cuomo were talking to 12-year-old Ananya Vinay on New Day after Ananya’s Thursday victory at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Toward the end of the interview - and after several awkward seconds of asking the sixth-grader to spell “covfefe” - Camerota joked about the origin of the gibberish that US President Donald Trump conjured on Twitter last week.

“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,” Camerota said.

Vinay, an Indian American, is from Fresno, California.

Criticism of Camerota’s comment has since been circulating on social media. Many said her comment was racist, while others were simply in disbelief that the CNN anchor had made such an assumption.

A CNN spokeswoman said Camoreta’s comment had nothing to do with the girl’s heritage, and the interview was not the first time the anchor joked about Sanskrit being the origin of “covfefe.”

“Alisyn made the same joking reference to the root of ‘covfefe’ in an earlier panel discussion that aired Wednesday. If she’s guilty of anything it’s recycling a joke. To assign a bias to what was a fun and innocent segment celebrating Ananya Vinay’s incredible accomplishment is frankly extremely cynical,” the spokesperson said in a statement, referring to a transcript of the Wednesday segment.

Sanskrit, a language closely associated with Hinduism, greatly influenced not just Indian languages, but also languages in China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the Philippines. The origin of some English words also can be traced back to the ancient language.

Sanskrit is rarely spoken today and is generally used by Hindu priests during religious ceremonies. But activists and Hindu nationalists in India still push for the language to be more widely taught in schools.

Vinay’s winning word last week was “marocain”, a type of fabric.