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You say tomato

Host Host | 13:46 UK time, Monday, 17 July 2006

Introducing a new feature to this blog.

Pronunciation Unit staffOne of the beauties of an organisation such as the BBC is having a resource like the Pronunciation Research Unit. It is staffed by three full-time pronunciation linguists (from left, Martha Figueroa-Clark, Catherine Sangster and Lena Olausson), whose job is to provide advice on the pronunciation of any words in any language required by anybody in the BBC. They research and maintain a database of pronunciations which have been researched and indexed over the course of the past 80 years. It now consists of around 200,000 entries.

In his book on language, Mother Tongue (1990), Bill Bryson says: "The problem [of pronouncing names correctly] is so extensive, and the possibility of gaffes so omnipresent, that the BBC employs an entire pronunciation unit, a small group of dedicated orthoepists (professional pronouncers) who spend their working lives getting to grips with these illogical pronunciations so that broadcasters don't have to do it on the air."

In fact the BBC has had a pronunciation advice service since its earliest days. Lord Reith set up an Advisory Committee on Spoken English in 1926, chaired by Robert Bridges, poet laureate of the day. Other board members included playwright George Bernard Shaw and phonetics professor Daniel Jones. The committee's original task was to advise announcers on words of doubtful pronunciation. The modern Pronunciation Research Unit provides an advisory service to the entire BBC. One of its services for BBC News is to prepare a daily list of pronunciations of names, places and phrases which relate to the day's news.

The Unit's advice is based on the following policies:

• For placenames in English-speaking countries, a standardised version of the local pronunciation is recommended. The same is true for placenames in non-English-speaking countries, but if there is an established English form of a placename (e.g. Florence, Munich), then this is recommended rather than the local form (Firenze, Muenchen). For placenames which have sounds which would cause difficulties of production (for the speaker) or comprehension (for the listener), an anglicised form as close as possible to the native pronunciation is devised.

• For people's names, the pronunciation that the individual prefers is recommended. Family members, colleagues and agents are consulted.

• For words and phrases, recommendations are made based on the Unit staff's own language fluencies, a wide range of reference works, and consultation with native speakers. In the case of English words which can be pronounced in more than one way, the Unit can advise on which pronunciation is more traditional or usual.

From tomorrow, The Editors will be featuring a news-related pronunciation of the day, taken from the unit's daily list. Your queries and thoughts are, as ever, welcome.


  • 1.
  • At 04:29 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

What about making this database publicly available? Many times have I wondered how to pronounce place names etc... Seems like would be a good place for it.

  • 2.
  • At 04:49 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Aaron McKenna wrote:

What's the biggest (or most memorable) gaffe you've ever heard on-air, or (heaven forbid!) been responsible for yourselves?

  • 3.
  • At 05:02 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • John wrote:

I'm thrilled to bits to learn that there is such a thing as a professional orthoepist. What a brilliant thing to have on one's business cards.

Now if only they could get the newsreaders to say 'Michigan' properly...

  • 4.
  • At 05:12 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Griff wrote:

So the BBC have a full time staff to tell them how to pronounce the names of far flung places in Iraq, North Korea or Suriname, yet they still totally fail at pronouncing Welsh names!

Is having a hard to pronounce surname a requirement for working in the Pronunciation Research Unit, perhaps so that you know what it feels like when everyone gets it completely wrong...

Just how do you pronounce Figueroa-Clark, Sangster and Olausson?

  • 6.
  • At 05:23 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Kelly Mouser wrote:

If the BBC newscasters have people to instruct them on their pronunciation, why do they persist in pronouncing the nice elegant word controversy as controversy? I always feel rather sorry for presenters when they say this, because it makes them sound like novice readers running across a new word for the first time. Doubtless the never-wrong BBC will tell me that it's an "accepted variation", but it still sounds daft.

  • 7.
  • At 05:30 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Greg wrote:

I am always both amused and irritated at the pronounced differences between the US and UK - it must be doubly noticeable for those whose entire vocation is centred on the correct pronunciation of words such as Moscow, (without the bovine emphasis) Iraq (does not sound like Tie Rack) and Kosovo (with K as in Cold, rather than Kick).

  • 8.
  • At 05:32 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Phil Linehan wrote:

They are experts on pronunciations in any language? What about pronouncing Pinochet as if it were French instead of Spanish -- PinoSHAY instead of PinoCHET? Their expertise obviously does not include English or we would not have to listen to distriBUtor with the stress on the third syllable or something pronounced as VILENT which, presumably, is their way of saying violent.

Perhaps they could get onto the Test Match Special team so that they're not relying on listener emails to work out how to pronounce the names of the Pakistan players.

  • 10.
  • At 05:59 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Frank wrote:

Despite the presence of the pronunciation unite, I hear howlers on the BB all the time. Zidane (Zidann) being pronounced Zidayne, Chirac with the stress on the wrong (first isntead of second syllable), and so much else. Moreover, I was surprised and amused to hear BBC reporters refer to New Orleans in so many syllables (Or le- ans). Why could something closer to the local Nawlins not have been said?
As a previous comment suggested, it would be good to have this publicly available, where we the viewers and readers could prove a needed corrective.

  • 11.
  • At 06:19 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Simon Martin wrote:

But the BBC clearly doesn´t follow the rules consistently regarding what to do if there is an established English form of a placename - e.g. they have abandonded Bombay and Peking, electing to use Mumbai and Peking, but, as you mention stick with Florence and Munich and don´t use Firenze and Meunchen.

Do I detect yet another example of BBC Political Correctness creeping in, acknowldgeing changes from developing countries and ex-colonies ?

  • 12.
  • At 06:26 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Chris Brunt wrote:

It is a pity that the effort put into correct pronounciation at the BBC is not directed towards maintaining the English language itself. The frightening onward march of 'American English' usage on UK television is diluting our literary heritage. This, together with just plain bad English (how often have I heard 'pacific' instead of 'specific'?), is changing the way we speak and creating 'lazy English'.

  • 13.
  • At 06:35 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • David M wrote:

Could the pronunciation unit have a quiet word in the ear of Saturday night's BBC Five Live newsreader - the one who kept mentioning "the Scottish Open golf at Loch Lom-ond" - and rhyming the "Lom" part with "Bomb"?!!

  • 14.
  • At 06:38 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Fred Tokks wrote:

Over the years I have noticed a lot of mispronunciations of Irish names (places and people) on the BBC. The problem is often simply applying the wrong emphasis. For instance, with the town Omagh the emphasis is on the 'O' but it is almost always pronounced by the BBC with the emphasis on the 'magh'. However the emphasis in the city of Armagh is on the 'magh'. I can appreciate that this is not easy for non-native Irish, and can only wonder how many similar mistakes are made with names much further afield.

  • 15.
  • At 06:52 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • u a farrell wrote:

How do I get people to pronounce my name correctly? UNA

Most people in the USA sound it out as oona

  • 16.
  • At 06:53 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Vlad Petrovic wrote:

Yes, why not make the database publicly available online, or, even more obligingly, create a downloadable file in some standard, searchable format that would fit oh-so-nicely on my PDA's SD-card? :) You surely want the public to pronounce as flawlessly as your broadcasters.

  • 17.
  • At 07:09 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • D. Fear wrote:

Very pleasant to see professional linguists' work appreciated. I would be interested in a database, too - and perhaps I or other linguists might be of help with some very obscure items, although I am sure that the Unit covers things pretty well. Still, should some doubt come up about the pronunciation of Tocharian, do contact me (obviously this will very, very probably never be the case!).

  • 18.
  • At 07:44 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Steve Tinter wrote:

BBC said "but if there is an established English form of a placename (e.g. Florence, Munich), then this is recommended rather than the local form (Firenze, Muenchen)." then why do we sau Mumbai instead of Bombay?, Chennai instead of Madras, Kolkatta instead of Calcutta etc. etc.?

  • 19.
  • At 07:44 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Marsha wrote:

Could the BBC please lend the services of their orthoepists to President Bush? I'm sure they could make his speeches a little less cringe-worthy.

  • 20.
  • At 07:57 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

Very interesting article. Agree with the first poster, be nice to have some transparency (I appreciate this article is a start). Always wondered who's responsible for changing the language when my back's turned :)

Btw could someone publish the minutes for the meeting where the BBC killed off "ConTROversy" (one of my favourite words) and replaced it with that bland imposter "CONTRAversy". Someone should be held responsible...

  • 21.
  • At 08:24 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Alison Fox wrote:

It would be a good idea to these pronunciation guidelines made publicly available so that everyone could follow them.
Also, does the pronunciation guide include guidelines on etiquette for different countries within the UK , I am English and resident in Scotland -
how are English presenters (those who get things right) directed to pronounce Scottish words -
I'd love to know

  • 22.
  • At 08:28 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Sean wrote:

Do the pronunciations of names get more accurate as a news item is repeated during the day? I heard Kony (as in Joseph Kony) pronounced about three different ways the first day the Ugandan peace talks were in the news: is there a feedback loop to make improvements? Does the unit get hold of audio from a local radio station of the country concerned and find out how they pronounce the name?

  • 23.
  • At 08:31 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Gill wrote:

Please tell me that "pronunciation" should never be pronounced "pronounciation."
By the way, my name is the same as "Jill" and not what fish have.

  • 24.
  • At 08:44 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • L.VINSON wrote:

The three experts should:
1. tell all of your "journalists" and "news readers" how to pronounce
"going to"
2. listen to recordings of your "journalists and "news readers" and tell them about their respective errors.
3. produce a monthly news sheet that lists common errors that all of those employees who speak to the public must read.
4 tell "management" the names of those who continue to make the same errors and tarnish the image of the BBC.
L. Vinson

  • 25.
  • At 08:46 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Name withheld wrote:

I'd like to see the database opened up too.

Whan Al-Qaeda first appeared on the news, everyone, including the BBC pronounced their name differently to the way they do now.
What is that?

  • 26.
  • At 08:53 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • David wrote:

Presenters & especially national Traffic Reporters on BBC Radio struggle with certain Scottish placenames. Bit of a minefield, to be fair! It's CumberNAULD with emphasis on last syllable, not CUMBERnauld like the Cumberland sausage. BearsDEN, not BEARSden. (But beware the many exceptions e.g. BRECHin and FORfar, not to mention GLASgow). The difference is best illustrated by Bruce who apparently rather likes being called Mr ForSYTH when visiting Scotland. Petty, I know - but gosh it's irritating to have gone on so many years.

  • 27.
  • At 09:14 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Kent wrote:

How do you pronounce orthoepists?

BBC is very organized. I've worked with BBC TV and I'm amazed about how well they think about every little thing. I've noticed how BBC anchors pronounce the Iranian names more correctly than other well-known international news channels. For sure all of them have concerns about the pronunciation but I doubt if they have a dedicated unit for this matter, as old as BBC's.

  • 29.
  • At 09:48 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Joe wrote:

Just how does a professional pronouncer pronounce "orthoepist"?
(I'm serious.)

  • 30.
  • At 10:02 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Rick Bartow wrote:

How does the "unit" pronounce orthoepist?

  • 31.
  • At 10:14 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Brian Challis wrote:

I used to live in Reading, Berkshire, and I remember even local radio having problems with a number of local placenames, by stressing the wrong syllable of names.
I am concerned though about the increasing use of the american habit of "izing" any action, such as burglarized, when burgled is perfectly adequate and uses less syllables.

Yes, how about making this database public.

Dictionaries don't list pronunciations of proper names and places and these are the ones you ought to get correct as compared to those of mundane words.

Please do have a publicly available list of at least names and places.


  • 33.
  • At 10:27 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Jean wrote:

I wonder how far the Pronunciation research Unit goes? I can think of several place names in Scotland with identical spelling that are pronounced differently in different parts of the country; for example Balloch near Inverness has the 'och' stressed and Balloch near Glasgow has the 'a' stressed - and it doesn't do to get them the wrong way round.
Do they advise on all those tricky Welsh names>

  • 34.
  • At 10:41 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Ilir Topalli wrote:

It's hard to believe you utilize so much time and staff for a pronounciation unit, yet are still somehow unable to pronounce the word "Kosova" or "Kosovo"

It is pronouced, like nearly everything in the region with an emphasis on the second syllable. In Britain the english language is fond of emphasis on the first syllable. "MObile" vs the american "mobl" etc. this is not the case in the balkans however, and it is in fact perhaps the only thing we might be in unity about. We put our emPHAsis on the second syllABLE in alBAnia and KoSOva.

The president of Kosova is named RugOVa, the neighboring country is alBAnia, you can take a drive through TetOVa. Yet somehow you won't say KosOVA. it's always KOsuhv-O, like Spaggetti-O's, the exact inverse emphasis as is atually used. The second vowel is "O" not "uh", there is not even such a sound in albanian or serbian, although there is I see in British English.

Your's truly
Ilir Topalli, Ph.D.

a.k.a. iLEER, toPAHlee of the unIted states of aMERica

  • 35.
  • At 10:49 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Michael Kenny wrote:

I hope these young ladies are better than their predecessors! The BBC was always famous for its mispronounciations of anything from north of Watford! The one that immediately springs to mind is that large California city that the BBC always called "Los Angeleeze"! Another boob:Henry Cabot Lodge, who was always referred to as "Mr Cabot Lodge", even though Cabot was his middle name, not part of a double-barrel surname (his brother was John Davis Lodge!). But dare anyone try to correct the speakmeisters!

  • 36.
  • At 10:56 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Mike Simmons wrote:

Perhaps the Pronunciation Unit does a good job, but it is an enormous shame that the BBC does not have an English Grammar Unit for the staff who type up the news iems for use on the BBC Web Site. Whoever these people are, and I wonder at times whether English is their Mother Tongue, they have an appaling lack of knowledge of English Grammar. They appear, amongst their numerous mistakes in just about every single News item typeset, to not realise that Proper Nouns always begin with a Capital Letter.You must not begin a sentence with the word 'But', and you do not split speech contained within double inverted commas over several paragraphs with no inverted commas at the ends of paragraphs but with inverted commas at the beginning of the next paragraph. To illustrate my point, the BBC staff often typeset as follows :-
The prime minister said "I consider the BBC Internet News Staff do not fully understand English Grammar.
(Paragraph) "But in view of the way I have reduced the standard of english in schools, this is not surprising.
(Paragraph) "But who cares these Days!"

  • 37.
  • At 11:09 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Natalie wrote:

Alex Trebek in Jeopardy (a popular American game show) once told a contestant that his answer regarding the capital of Scotland pronounced "Edinborough" was incorrect, the answer was in fact "Edinburg". The judges then ruled that the answer was acceptable. That made me laugh.
I also recently heard on the BBC America news a reference to Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania pronounced Wilkes-Bar. It should be pronounced Wilkes-Barry.

  • 38.
  • At 11:18 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • "Bala"krishnan wrote:

Is there database (the pronunciations that have already been researched) that somebody can consult over the web?

This will be a great resource as in this time globalized economy, often you are challenged to pronounce name/places of someone/something of a different country than your own.

  • 39.
  • At 11:27 PM on 17 Jul 2006,
  • Adrian Marlowe wrote:

It is a pity that the BBC is not as concerned with the correct use of UK English words as it seems to be with pronunciation. In my UK English dictionary "stand-off" is a nautical term referring to a vessel lying off-shore. It is now used by the BBC continually in place of "deadlock", "siege", "stalemate", or "confrontation". Similarly, "ahead of", another nautical term indicating the position of a vessel which is moving in front of another, is now used by BBC presenters to the total exclusion of "before", "prior to", "in advance of". I realise, of course, that Britain, under Blair, has become the 51st state of the USA, and the BBC, as the UK's state-funded broadcaster, feels obliged to reflect that status by employing wherever possible American terminology -- after all even Acts of Parliament now use American spellings -- but it is very sad, nevertheless, to see my language becoming as debased and corrupted by US influence as the present regime is in Westminster.

  • 40.
  • At 12:02 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Noodle wrote:

Interesting article, and nice to see a genuine attempt at showing linguistic respect to viewers everywhere.

However, why is it then that on BBC World at least, the pronunciation and pacing of Japanese names is often quite poor? It's not only the BBC mind, the voiceovers on National Geographic and The Discovery Channel regularly have me rolling on the floor. One example is poor old Nakata-san, the recently retired Japanese footballer. His name regularly came out as Na-karta or even worse, Knacker taaaar! No wonder he quit to go back to college :)

  • 41.
  • At 12:19 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Zee Landers wrote:

Pleased to have been able to know a little bit more about this service provided by the 'Beeb. I have always appreciated the care taken to make sure that everything sounded right. Frequently, in some (other) English-language newscasts (in other parts of the world) then the news-reader s are unfortately left very much to their own devices, and some of the sounds they make are terribly mangled. Since I travel alot & speak several languages, I am normally exposed to situations where the pronounciation needs to be correct - We should all be grateful to these ladies for their output !!

  • 42.
  • At 12:46 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • David Olson wrote:

Perhaps we should teach the Americans how to pronounce English place names. Yesterday, on CNN, Farnborough was pronounced as Farnsbro, and Oxfordshire was Oxford County !

  • 43.
  • At 12:46 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Greg wrote:

orthoepist - how do you pronounce that?

  • 44.
  • At 12:48 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Maybe the BBC will even learn how to pronounce "Messerschmitt" correctly, one day....

Hopefully the service will be extended to documentary and sports commentators too.

Fascinating - I had wondered how you did it :-)

  • 46.
  • At 01:10 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Pádraig Ó hEochaidh wrote:

I've long known that the BBC has a facility of this kind, and it's a great asset for a professional news outlet, but it happens all the time that I hear a mangled pronunciation on the news and wonder if the Pronunciation Research Unit might be a bit short-staffed! I cringe to think how many different versions of "Jean Charles de Menezes" I've heard in the last few days, "John Charles" (pronounced in the English way) being the most egregious. And there must be something about Portuguese pronunciations because few at the BBC seem to have mastered "José Manuel Barroso" yet!

I wonder why the BBC doesn't compel its staff whose voices are heard on the air to undergo some elementary phonetics training. I'm no linguist but haven't found it much of a challenge to get to grips with most of the International Phonetic Alphabet and the sounds it represents. It would be excellent if the Unit could fire off an email to an offending newsreader that said something like "that's a voiced velar stop in 'Angela Merkel', it's not like the English 'Angela'", and they'd be able to understand and correct their pronunciation. I don't like to moan but I know the BBC cares about standards so it would be great if more of those employed in front of the cameras and microphones paid attention to the advice of the Pronunciation Research Unit!

One more thing: I wonder if there's any chance of the Unit extending its remit to advising football commentators and pundits by the time of the next World Cup, because this year most of them didn't have a clue how to articulate the names of the players they were talking about!

  • 47.
  • At 01:16 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Rory wrote:

Several newsreaders in the U.S. could really use this service. I'm getting quite irritated with hearing Kofi Annan's name pronounced differently by each one!

  • 48.
  • At 01:24 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Anne Ryckmans-Hadshi wrote:

I have always admired the BBC for its prononciation of foreign names, whereas the French media just pronounce them as they would be in French. It irks me when they keep pronouncing "Bruxelles" with the "x", when everybody in Belgium pronounces it "Brussel". I am looking forward to seeing how the system works at the BBC.

  • 49.
  • At 01:40 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Ralph wrote:

Two months ago I went to a graduation at a college in New Jersey (USA).
The first name of a graduate from Pohland Jerzy was pronounced Jersey. I got a good laugh out of it.
But I would like to commend the BBC for doing what they do. It's the difference. US media could learn a lot (it seems to be too much for them).

  • 50.
  • At 01:42 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Charles Barley wrote:

Ronnie Barker was an outstanding otheopist. Here is a example of his work.

"Good evening. I am the president of the Loyal Society for the Relief of Suffers from Pismronunciation, for the relief of people who can't say their worms correctly, or who use the wrong worms entirely, so that other people cannot underhand a bird they are spraying. It's just that you open your mouse, and the worms come turbling out in wuck a say that you dick not what you're thugging to be, and it's very distressing.

  • 51.
  • At 03:07 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Will Whelehan wrote:

Well, now, their predecessors got it wrong on Charles J. Haughey (D), former Taoiseach or the Republic of Ireland. They insisted on pronouncing his last name as "hockey" while the rest of the civilised world knew it to be "hawhee". Worse was to come. When RTE, Ireland's national broadcasting service, attempted to disabuse them, they countered that it was quite the opposite; the Irish, it seemed, were pronouncing their own names incorrectly.

Good old Auntie, not always right but never wrong!

  • 52.
  • At 03:16 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Alfred wrote:

That's excellent news. I've always admired the way the BBC tries to get pronunciations right, especially with names. Years ago I came across, and bought, a BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names (which as far as I know is sadly out of print), an extremely useful reference, and fun to read. It would be nice to have the fruits of BBC's research publicly available for free, but I would be more than willing to pay for a similar dictionary of pronunciation if the BBC were to publish it commercially.

I remember how Dan Quayle [during his Vice Presidency of the USA 1989-1993] had problems spelling the plural of tomato

Indeed, what a very cool occupation!

I second Aaron McKenna's earlier comment in asking what are some of the worst gaffes in pronunciation you've seen or heard on air?

It's very interesting to learn about such a behind-the-scenes operation that most people probably don't realize even exists, yet is so crucial!

  • 55.
  • At 05:53 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Fatimah Zahra Popal wrote:

Thanks for sharing this. Very interesting read.
Personally, I have had some difficulty with reading a word and then pronouncing it without hearing someone else say it. I tend to say it my own way but not the standardized way. Now, I don't use words that I am not sure of how to pronounce until I hear someone actually say it. Saves me embarrassment!

  • 56.
  • At 06:13 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • pooja sharma wrote:

im based out of Delhi, India and wud luv to understand n fimd out the correct pronounciation of tough words..really looking forward to it.

  • 57.
  • At 06:16 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Richard wrote:

On place names, why then is "Bombay" (the established English name of the place) called "Mumbai" by BBC staff? Even worse than the political correctness of using the Marathi term, is the fact that most BBC presenters actually mis-pronounce it "Mum" (as in mother) "Bai".

I'm doing a series about words on one of my blogs at the moment. As a British teacher in Japan, it always amuses me when Japanese teachers teach the students to pronounce 'tomato' the American way, since the Japanese word is much closer in pronunciation to British English.

  • 59.
  • At 07:10 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Sharon Cutworth wrote:

So may I understand from this that I will no longer have to hear newsreaders referring to "secketerries" (or, worse, secketries), the "sickth" day of conflict or "Febuary"? If only...

  • 60.
  • At 07:43 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Anna wrote:

Given the number of egregious mispronunciations I've heard over the past couple of years on the BBC World Service, I was under the impression that the Pronunciation Research Unit had been axed long ago.

Maybe the Unit just needs more staff? Or someone to ensure that the newsreaders actually read and are able to use the daily list appropriately?

  • 61.
  • At 08:37 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • fabian wrote:

John: how do newsreaders mispronounce Michigan?

  • 62.
  • At 09:04 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Leigh wrote:

The Pronunciation Research unit needs to give BBC presenters - especially those on BBC World- some lessons on pronouncing Indonesian place names. If I hear Pangandaran mispronounced again I'll scream...

  • 63.
  • At 09:11 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • helene wrote:

The BBC are very efficient at pronouncing words from any other country except Wales. Why do you never rang your BBC wales to check how it is said- it doesnt seem to matter if its the tele or radio

  • 64.
  • At 09:19 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • ALAIN HERNU wrote:

I would like to know those 3 people's email as I am myself extremely interested in the pronunciation of the English language which, unlike other languages is very diversified and volatile.
I am a Frenchman and although I speak English fluently with hardly any accent, still a great many things still baffle me in English, pronunciation-wise that is.

E.g. I am undecided how to pronounce such words as either, often, cervical,etc...
BBC commentators do not all use the same pronunciation either and that is why I'd like to correspond with those experts as I have many a question to ask them.
Best regards
Alain Hernu, France

  • 65.
  • At 09:19 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Anon wrote:

Please could somebody inform BBC Wales of the correct pronunciation of Clwyd? All their presenters seem to insist on using the south Wales pronunciation of "cloyd". Clwyd (which no longer exists as a county) was in north Wales, and the north pronuncuiation is "clue-wid".

  • 66.
  • At 09:23 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Betty M wrote:

Why can't newsreaders pronounce Iran properly then? John Humphries is a typical offender - and having a regional accent is no excuse. I forgive mispronouncing Afghanistan - getting the the "gha" sound right is pretty difficult for most British people but a long "a" is surely manageable.

Having read 24 comments from about the north-western hemisphere, one from the Pacific basin wonders how the BBC gets on with Fijian names like Civonaciva, Ba or Nadi and Polynesian ones like Lauiti'iti.

All transliterated by Englishmen.

  • 68.
  • At 10:13 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

Hopefully now you've raised their profile, somebody will consult these ladies about Jean Charles de Menezes, whose name has been so badly mangled that some reporters now seem to be trying to hide the fact that they don't know how to pronounce it. Clearly it's not as easy as it might look, but I'm getting tired of all the variations on 'Zhn Sharrlash de Mezhnezhnes'. Or perhaps nobody speaks Brazilian...?

  • 69.
  • At 10:26 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Andy McMenemy wrote:

I think the BBc should return to English names for foreign cities.

The BBC don't say Paree, but they do say Beijing. It's inconsistant.

They also use Mumbai - unlike the people who live there in Bombay who call it Bombay.

The BBC also continues to refer to Burma, yet it has been known as Myanmar for several years now.

You are the "British" Broadcasting Company. Stick to one, consistent, British usage. (And don't have the arrogance to try and change it).

  • 70.
  • At 10:34 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Lynn wrote:

It would be good if this service was available online so other people could refer to it. However, would the team please tell those who read the travel bulletins on BBC Radio 2 (particularly in the mornings) that there is a T in the middle of the word twenty! Frequently they pronounce it tweny (as in M twenyfive) and it drives me nuts!!

  • 71.
  • At 11:26 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Helen wrote:

You must not begin a sentence with the word 'But', and you do not split speech contained within double inverted commas over several paragraphs with no inverted commas at the ends of paragraphs but with inverted commas at the beginning of the next paragraph.

Mike, you are wrong - it is correct style when continuing speech over several paragraphs to not close the speech marks until the very end of the direct speech.

  • 72.
  • At 11:35 AM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Sam wrote:

then why is it that BBC broadcasters constantly pronounce Los Angeles as Los Angeleez ???!!! It is a Spanish word pronounced in the Spanish way, ie 'an-he-les'.

  • 73.
  • At 12:23 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Ray wrote:

Sharon (Post 59)

Spooky. Those were the three words I was about to mention, they are a constant irritant to me.

Regarding howlers:

An unfortunate Spoonerism occurred one evening when a newsreader tried to explain about an incident on the "West Bank".

  • 74.
  • At 12:51 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • John wrote:

Fabian: I often hear Michigan pronounced with a hard 'ch' - "Mitch-ih-gan" - when it should be a 'sh' sound - "Mish-ih-gan"

The soft 'ch' comes from the French explorers who named the place although the North American explorers themselves usually mutilated the indigenous people's names for the areas they passed though when making their maps.* Sadly most exploratory parties failed to bring along a professional orthoepist as this could so easily have been avoided.

* and often the indigenous people themselves. But I digress.

  • 75.
  • At 12:55 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • David Griffiths wrote:

Is there any attempt in the BBC for consistency in pronunciation, and the education of (say) News Presenters when they get it wrong?

For example, the pronunciation of schedule or 5th May.

I am all for the continual change of the English Language (we do not want to go the French way of language protection!), and I'm not adverse to the gradual adoption of Americanisms, BUT the BBC sets a standard and is very influential, so they should reflect the contemporary pronunciation and be consistent.

  • 76.
  • At 01:06 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Colin McGeechan wrote:

I'm not sure that this is always a good thing. In one sence yes, communication is always best when we all talk the same language and the message you want to make is more easily understood.

What might not be so good is teh affect this has upon the richness of the English language as dielects from Cornwall to Sutherland and beyond all become eroded. The words and pronunciations used on the BBC naturally affect how the language is used throught the country, there was a time when teenagers had different ways of talking in different regions of teh UK (even in different villages and towns the difefrent words wer used to describe the same thing). These days we have clones of teh same TV teenagers from north to south. Similarily the dialects in differnt parts of the country begin to lose the words that make them different. The English language has many different influences from Scandanavian to German to French and elsewhere. When our nouns become standardised the richness of thesse dielects becomes duller.

Anyhoo, enough bletherin frae me must gie it a rest afore the boss gies me a skelp.

  • 77.
  • At 01:07 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Lisa T wrote:

Does the unit's work also cover Norfolk placenames? My personal favourites are Happisburgh, which should be pronounced "hays-borough" and Wymondham, which should be pronounced "winned-um".

  • 78.
  • At 01:14 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Mike Mychajlonka wrote:

Folks who don't know either language often claim that Russian and Ukrainian are very similar to each other. Yet, the Ukrainian alphabet contains two variants of the long "e" sound while Russian does not contain any such sound. It generally substitutes the short "e" vowel. The official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian. The capital of Ukraine is pronounced something like "Kay-eve." A Ukrainian government website suggests the spelling "Kyiv." Nevertheless, many news organizations (like the Economist magazine) continue to use "Kiev" which is, at best, an Anglicized version of a Russian mispronounciation. I wonder what your experts would consider "normal" usage in this case, especially considering the acute political tension that exists between Kyiv and Moscow?

  • 79.
  • At 01:15 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Al wrote:

OK, we all know that some accents differentiate syllables that others don't.

the usual examples:
In southern parts of England "floor" and "flaw" are homophonous, whereas in Scotland "dawn" and "don" are pronounced the same.

but "K as in Cold, not Kick"??

Little wonder no-one can pronounce Kosovo.

  • 80.
  • At 01:32 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Joanna C Eleftheriou wrote:

I find the efforts made by reporters quite refreshing. I've noticed the word "Pakistan" sounding like Bakistan, for instance, even by people who problably don't speak any non-European languages. The ch in Michigan and the New Orleeeuhns thing is downright funny--I get a kick out of the British lack of familiarity with American place names. You should hear Americans saying Portsmouth or Birmingham! I think they deserve more credit than they've received for mustering a fake French "r" and a rolled Spanish/Greek etc. one when they can (although there's a line that's crossed when you make Putin begin like punative)

  • 81.
  • At 04:37 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Colin wrote:

You all need to get out more.

  • 82.
  • At 05:50 PM on 18 Jul 2006,
  • Alden Jordan wrote:

Is it possible that certain BBC writers do not appreciate or care about the correct usage of the words "which" and "that?" Many readers perceive the distinction and suffer each time it is ignored.

I don't think it is possible to pronounce proper names (particularly foreign ones) 'correctly' unless you own them yourself. Regional dialects will always differ, so getting the sound of "Hezbollah" or "The Koran" right is like nailing jelly to a wall.
Words like "controversy" are another matter. There MUST be a correct pronunciation and it is part of the Beeb's job to infomr us what it is.
In case you are wondering, my own name is pronounced JEAN-ee-us, with the emphasis on the "Who really cares?"

  • 84.
  • At 12:48 AM on 19 Jul 2006,
  • John Sanders wrote:

Please - please ... someone at "Auntie" grab the opportunity and make this database available ... even if at a charge, abeit a MOD-EST one !

  • 85.
  • At 06:02 PM on 21 Jul 2006,
  • Kaz wrote:

Bombay and Madras and Calcutta were not the English versions of the local names (as per Firenze/Florence, Deutschland/Germany) they were in fact the LOCAL names.
The LOCAL government decided to change the name of the cities to Mumbai (m'mbeye), Chennai (Chen'neye) and Kolkatta (I think Kol-Cart-er) to specifically disassociate themselves with the reminders of the British Empire. Peking/Beijing is a tricky one as the local pronunciation is (and always has been) more like Beijing, so using this instead of peking is courtesy rather than policy.

Myanmar/Burma(h?) is a tricky one... check here for the explanation

"note: since 1989 the military authorities in Burma have promoted the name Myanmar as a conventional name for their state; this decision was not approved by any sitting legislature in Burma, and the US Government did not adopt the name, which is a derivative of the Burmese short-form name Myanma Naingngandaw"

  • 86.
  • At 07:42 PM on 21 Jul 2006,
  • Michael wrote:

Although the BBC regularly succeed in mispronunciating Japan's Nakata, they tend to manage Shunsuke Nakamura. (Shoonskay not shun sooki). Something no other broadcaster I have heard seems to manage. Usually accompanied by a long pause to warn you of their pending confusion.

  • 87.
  • At 08:52 PM on 21 Jul 2006,
  • Sonia Bailey wrote:

Nobody speaks Brazilian, by the way.

The Brazilians speak Portuguese....

  • 88.
  • At 07:19 AM on 22 Jul 2006,
  • Will Whelehan wrote:

I see we have a pronunciation Nazi or two! Syllabication is a matter of environment, education and preference. Personally, I prefer "shed ule" to the harsher sounding "sked ule" and adore saying "con trov ersee". Conversely, I like the harsher sounding "har rass ment" (onomatopoeic) to "harris ment".

Paris is Paris in English and Paree in French, so when presenting the News in English one would say Paris. To do otherwise would be obnoxious. Ditto Beijing.

It's a wonderful language for its meaning, accents and pronunciations. "Chec nee ya vs. Che chen ya". Neither is wrong but only one is right!

  • 89.
  • At 09:28 AM on 22 Jul 2006,
  • Roger Oliver wrote:

Every spoken and/or written word, phrase, sentence (and even voluntary gesture) has one single objective which is that the person who speaks and/or writes and/or gesticulates expects to communicate the exact meaning (stemming from an idea)in his/her own mind by the use of spoken, written or body "language" directed towards the receipient mind(s).

If this is not fully achieved, the person speaking or writing has failed (partially or completely) to communicate - it's as simple as that.

  • 90.
  • At 10:29 AM on 22 Jul 2006,
  • John Venables wrote:

According to one of your posters poor written English on the BBC news website suggests contributing staff do not have English as their mother tongue, Can I just point out that in fact this proves they do. Many foreigners speak and write quite excellent English. It is only those who have passed through what is laughingly called the English education system who are virtually illiterate. Innit.

One word I hear mispronounced often is 'pronunciation', as if there was an 'o' in the middle (as in 'pronounciation').

An attractive Argentinian speaks at an international conference. Afterwards an Englishman asks:
"Where did you learn to speak such good English?"
She replies:
"My husband comes from Newcastle"
She sees him smile and knowingly adds:
"He speaks BBC Englsh."
- adapted from my wife´s experience!
The suggestion of putting BBC pronunciations on line will surely be much appreciated by language teachers worldwide. If only the Argentinian equivalent would do it too.

You are the "British" Broadcasting Company. Stick to one, consistent, British usage. (And don't have the arrogance to try and change it).

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Google still refers to Madras as Madras... when mapping the world. I am pleased to understand that Bombay is still call Bombay by many people who live there.

Cripes... Bombay Duck just wouldn't be the same, and a Madras curry..? No idea what I should order.

Peta - that's Peter not Pete... By the way.

I get the feeling that this pronunciation fascism at the BBC is just filling the gap left by the loss of BBC received speech. It is Nuevo received BBC English, in a desperate attempt to maintain a sense of superiority for those who work for Auntie Beeb. Hankering for a day gone by when they could set the agenda... and irritate the working classes with their stiff accents, and hoytie tatoytie city ways. They now essentially mock us by randomly changing the names and pronunciations of cities in order to claw back the edge. An edge they lost when the first regional accent spoke from outside number 10.

Or something like that anyway LoL =8¬)

Give English back to the people, and sack the pronunciation team, especially the one responsible for Mumbai.

I'm a Brit living in the USA for the last six years and I have been grasping on to my Britishness like a drowning man.
I have found myself inadvertently spelling things the USA way and often have to flip in and out of USA/UK spelling depending what I am writing and who will be the recipient.
Not so long ago I wrote a movie review for a local paper and the editor switched all my UK spelling to USA spelling with her spellcheck and dropped me a line saying my spelling was "off"
Also, the other day I found myself referring to Notre Dame University as N-Oh-der Dame (as in woman)
Oh my! Do I have to?

  • 95.
  • At 06:24 PM on 22 Jul 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

While this feature has a function, the Editors blog is not the place for it. My view, as a Welshman, is that since English is not a phonetic language there is always going to be some variation in pronunciation. As long as everyone is well understood, I think we can tolerate regional variations. I think John Humphrys and Hugh Edwards are understandable, despite not speaking RP. Do non-Welsh people agree ? Do we want everyone speaking the same ? It would be loss if people from Barth [near Bristol] started speaking like people from Newcassle [oop North]. That said I DON'T agree that this should give people carte blanche to ignore rules of grammar completely.

  • 96.
  • At 06:34 PM on 22 Jul 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

Hooray for Mike Simmons ! I am fighting a one-man battle with to correct childish grammatical errors. My own English may not be perfect but the number of errors on the BBC site has tempted me to submit them to for a special prize.

  • 97.
  • At 06:48 PM on 22 Jul 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

Andy McMenemy - Good point about Mumbai. However, I was under the impression that around 10 years ago the decision was taken to call it Mumbai, and that airlines, to use an example use it. However there is a 'Bombay Stock Exchange', but that may be for convenience. There is a local alternative to Calcutta, but clearly a different rule applies there. As for Myanmar, I had assumed that had changed long ago, but BBC usage of the word 'Burma' led me to believe that was currently correct.

  • 98.
  • At 07:40 PM on 22 Jul 2006,
  • Marie-Thérèse Daulard wrote:

I am impressed.
Could you let the French TV and radio know about your efforts, and give them a hand. They are obsessed about using English words, and putting in what they think is English pronunciation (they think it’s cool). So we get “watch” as “wotch”, “Michael Moore” as “Michael Moor”, “Sarah Hughes” as “Sarah YewG Hu Zz”.
I also would like to know the proper British pronunciation of “yacht” and “Hawaii”. I know the American ones, but wander whether the British pronounce them the same.
Thank you.

  • 99.
  • At 08:00 PM on 22 Jul 2006,
  • joan wrote:

I do believe there is nothing to be ashamed of in correct speech. So when oh when is the BBC going to tell the many of its presenters that a word ending in G is not pronounced "K". i.e thinking is not thinkink!

And " myself and Jimmy" is not an acceptable alternative for " Jimmy and I."

  • 100.
  • At 09:21 PM on 22 Jul 2006,
  • Alex McKeon wrote:

This is not really pronunciation BUT my béte noir (sorry, no circumflex available) is as follows:

orient (verb)
orientation (noun)
orientate (verb - gasp!)

  • 101.
  • At 09:46 PM on 22 Jul 2006,
  • Martin wrote:

No-one has yet commented on the great "KILLoMEEter" versus "killOMMitter" debate. As far as I am concerned, the former is undoubtedly the correct one because all metric prefixes and units have the stress on the first syllable, but I think I'm in the minority: very few people under the age of about 40 use the "KILLoMEEter" pronunciation. Sometimes I feel like King Canute!

And then there's "diphtheria" which many people (including some newsreaders) pronounce as "diptheria" rather than "difftheria". Likewise with "ophthalmic".

But the one that always sets my teeth on edge is the pronunciation of "constable" and "golf" as "cunstable" and "gulf" - or even, in the latter case, "goalf" to rhyme with "roll".

What's the current advice on the great "a hotel" or "an hotel" debate? I say "a hotel" because the H is sounded - like it is in "house", and you don't hear people talk about "an house". I know that "hotel" is a French word and would have a silent H in that language. "An 'otel" is logical (although maybe a bit pretentious), but "an hotel" is as sensible and euphonic as "an sheep" or "an man"!

  • 102.
  • At 11:26 PM on 22 Jul 2006,
  • larry lynch wrote:

Please make your pronounciation guides available to the public. While I have learned by experience to ask a person to pronounce his or her name for me to avoid mistakes & insults, I should appreciate BBC's guidance. I live on the east coast of the USA & we prefer UK pronunciations & spellings. Most people outside the USA use UK spellings & understand BBC English, if they speak English.
In the USA-it is a safe rule to use BBC English with your physcian & other professionals & listen to the locals to guide pronounciation in less formal encounters. One must immitate the locals to be understand & trust to luck.
No, I don't use BBC pronuciations when I travel in the states. Indian [native American] names such as Miami are pronounced differently in OH & FL & OK. Listen to a local to get it right.

  • 103.
  • At 11:44 PM on 22 Jul 2006,
  • Roger Hooton wrote:

I always remember the classic newspaper headline "Churchill pronounced dead". I confused many readers.

  • 104.
  • At 02:04 AM on 23 Jul 2006,
  • Gerald wrote:

Reminds me of a story told by, I think, Reginald Bosanquet, the ITV newsreader.
He had terrible difficulty pronouncing the name of the Nigerian President - somthing like Aku Aba Abum Abuawella.
It took him several months, if not a year or two, to pronounce the President's name and then, to quote Mr Bosanquet.....

'They shot him'

  • 105.
  • At 02:38 AM on 23 Jul 2006,
  • Steven M wrote:

Questions for previous posters:

No. 7, Greg wrote:
"... Kosovo (with K as in Cold, rather than Kick)"

To my US ears there's only one "K" sound. Can you point to a web site with audio samples of the differences?

No. 15, # u a farrell wrote:
" How do I get people to pronounce my name correctly? UNA Most people in the USA sound it out as oona"

I hope you're not offended. The only word that looks similar is the name of actress Uma Thurman, and we are told that she says it as "OOMA". What is the correct pronunciation of your name?

  • 106.
  • At 04:38 AM on 23 Jul 2006,
  • Ralph wrote:

Please, please. Someone out there-how do you pronounce Cirencester?

Regarding Natalie (Post 37). When I stopped at a gas (petrol) station in Wilkes-Barre,PA, I asked the attendants-how do you pronounce the name of your town? One answered Wilkes-Barry and the other told me it was Wilkes-Barr-they were both standing side by side. Go figure(figger or figyur).

  • 107.
  • At 05:38 AM on 23 Jul 2006,
  • Joanna wrote:

What's with all the American-bashing?
As an American -- whose English mother once worked for the BBC -- I feel honor-bound to point out that this land is positively swarming with intelligent, thinking people who say "conTROversy" and "SKEDule." Not that a (still less THE) British Broadcasting Company ought to use another country's pronunciations over its own when both are acceptable, but the outright hostility toward Americans and Americanisms is somewhat disturbing in this day and age. We are not all George W. Bush. He does not read the BBC.

  • 108.
  • At 12:27 PM on 23 Jul 2006,
  • Gareth wrote:

While pronounciation is quite often incorrect, its understandable, and surely that is the important thing, that all of us watching correctly identify the place or person referred to?

That said, who is to say the correct pronounciation? The local residents or the most commonly used version in that region, or a textbook guide?

Taking the example of Clwyd (post 65), nearly everyone in Clwyd pronounces it incorrectly as clue-id, but surely if the locals say it that way its correct?

The correct pronounciation (for a Welsh speaker anywhere in Wales) must be Cl (as in close) WY (similar to Oy! but softer) d

  • 109.
  • At 10:39 PM on 23 Jul 2006,
  • Suzy wrote:

I wholeheartedly concur with your correspondent regarding the pronunciation of controversy as CONTRA-versy. It sets my teeth on edge every time I hear it. I also hate hearing har-ASS-ment and SKE-dule. Please ask your orthoepists to return to the traditional (and I believe correct)pronunciation of these words.

  • 110.
  • At 09:21 AM on 24 Jul 2006,
  • Padraic Chomondley wrote:

The mangling of Jean Charles de Menezes name doesn't accord with the respect that should be shown to him and his family. If I hear another Jan Charrlesh dee Meneshesh I will scream. I've only heard the Brazilian pronunciation once, but Yan Sharls duh Menethez sounded natural and real, but the BBC announcers seem to be going out of their way to make it sound clumsy and foreign.

  • 111.
  • At 11:41 AM on 24 Jul 2006,
  • Ellie wrote:

If the Pronunciation Research Unit covers the entire BBC, why doesn't anyone inform the newsreaders of Radio 1 how to pronounce even the simplist of words, or even attempt at a correct pronunciation.
I can't tell you how annoying it is to hear about "Jo-say" Marinio, rather than "Ho-say", or when incorrectly pronouncing my home village of Frome, Somerset to rhyme with Rome rather than the correct "Froom".

  • 112.
  • At 04:58 PM on 24 Jul 2006,
  • John wrote:

I wish to inform you all that the way I was taught to pronounce words is clearly the only correct one, and you can all go hang.

  • 113.
  • At 01:41 AM on 01 Aug 2006,
  • John Bailey wrote:

There is a certain irony in quoting Bill Bryson as he now lives in Wymondham pronounced as mentioned by Lisa T above.

  • 114.
  • At 10:47 AM on 02 Aug 2006,
  • Andrew M. wrote:

On the subject of America-bashing or otherwise I'd like to suggest that it's not about "bashing" anyone, least of all our friends across the Atlantic. The BBC is a British broadcaster and as such it has a duty to reflect the idiom as spoken by those living in Britain (and expats as well, of course).
When I watch CNN - or the BBC's American journalists for that matter - I have no problem accepting the fact that they have a different understanding of pronunciation and grammar. However, when I hear journalists who are clearly from the UK using pronunciations such as "LOOTENANT" rather than the British "Leftenant" (for "Lieutenant"), I find it jarring. But this was what a BBC journalist said last night on a BBC World news bulletin, prompting me to write.
I'm sure that the American contributor above (emphasis on the second syllable) would also find it strange if her fellow Americans started talking about mobiles rather that cellphones, or used the words boot and bonnet for the American trunk and hood.
I lovethe American idiom and accent, but it sounds strange when the person using it clearly comes from England, Wales or Scotland.

Don't know if anyone will ever read this, but I have to take issue with a few of the remarks above.

Ilir Topalli, Ph.D., says:
It's hard to believe you utilize so much time and staff for a pronounciation unit, yet are still somehow unable to pronounce the word "Kosova" or "Kosovo". It is pronouced, like nearly everything in the region with an emphasis on the second syllable.

Dr. Topalli has an Albanian name and is clearly (and understandably) presenting the Albanian pronunciation as the proper one, but it is absurd to pretend KO-so-vo is some illiterate or invented pronunciation. It is the Serbo-Croatian pronunciation, and just as valid as the Albanian. Tip: if it's spelled Kosovo, say KO-so-vo; if Kosova (the Albanian spelling), say ko-SO-va. (And yes, I said Serbo-Croatian; the nations may have separated, but the language is still a single language with dialectal variations.)

Sam (#72) says:
then why is it that BBC broadcasters constantly pronounce Los Angeles as Los Angeleez ???!!! It is a Spanish word pronounced in the Spanish way, ie 'an-he-les'.

No it's not, Sam, it's pronounced "loss AN-juh-luss." I used to live there; trust me on this. Etymology is not destiny.

Meandering Trevor Blog (#94) wrote:
I'm a Brit living in the USA for the last six years and I have been grasping on to my Britishness like a drowning man.
...Not so long ago I wrote a movie review for a local paper and the editor switched all my UK spelling to USA spelling with her spellcheck...
Also, the other day I found myself referring to Notre Dame University as N-Oh-der Dame (as in woman)
Oh my! Do I have to?

Yes, Trevor, you do, because that's how it's pronounced. You don't get to decide how American college names are pronounced any more than we Yanks get to decide how English ones are pronounced (Magdalen, anyone?). And the editor was perfectly correct to switch your spellings, because American publications use American spellings. If I wrote something for a U.K. paper, I'd expect it to appear with British spellings.

Oh, and this blog is an excellent idea!

  • 116.
  • At 04:44 PM on 16 Aug 2006,
  • Glyn wrote:

There has been a discussion about this article on the LanguageHat linguistics site. Here's the link for anyone who's interested:

Go to the entry for August 15.

  • 117.
  • At 08:56 PM on 16 Aug 2006,
  • Archie wrote:

Perhaps the orthoepists could tell their presenter colleagues how to pronounce
. nuclear
. Hiroshima
. Hezbollah
for a start...

  • 118.
  • At 04:53 PM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Russell Harris wrote:

Fantastic work being done by the orthoepists - but isn't it time for the BBC to employ some voice coaches and grammar coaches to correct the many errors made by newsreaders. I cannot count the number of times I hear radio newsreaders use a single verb after a plural subject or vice versa - and the glottal stop is making huge inroads in place of our proud letter T and don't get me started on "gonna"

I understand that in drama, local programmes, etc, there is room for sloppy speech, but do try and get the news read in standard English.

  • 119.
  • At 08:00 PM on 13 Sep 2006,
  • Peter Guidé wrote:

Clijsters (as in top tennis player) is actually pronounced CLAY - sters, rather than CLEYE-sters. Come on then, give it a go.

  • 120.
  • At 12:05 PM on 14 Sep 2006,
  • philip duerdoth wrote:

Much can be forgiven in errors of pronunciation so long as the American 'route' (ie rout) is resisted

  • 121.
  • At 12:25 PM on 14 Sep 2006,
  • Warren Richman wrote:

Why do so many newsreaders and anchormen insist on stressing the least important word of each sentence?

"Let's go over to our reporter who is OUTSIDE 10 Downing St". (Was he likely to have been inside?)

"Over TO our reporter now"

"He was a painter AND decorator."(Wow -multi-talented)

It is almost as irritating as those presenters who insist in putting exagerated pauses in between the last few words of the item they are talking about.

  • 122.
  • At 02:10 PM on 16 Sep 2006,
  • Barry wrote:

Just reading through these posts, I see that "different THAN" and "different TO" have been used, on more than one occasion (or should that be greater than one?!)...

As with the comments made by several other contributors, pronounciation is one thing to keep an eye on, but the emasculation and Americanization (sic) of basic grammar, together with apostrophe, colon and semi-colon usage and abusage, are all as important. Or should be.

Having said that, the most well-known split-infinitive of all time, namely "To boldly go where no man has gone before..." just does not sound right in its correct form!

Churchill (if it was he) did, indeed, get it right, when he said "That is the kind of English up with which I shall not put"!

  • 123.
  • At 01:17 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Phil McDonald wrote:

The Pronunciation Unit recommends pronouncing anglicised versions of place names like Florence and Munich,where they exist.What happened to Peking ?

  • 124.
  • At 04:14 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Tangent Wings wrote:

Nothing happened to Peking, Phil, except that somebody finally got round to replacing the Wade Giles translation with the Pinyin.

There, that clears that up.

Still, never seen Beijing Duck on a menu though.

  • 125.
  • At 05:54 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

If the Unit is short of staff perhaps it could be given some of the many journalists who appear to be in excess of the available news? One proviso – they do not take with them the habit of adding their own opinions to the facts.

  • 126.
  • At 12:00 PM on 23 Sep 2006,
  • Peter Hill wrote:

Will someone PLEASE advise Pres. Bush that nu cu lar weapons do not exist and are in fact new clear weapons.

  • 127.
  • At 10:11 PM on 28 Sep 2006,
  • Derek Davies wrote:

The BBC1 weatherman who always says'eltswear' when he really means 'elswhere' gets up my nose.

  • 128.
  • At 09:09 AM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Bill wrote:

Weather forecasters who who refer to the East as thuh East drive me mad.

  • 129.
  • At 01:05 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Ba Storey wrote:

......and don't you just hate it when our Law Enforcers are caller The Pleece.......

  • 130.
  • At 09:15 AM on 21 Oct 2006,
  • Dick Pettit wrote:

BBC sports commentators, both sound and TV, mispronounce the names of Danish football teams.
Odense is not oh-DEN-see, but
Brøndby not BROND-BEE, but BRUN-byoo.
For good measure, Ålborg (or Aalborg)
is AWL-bor; Århus (or Aarhus)AW-hoos,
and Slagelse, should it ever make it to the EUFA cup, SLAY-el-suh.
Please be fair to Denmark - you are to most of the others.

  • 131.
  • At 05:39 AM on 02 Nov 2006,
  • Nick Simon wrote:

I note that this week, it has been announced by the US Government that, henceforth, the capital city of Ukraine will be spelt KYIV, as it is transliterated from Ukrainian.

I am amazed that the BBC in particular continues to use the outdated (and insulting) Russian KIEV in it's broadcasting and publications.

  • 132.
  • At 10:59 AM on 10 Nov 2006,
  • Paul Giaccone wrote:

Pádraig Ó hEochaidh mentioned the multiple pronunciations the BBC has managed to invent for "Jean Charles de Menezes". The most heinous (which, of course, rhymes with "Coriolanus", and not, as some TV presenters seem to think, with "Venus") example has to be Natasha Kaplinsky stumbling over it on BBC Breakfast one morning and coming out with "Jean Charles de Mayonnaise".

Hasn't anyone ever thought to ask his parents?

  • 133.
  • At 08:29 PM on 10 Nov 2006,
  • Kevin Osborne wrote:

I like the BBC pronouciation of Pakistan to Park-is-tan rather than the general use Packi-stan. I do get irritaed though by the use of Mumbai when even the locals still call it Bombay!!

  • 134.
  • At 10:20 PM on 10 Nov 2006,
  • Molly Moore wrote:

I had to read down to post number 128 before someone mentioned my pet example of mispronunciation - THUH east, THUH owl, etc. It strikes the ear like a mallet and is not confined to weather forecasters but seems to be contagious. May I mention that otherwise most excellent presenter Ben Fogle as being one of the worst offenders.

  • 135.
  • At 10:53 PM on 10 Nov 2006,
  • John CB wrote:

As to Gerald's post at 104 I think the story was actually from Robert Dougal who learned the pronunciation of the Nigerian Prime Minister Sir Abuba Katafawa Balewa, who was thereupon overthrown in a coup-his headless body was found on a road outside Lagos. Dougal told the story many years later, but I remember admiring his diction at the time.

  • 136.
  • At 09:33 AM on 18 Nov 2006,
  • Paul Giaccone wrote:

Another Italian place name, another BBC mispronunciation. This time it's "Bracciano", the site of Tom Cruise's and Katie Holmes's possible wedding.

When will the Beeb learn that in Italian, the "i" in between a "c" or "g" and an "a", "o" or "u" is there only to make the "c" or "g" soft, and is not pronounced separately unless the word is stressed on the "i"? The anglicised pronunciation should therefore be "bra-CHAH-noh", not "bra-chee-AH-noh". Credit though to the BBC correspondent reporting from the town itself, who did get it right this morning.

We Italian-speakers cringed a few years ago as the Beeb wrestled with the name of the Giotto space mission; eventually they worked out that it was "JOT-oh" and not "jee-OT-oh".

Come on BBC: it's really not that difficult.

Paul Giaccone (three syllables, not four)

  • 137.
  • At 12:26 PM on 15 Jan 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

But as for Beijing - I wonder whether they'll learn to pronounce that correctly in time for the Olympics next year. I'm sick of hearing about Beige-ing, which sounds like some kind of French disease. It's pronounce Bay-jing. How hard can that be?

  • 138.
  • At 11:31 PM on 08 Feb 2007,
  • Alison Campbell wrote:

I am surprised that people who are sufficiently passionate about pronunciation to read and post on this web site don't check with that most august of pronunciation guides - the Oxford English Dictionary - before offering their opinions on words such as controversy. My Pocket OED (reprinted 1961) and Shorter OED (1973) both show this contentious (controversial?) word as having the major emphasis on the first syllable, with strong emphasis on the third and little on the second and fourth - ie CONtruhVErsy. Has anything changed in the past 40 years?

I have always considered myself a pronunciation nazi, and believed for a while that UK English was superior to all others, but have mellowed in recent years - particularly after reading Bill Bryson's 'Mother Tongue' - to realise that there can be good etymological reasons for US pronunciations (eg Aluminum), although I don't have any great fondness for Mr Webster's work!

Incidentally, Mike Simmons' love of grammar (36) apparently doesn't stop him using the split infinitive! Furthermore, I was taught that inverted commas used at the beginning of a paragraph without being used at the end of the previous paragraph indicate the continuation of a particular quotation - or perhaps I have misunderstood him, as this paragraph has shown me just how hard it is to get the point across in writing. ;-)

I would certainly love to have access to the pronunciation of names on line, as my well-thumbed OEDs can't help me with that aspect of orthoepy.

  • 139.
  • At 10:47 AM on 17 Apr 2007,
  • Michael wrote:

It's sad that few people do Latin any more. There would be no arguing about CONtroversy versus conTROversy. The word derives from 'contra' (against)and 'verso', and so is pronounced CONtroversy (with the stress as in contradict, contretemps, counterpoint). It is not derived from 'con' (with)and 'troverso' (when it would have been pronounced conTROversy (like contraction, etc). I now get a tingle of pleasure on those rarer and rarer occasions when Radio 4 uses the correct pronunciation. It's embarrassing when the likes of Andrew Marr, Mark Lawson, and (ironically) Mike Rosen's programme about the English language all get it wrong!

  • 140.
  • At 03:02 PM on 18 Jun 2007,
  • Ian Wheeler wrote:

Grammar, not pronunciation.

You don't have a Grammar Unit? For shame!
The bee in my bonnet is the treatment of singular nouns as if they were plurals e.g. "the Government HAVE..." (should be HAS, as we only had one government at the last count). Ditto "cabinet", "orchestra", "team" etc. etc. This bad grammar is very common in BBC broadcasts and only serves to spread mis-information among the populace at large, which believes anything the media tell it.
Ah yes! That's another hot potato. "Media" IS a plural noun; the plural of "medium". Not a lot of your journalists seem to understand this, despite being professional users of our beleaguered language.
Please make a crabby old git very happy and have a spring-clean.

  • 141.
  • At 01:23 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • slowman wrote:

OK, there are many more important issues at hand, but I have to make a plea about the pronunciation of "Jean Charles De Menezes". I know there are posts about this here, but come on, it's not only insulting, it is getting ridiculous!

I now cringe and fume in equal measure at each news bulletin I hear. I am listening right now to a perfectly well-spoken female BBC newsreader pronouncing his first name "Zjang" with a clanging "g" at the end - this is just plain ignorant! I don't know what the official pronunciation is, but it sure as hell isn't "zjang".

And why "zshhee Menezes"? I hear "zshhean(g) zsshharlez zshhee menezzshes" frequently, as if newsreaders have had a couple of glasses of gin too many. "De" is just "De" surely?

Can't the BBC just check with his family and send out a memo to staff about how to pronounce it properly and respectfully?

  • 142.
  • At 08:24 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Ken Kopp wrote:

As august an institution as the Unit may be, they are also the source of one of the most egregious mispronunciations in common use, namely that of BEIJING.

Today, the name of this city is nearly universally pronounced by English-language broadcasters around the world (and their admirers) as BEIGE-ING (as if the J in Beijing were pronounced like the J in the French Jacques or ʒ in IPA.)

This is COMPLETELY wrong and does not represent ANY regional or "dialect" pronunciation of the word JING (capital, 京). The sound represented by the "J" in Chinese pinyin orthography (ʤ in IPA) is as conventional a J as exists in English; it is simply J, as in Jersey, Jenkins, or Joke. No one but a Frenchman would dream of pronouncing Jenkins as ZZZHENKINS, after all. There is nothing special, unusual, exotic, or fiendishly oriental about it; it need not provoke the slightest deviation from utterly commonplace English pronunciation, and it is The Great Shame of the Unit that they played a part in its pernicious ubiquity.

Today, even students studying Chinese at university level are just as likely to say BEIGE-ING in their everyday speech as they are likely to say the word correctly when speaking Chinese in their language classroom. This schizophrenic absurdity is largely the fault of the Unit's commanding authority in this field, which here was tragically effective.

It is obvious that the thing should have been left as PEKING, as was respectfully done with PARIS. These are, after all, the proper ENGLISH names of these cities.

Can the Unit undo this? Could they correct this horror and put everyone back on the right track?

  • 143.
  • At 08:21 AM on 10 Nov 2007,
  • DP Finch wrote:

Low-brow know-it-alls learn from older low-brow know-it-alls that 'Peking' is a Wade-Giles spelling and then go on to educate yet another happy generation of low-brow know-it-alls. It's wrong. 'Peking', like a great many of the old-fashioned place-name spellings -- Chungking, Tientsin, Chekiang, Foochow, Hokkien, Amoy etc --- is from the the Postal System (which was more of a bag than a system). Wade-Giles would have been 'Pei-ching'. Wade-Giles is not a cover-all term applicable to every-and-anything that is not Hanyu Pinyin.

  • 144.
  • At 05:40 AM on 17 Nov 2007,
  • Ken Kopp wrote:

As august an institution as the Unit may be, they are also the source of one of the most egregious mispronunciations in common use, namely that of BEIJING.

Today, the name of this city is nearly universally pronounced by English-language broadcasters around the world (and their admirers) as BEIGE-ING (as if the J in Beijing were pronounced like the J in the French Jacques ( IPA [ʒ] ).

This is COMPLETELY wrong and does not represent ANY regional or "dialect" pronunciation of the word JING (capital, ' 京 '). The sound represented by the "J" in Chinese pinyin orthography is IPA [tɕ]; the closest English sound to this is IPA [dʒ] -- that is to say, the J of Jinx, Jersey, Jenkins, or Joke. No one but a Frenchman would dream of pronouncing Jenkins as ZZZHENKINS, after all. There is nothing special, unusual, exotic, or fiendishly oriental about it; it need not provoke the slightest deviation from utterly commonplace English pronunciation, and it is The Great Shame of the Unit that they played a part in in the pernicious ubiquity of its erroneous form. Quite simply there exists no such phoneme as [ʒ] in Chinese. It is quite possible that the problem stems from the fact that many years ago in the early days of BBC decay, witless persons in the Unit mistook the Pinyin J for the Wade-Giles J. The Wade-Giles J represents [ʐ] ( or nowadays more often [ɻ] ) -- a sound that Pinyin writes as R -- and which can sound like a French J retroflexed.

Today, even students studying Chinese at university level are just as likely to say BEIGE-ING in their everyday speech as they are likely to say the word correctly when speaking Chinese in their language classroom. This schizophrenic absurdity is largely the fault of the Unit's commanding authority in this field, which here was tragically effective.

It is obvious that the thing should have been left as PEKING, as was respectfully done with PARIS. These are, after all, the proper ENGLISH names of these cities.

Can the Unit undo this? Could they correct this horror and put everyone back on the right track? Or is the BBC long beyond the pale?

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