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How to Say: Haiti and Port-au-Prince

15:39 UK time, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

An occasional guide to the words and names in the news from Jo Kim of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, there are some place names appearing frequently in the news which have raised pronunciation questions.

For foreign place names, it is BBC Pronunciation Unit policy to recommend a standardised and systematically anglicised version of the local pronunciation. However, if there is an English form of a place name (e.g. Munich for München), then we recommend this rather than the native language form. We also recommend established anglicisations where they exist (e.g. Paris).

In the case of Haiti and Port-au-Prince, we recommend the established anglicisations HAY-ti (-ay as in say, stressed syllables in upper case) and PORT-oh-PRINSS (-i as in pin). These anglicisations appear as early as in the 1937 edition of Broadcast English advice on foreign place names by the Pronunciation Unit's predecessor BBC Advisory Committee on Spoken English, which had members such as Arthur Lloyd James and Daniel Jones. These anglicisations are now so established that they are codified in British English pronunciation dictionaries, gazetteers and atlases. In the case of Port-au-Prince, the established anglicisation is reportedly commonly used in Haiti in English language contexts.

Of course, different anglicisations for foreign place names can exist at the same time. For Port-au-Prince, in our recommendation for this place name, we acknowledge that pronunciations closer to the Haitian Creole pronunciation PORT-oh-PRA(NG)SS (-a(ng) as in French "vin") and French pronunciation POR-oh-PRA(NG)SS (-t is silent) are still used by English speakers. However, for the sake of consistency across the BBC, we advise our broadcasters to use the established anglicisation, PORT-oh-PRINSS. Similarly, while different anglicisations for Haiti (HIGH-ti, high-EE-ti and haa-EE-ti) are in still use, HAY-ti is considered the most widespread and established and we recommend this pronunciation.

To download the BBC Pronunciation Unit's guide to text spelling, click here.

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