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How to say: Kofi Annan

Host Host | 12:29 UK time, Wednesday, 26 July 2006

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

"Today's news-related pronunciation is an apparently simple name, often mispronounced: UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The pronunciation is KOH-fi AN-an, with the stress on the first syllable of the surname. We have the best possible source for this pronunciation; it is how he said his name himself during his swearing-in ceremony in 1996."
(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)


  • 1.
  • At 02:31 PM on 26 Jul 2006,
  • Eric Dickens wrote:

There is something rather absurd about creating a new blog or article for every single name. Surely the BBC has more on file than the one-page pdf list of pronunciation that we can click onto here, but which is only, in effect, a phonetic list.

What I have pleaded for elsewhere, is a full, online list that gives a once-and-for-all approximate and standardised pronunciation for every new name that gets mentioned a great deal. At present, it is new Israeli, Arab and U.N. forenames and surnames, plus, of course, place names. These names should be written down, and also spoken into some recording device, so that a BBC employee can dial a number and instantly get a voice saying the name. Maybe you have this service already.

It would be interesting for the Host to explain to us exactly how the BBC Pronunciation Unit goes about its business, how many staff it's got, how many of them speak which foreign languages, whether they liaise with BBC News, the World Service and all parts of the BBC, and so on.

For someone like myself who speaks several languages and has an ear for pronunciation, it is fascinating to hear the variations of pronunciation of newsreaders and presenters when it comes to such foreign names. As I have said elsewhere, these people haven't got time to be constantly rechecking. No wonder the is inconsistency.

  • 2.
  • At 06:12 PM on 26 Jul 2006,
  • Barbara Boris wrote:

Continuing on the idea of correct pronunciation...

*Hez BOL ah* is what I hear the mid-east experts say, (and those from the area, but not the Israelis)


*Hez bo LAH* is what I hear the BBC, CNN and Israelis say.

Arab pronunciation vs. Judeo-Christian pronunciation? And does that difference give a political slant to the reporting?

What's more, for three days running they've (I think) been posting pronunciations that don't follow their own guide. In today's, they seem to say that the second syllable of the Secretary General's first name ends in /ɪ/, the vowel of 'pit' and 'bid', rather than /i/, the vowel of 'peat' and 'bead'. This seems unlikely, but even stranger is the idea that both vowels of his last name are /æ/ as in 'cat' and 'bag'. I think that's right for the first vowel, but surely the second should have been a schwa (hence "AN-uhn" by their guide)?

But I don't think they read the comments on their blog. I've posted about this twice before, no response, no change. Ah well.

Ah, this acutally confirms my belief that names (person's or place's) are best pronounced by the person whose name it is or by people living in that area. Could you please put up details on how to pronounce "Iraq" and "Baghdad"? Apparantly the Americans have been there for more than a decade but haven't learnt how to spell those names. Even top US news people(e.g. in Jim Lehrer show, CNN, etc.) pronounce Iraq as "eye-raak" and Bagdad as "bag dad" (it ain't my dad's bag!).

  • 5.
  • At 08:26 PM on 18 Aug 2006,
  • jns wrote:

Since "Iraq" and "Baghdad" are country names in English, it is up to speakers of English to decide how they will pronounce it where it occurs in an English sentence. Of course, it's quite a different thing with personal names.

  • 6.
  • At 09:01 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Stephen Waring wrote:

Following earlier posts about the place name, Baghdad, I've noticed that even our Prime Minister, Tony Blair has started pronouncing the capital of Iraq with a strong stress on the first syllable, BAG-dad (and of course, not pronounced BAKH- daad, which I suspect would approximate more closely to the local pronunciation).

Can anyone help. I'd be very interested to know. I think Mr Blair is just imitating his American chums.

  • 7.
  • At 05:04 PM on 19 Jul 2007,
  • Fadzilah Amin wrote:

It would be nice if BBC presenters would make an effort to pronounce "Baghdad" as close as possible to the local pronunciation, ie Bugh-daad, instead of Bag-dad. This is because it is so much in the news and there are millions of Muslim(not just Arab)listeners who are familiar with that pronunciation.

The "gh" in "Baghdad" and "Afghanistan" is actually pronounced very much like the French "r", but I don't expect those who don't know that consonant to pronounce it exactly. A "g" sound would do, as in Bug-daad.

It is good, though, to hear Mishal Hussain pronounce those names correctly on BBC World!

  • 8.
  • At 10:53 PM on 04 Oct 2007,
  • jonathan ingham wrote:

I do enjoy your pronunciation page, as it allows me to discuss with others news stoires I might have been too embarrassed to discuss for fear of mispronunciation. That being said, it is rather frustrating that we have access to so few entries. Surely the BBC can muster a more extensive list? I know a number of people like myself, who make little effort to remeber significant titles of worldwide officials, simply because they cannot pronounce their names.

Also, could we not have the entries spelled out in the international phonetic alphabet? If any dictionary user can use it (it being printed on the bottom of Oxford dictionary pages) surely it is not beyond the understanding of an online reader.

  • 9.
  • At 09:38 AM on 29 Oct 2007,
  • RER wrote:

Re pronunciation -
do tell your people how to pronounce controversy, contribute, distribute
and, today, advertisements.....
(we are not American yet!)

and do check Welsh names - last week heard Llangollen pronounced as Llangolen.....

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