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How to say: Dmitry Medvedev

14:44 UK time, Wednesday, 5 March 2008

An occasional guide to the words and names in the news from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

After recording a landslide victory, Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's chosen successor, has been elected President of Russia.

The pronunciation of Medvedev's name presents quite a challenge to English speakers, as Hillary Clinton demonstrated when prompted to say the name on MSNBC recently (which you can watch here).

As media coverage of the elections has shown, several pronunciations are already in use among British broadcasters, including muhd-VAY-dev and MED-vuh-dev (the latter is considered incorrect).

The Pronunciation Unit's recommendation is DMEET-ri muhd-VYED-uhff (-uh as in the; -vy as in view; the final 'v' is devoiced so it sounds like 'f') but it was a challenge for us to decide exactly how we should render this name in English and, before we could decide on a definitive recommendation, we had to consider the following factors:

-the native Russian pronunciation (which sounds close to myid-VYED-yiff; -my as in mute; -vy as in view)
-the extent to which this name is likely be anglicised by non-native speakers of Russian (since his name will undoubtedly crop up frequently)
-ease of production (will it be pronounceable in English?) and ease of perception (will it be clear to our audience who it is our broadcasters are talking about?)
as well as
-consistency - all of our advice incorporates systematic Anglicisations which are based on our knowledge of the phonology of the language in question.

The above are just some examples of the issues we regularly have to consider when forming recommendations.

In the case of Medvedev, we have had to compromise: we cannot expect non-Russians to pronounce this name in a perfectly Russian way because this would require broadcasters to have detailed knowledge of Russian pronunciation, which is not feasible.

Having carried out detailed research and consulted with Russian speakers, including a Russian phonetician, we concluded that correct stress placement and reflection of the soft (palatalised) 'v' in the stressed syllable were the most important aspects to highlight in our anglicised pronunciation.

The surname Medvedev stems from the Russian word for 'bear' medved' (with stress on the second syllable), so that it is important to retain this stress in the surname, hence our recommendation muhd-VYED-uhff.

Listen to an interview with Martha Figueroa-Clark on Radio 4's Today programme here.

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