Does Pinochet rhyme with ricochet?

The coup - 11 September 1973

September 11 is burned in many people's memory as the date of the 2001 attacks on the US - but it is also the date of the military coup led by Augusto Pinochet in 1973, which ousted Chile's elected president, Salvador Allende. This year marks the 40th anniversary.

English-speakers are often uncertain how to pronounce the names Pinochet and Allende. In fact, there is not always consensus among Chileans.

And what about Michelle Bachelet, the country's first female president (2006-10), who is running for a second term in November - or indeed the pronunciation of Chile itself?

Pronunciations below are anglicised, with stressed syllables shown in upper case.

Augusto Pinochet

The BBC Pronunciation Unit recommends the established Anglicisation, ow-GOO-stoh PIN-uh-shay. British pronouncing dictionaries also list the following pronunciations as possible variants: PEE-nuh-shay and PEE-nuh-chay (-ee as in street, -ch as in church), or PEE-noh-shay and PEE-noh-chay (-oh as in no).

According to my predecessors at the unit, who contacted the Chilean Embassy in 1973, "Pinochet" is a French family name. This might account for the fact that Chileans do not generally pronounce the final 't'. But, while a French pronunciation would be closer to pee-noh-SHAY, you are much more likely to hear Chileans pronounce it as pee-notch-AY or pee-notch-CHETT.

Many Spanish speakers find it difficult to pronounce -sh as in ship since this sound doesn't technically exist in Spanish, consequently, the use of a French-sounding pronunciation by some Chileans can be interpreted as an affectation.

Pinochet's own pronunciation was closer to pee-notch-AY (though the final 'e' in Spanish is pronounced closer to the 'e' in 'get', rather than the diphthongal -ay as in day sound, which is how this sound is systematically anglicised).

Salvador Allende

This name can be anglicised as sal-vad-OR igh-YEN-day, often further anglicised as SAL-vuh-dor uh-YEN-day or uh-YEN-di. However, some Chileans pronounce the 'll' as something approximating -zh (like 's' in measure) - azh-EN-day. (And in some other Spanish-speaking countries, the 'll' sound is similar to the 'll' in million, so that Allende would be pronounced something like al-YEN-day.)"

Michelle Bachelet

Like Pinochet, the name Bachelet is of French origin and, again, the pronunciation of 'ch' in both of these names is variable among Chileans. The unit's recommendation reflects the most common pronunciation of her name in Chile, and also that used by Eduardo Frei during her swearing-in ceremony: mee-CHELL batch-el-ETT (-ch as in church, -tch as in catch).

Chile and Chilean

And lastly, there is quite a bit of variation in the pronunciation of the name of the country and the nationality among speakers of different varieties of English.

In Spanish, Chile is pronounced CHEE-le (-the final 'e' sounds closer to -e as in get). As a bilingual speaker of Chilean Spanish who grew up in Britain, I pronounce it as CHILL-i (so that the words Chile, chilly and chilli all sound the same) and Chilean as CHILL-i-uhn. These are the usual British English pronunciations. Many speakers of American English talk of CHILL-ay and chill-AY-uhnz or chill-EE-uhnz but this is not common usage in British English.

The Pronunciation Unit is part of the BBC's Information and Archives department. Its service is available exclusively to BBC broadcasters and programme-makers. The pronunciations discussed are represented using BBC text spelling.

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