BBC BLOGS - The Editors
« Previous | Main | Next »

From 'Taleban' to 'Taliban'

Post categories:

Adam Curtis | 10:04 UK time, Tuesday, 2 June 2009

It has been the News website's practice for a number of years to use the spelling "Taleban" in preference to the alternative "Taliban".

Neither version is wrong - what you come up with depends on which system of transliteration is used from the Arabic script. At the time we established our style, there was no consensus.

Afghan Taliban fightersHowever, in recent years, a growing number of news outlets including Reuters, Associated Press, CNN, Al Jazeera, The Economist, the Financial Times, the New York Times and the Washington Post have all adopted "Taliban".

So too have institutions such as the United Nations and the US and UK governments. Indeed, the movement usually refers to itself as the "Taliban" when it uses English.

Further evidence of the emerging dominance of "Taliban" can be found through Google. Readers who use the search engine to look for "Taliban" will find well over 20 million references, while "Taleban" scores only about 1.25 million.

For these reasons, we have decided to switch our spelling to "Taliban" and other parts of the BBC News operation have done the same.

The decision did create a potential problem with the website archive, but our technical team has come up with a solution which we hope will prove satisfactory. The two versions have been combined into one set of results, so that users entering "Taliban" or "Taleban" will get a list of results which should retrieve all the relevant articles. We have also altered the spelling in some important articles, such as this profile.

Adam Curtis is the head of editorial standards, BBC Newsroom.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Is this just not nitpicking who cares if its Taliban or Taleban, no one is going to lose any sleep over this!!

    Have the BBC not got anything better to do then worrying about whether its Taliban or Taleban!!

    What a joke!!

  • Comment number 3.

    Yes, but if you searched for taliban via (eg) google, it wouldn't necessarily bring up BBC News results as the editor identified. This way it brings them into line with what has evolved to be the standard spelling. The joys of english language, constantly evolving and changing...

  • Comment number 4.

    "Is this just not nitpicking who cares if its Taliban or Taleban, no one is going to lose any sleep over this!!"

    Given that lack of nitpicking has let to sectarian strife (Was it ACTUALLY his body and blood or was it a metaphor?), and suicide bombing (Do you get 96 virgins or white raisins?), then translating from Arabic and Hebrew accurately is a very useful tool for the prevention of idiocy! :-)

  • Comment number 5.

    Makes good sense to me.

  • Comment number 6.

    As someone who writes media house-style books for a living, I can assure Professor Techno that this isn't nitpicking. Consistency in a medium's output does two things: it allows the organisation to concentrate on the big issues, knowing that the ground rules have been set, and it assures the audience, even subliminally, that this organisation isn't a rag-tag collection of journalists/writers with no common standard.

  • Comment number 7.

    @Adam it would be interesting to know what prompted the discussion about Taleban verses Taliban, who contributed to these discussions, and how a decision was eventually reached. I wonder which news organisations other than The Times still use Taleban?

  • Comment number 8.

    "Is this just not nitpicking who cares if its Taliban or Taleban, no one is going to lose any sleep over this!!"

    Actually it's precisely people like you who would write in to complain about the spelling in the first place, or to demand to know why it had been changed arbitrarily without letting anyone know.

  • Comment number 9.

    Talib means 'student'..so it was always Taliban...

    Talib cannot become 'talib' even phonetically.

    BBC is correcting an earlier mistake. It is surprising it carried on with it for so long.

  • Comment number 10.

    Surely, the difference in spelling corresponds to standard translations from Persion (Taleban)(cf Persian Vocabulary by A.K.S. Lambton, CUP) and Arabic (Taliban)(cf Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic by Hans Wehr). It is only natural that sources like Jazeera would prefer the Arabic transliteration.

  • Comment number 11.

    wow
    what a great story BBC no wonder why you are known as British Bananas' company.
    BBC you don't have to follow America, Iran, Arabia, France, Germany or any other country, we all know what you are referring to so it dosen't bother anyone I don't think how you spell it.

  • Comment number 12.

    Re: Posting Number 1 Reiterated:
    For the record the Rappers Senate, Taliban & Dipset are good american guys not Public Enemy Number 1 (which is another safe rap group)
    [previous unsuitable link was removed by moderators]

    http://apps.facebook.com/ilike/artist/Dipset
    [replaced with a suitable 'free' link - no adverts products etcetera]

  • Comment number 13.

    Perhaps the BBC will stop referring to Myanmar as Burma next?

  • Comment number 14.

    Next you can decide how your news reporters and anchors are going to pronounce Afghanistan, Pakistan, et al. Is it AfghaRnistan, AfghaRnistaRn, or Afghanistan? heard all 3!

  • Comment number 15.

    So when we search the archives for Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, will it retain the spelling of tellyban?

    Or is that changing too?

  • Comment number 16.

    Can I just point out that academics were writing 'Taliban' before many of you had even heard of them? Ridicule us for being in an ivory tower by all means, but sometimes we are ahead of the game.

  • Comment number 17.

    So can we look forward to the BBC using spellings such as "color" and "aluminum", and words such as "obligated", in their rush to mirror what the US websites say?

    I'd really like it if the BBC news readers would stop trying to pronounce some place names correctly (eg. Niger is pronounced "Nee-jer") while pronouncing other place names the English way (eg. Paris is not pronounced "Pa-ree")

  • Comment number 18.

    16. At 2:18pm on 02 Jun 2009, zentao wrote:
    Can I just point out that academics were writing 'Taliban' before many of you had even heard of them? Ridicule us for being in an ivory tower by all means, but sometimes we are ahead of the game.

    =================

    Ahead of what game?

    as an academic you should know, as the article states that words originally written in arabic are almost always spelt phonetically when translated into english - making spelling somewhat optional.

    Hence the fact that names like 'mohammed' have as many spellings in the trajan alphabet as people can think of to spell it. None are wrong.

  • Comment number 19.

    Soo, what lead the BBC to use Taleban in the first place? Was it the recognised correct international English version? Is it just a transliteration choice your intl department made?
    Why do you give up on a decision just because other people are doing things differently?
    Does this mean youll further accept Americanisations as weve been seeing on the news recently with examples such as: Space Truck to describe ESAs ATV. hiccups seen on BBC article, etc.
    Stand by your own choices.

  • Comment number 20.

    "BBC decides in favour of Taliban."

    now that's an eye catcher..
    Both are correct.

    Taleban for translation from Persian and Taliban for Arabic.

    They are pronounced Tal'ban (a very short separation of l from b) in Urdu, and considering there are more Urdu speakers in world than Arabic or Persian, why not Tal'ban?

  • Comment number 21.

    #11, defenderofparliament wrote:
    "what a great story BBC no wonder why you are known as British Bananas' company.
    BBC you don't have to follow America, Iran, Arabia, France, Germany or any other country, we all know what you are referring to so it dosen't bother anyone I don't think how you spell it."


    Spelling, phrasing and grammar are all of paramount importance for any news organisation in the business of communication. From your error-strewn post, I would hope you were the very last person the BBC would listen to on such a matter.

  • Comment number 22.

    Isn't it time for an an international agreement to call all countries by their own national name, for example Deutschland for Germany.

  • Comment number 23.

    this is really a good step. while you are at it, there are several other spellings that you may also like to correct. one big one - it is not genghis khan but chengiz khan.

  • Comment number 24.

    After this enlightening BBC post the Taliban Information and Brand Advertising Network team (abbreviated TalIBAN) will let a huge sigh of releif! They will not have to change the spelling of Taliban on all their promotional materials, after all. :-)

  • Comment number 25.

    Of course spelling is important in the provision of accurate information. What worries me is that the BBC changed its transliteration after, and not before Reuters, Associated Press, CNN, Al Jazeera, The Economist, the Financial Times, the New York Times and the Washington Post and most of the rest of the World's media.
    Surely we might have expected the Editorial Standards Dept of one of the World's most respected news gatherers to be ahead, rather than behind, the game.

  • Comment number 26.

    'dotconnect wrote:
    Spelling, phrasing and grammar are all of paramount importance for any news organisation in the business of communication. From your error-strewn post, I would hope you were the very last person the BBC would listen to on such a matter.'
    You obviously have nothing better to do than pick holes in my rushed post, I do not sit down with Dictionary or bother to put punctuation in many of my posts in my view it isn't necessary.
    The BBC should not care, does it really bother you that much about them spelling things wrong?

  • Comment number 27.

    Post 8. At 12:13pm on 02 Jun 2009, steve5312wrote:

    "Actually it's precisely people like you who would write in to complain about the spelling in the first place, or to demand to know why it had been changed arbitrarily without letting anyone know"

    steve5312 you do not know anything about me so how can you write such TOSH

    I am sure the vast majoity of us have much more productive things to do with our time than worrying about why the bbc have changed "Taliban" to "Taleban" which incidentally are both correct

  • Comment number 28.

    "I am sure the vast majoity of us have much more productive things to do with our time than worrying about why the bbc have changed "Taliban" to "Taleban" which incidentally are both correct"

    The why on earth are you commenting here then? Nothing productive to do?

  • Comment number 29.

    "The why on earth are you commenting here then? Nothing productive to do?"

    I am making the point that vast majority of us would not give a toss about such an issue,that hardly contradicts my what you have quoted above

    Surely there are more important issues for the bbc to blog about then whetether its Taliban or Taliben

  • Comment number 30.

    #26, defenderofparliament wrote:

    "You obviously have nothing better to do than pick holes in my rushed post, I do not sit down with Dictionary or bother to put punctuation in many of my posts in my view it isn't necessary."

    Actually it took me all of 10 seconds. It's really not that difficult.

    "The BBC should not care, does it really bother you that much about them spelling things wrong?"

    Well I don't care to the extent that I'm about to start writing letters of complaint - but yes, I absolutely do think the BBC should take care to avoid "spelling things wrong".

  • Comment number 31.

    If settling the critical diff between an electronic 'i' & an 'e' helps balanced news organisations to continue their impartial hitech news reportings on free speech then bully for them.

    Mind you it don't make no never mind to lots of good folk.

    For years some ingenuous halfwits argued about whether or not Concord should be spelled Concorde & that commercial SST has become extinct, even though it flew way above tropical thunderstorms of the ITCZ which top out at around 60 grand & are therefore easily circumnavigated, without ever spilling one's tea, depending on one's beverage of choice.

  • Comment number 32.

    So let me follow your Google "logic". Almost the entire population of US is exposed to Taliban and will no doubt use this in the world's favourite search engine, whereas the non US "minority" who use the Persian Taleban (which most US spell checkers will pick up as an error) using Google are - wait for it - the lower users in Google searches! What revelation - it must have taken you forever to work that one out.....

    Hasn't anyone asked the Taleban what they prefer? Do you think they care?

  • Comment number 33.

    Al-Qaeda/Al-Qa'ida/etc is another one that's spelled differently by different sources. In addition to the 'i or e' and the 'with hyphen or without hyphen', there's the added confusion of an optional apostrophe that seems to appear in random places!

  • Comment number 34.

    Taleban is the English version of the word and as an English language national broadcaster you should stick with it. When the US changes their pronunciation to "Tal-eye-ban" as is their wont these days will you change too?

  • Comment number 35.

    Taleban vs Taliban? I'm based in South Africa and it's always interesting to read what journalists consider issues abroad. I imagine this is what firmly qualifies as a first world issue?

    Sizwe Mahlala

  • Comment number 36.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 37.

    As long as none of your presenters start resorting to other US English conventions, like calling Iraq "eye rack" and muslims "moo slims", I really don't care how you spell Taliban.

 

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.