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How to Say: Michele Bachmann

13:20 UK time, Tuesday, 28 June 2011

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

Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann has formally launched her bid to become the next Republican president. But how do you pronounce her name?

It is not a very big leap to assume that it comes from the German-speaking parts of the world but the pronunciation of "ch" in her name might raise some eyebrows. Is it pronounced -k as in 'king' or as a fricative -kh as in Scottish "loch"?

Our policy is to recommend the pronunciation the individual prefers or uses, where known. Michele Bachmann's own pronunciation, as can be heard on her campaign video on YouTube, is BAAK-muhn (-aa as in "father", -k as in "king", stressed syllables in upper case).

However, there are other names of German origin that do not necessarily follow that trend - 18th Century composer Johann Sebastian Bach's last name is often anglicised as baakh (-kh as in Scottish "loch"), but some native English speakers also pronounce this name baak.

More anglicised still is the pronunciation used be the German-born American banker Jules Bache who pronounced his German last name as baytch (-ay as in 'day', -tch as in 'catch'). The anglicisations of German names can vary according to country and individual preference.

Here at the Pronunciation Unit we recommend pronouncing the composer's name baakh, given that this pronunciation is closer to the German pronunciation, which actually features a short vowel: bakh (-a as in hat; -kh as in Scottish loch). The quality of the German 'a' in Bach does not have an equivalent in British English, lying somewhere between -a as in hat and -aa as in father.

There are two sounds represented by the German digraph "ch", the soft "ch" (-kh as in German "ich"), ie, the voiceless palatal fricative, which appears after "i", "e" and "r", which sounds rather different to the hard "ch" (-kh as in Scottish "loch"), ie the voiceless velar fricative, which appears after "a", "o" and "u".

The soft "ch" is sometimes perceived by native English speakers as equivalent to the English -sh as in "shop" sound, although it is actually produced further back in the mouth. It is actually quite similar to the "h" sound in "human" or "Hugh".

The soft "ch" sound is also often anglicised to -k as in "king", for instance in the German word for "I", ich, which some English speakers pronounce as ick, or in Marlene Dietrich, which is often anglicised as DEET-rick - the German pronunciation is closer to DEET-rikh (-ee as in "meet", -kh as in German "ich").

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

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