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How to Say: Babel

11:59 UK time, Friday, 23 February 2007

A weekly guide to the words and names in the news from Catherine Sangster of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

We have been having difficulty recommending a single pronunciation for the Oscar-nominated film Babel, by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu (al-ekh-AND-roh gon-SAA-less een-YARR-ee-too).

In British English, Babel is pronounced BAY-buhl. In American English, they say either BAY-buhl or BAB-uhl, and in the native Spanish of the film's director and star, it's bab-EL. All three pronunciations have been used in connection with the film. The film's trailers are little help, as most only show the film's title in writing, without saying it. Since one of the film's themes is linguistic confusion, perhaps it isn't surprising that those involved have been slow to settle the matter.

Last year, Brad Pitt apparently accepted an award saying "Thank you for honouring our film BAB-uhl, or BAY-buhl or bab-EL, we're still arguing how to pronounce it." A piece in The Observer reports that the film's UK distributors, at least, finally settled on the pronunciation BAY-buhl.

Our decision has been to recommend that BAY-buhl is used in all English-language BBC broadcasts, although we have no doubt we will hear all three pronunciations on Oscar night.

(For a guide to our phonetic pronunciations, click here.)

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