It’s over a week since the appalling typhoon hit the Philippines and I’m still unsure what the “official” BBC pronunciation of these names is.
Most broadcasters are calling the typhoon itself /ˈhaiˈjæn/ or /ˈhaiˈæn/, but Radio 4 newsreaders appear to be saying /ˈhaiˈjen/, which puzzles me: the name is Chinese, and I always understood that the usual anglicisation for the Pinyin syllable yan was /jæn/, not /jen/, regardless of the tone (for instance the port of Yantai: /ˈjanˈtʌɪ/ – OBGP transcription).
As for the city most affected, I’ve lost count of the number of different pronunciations I’ve heard, sometimes from the same person within a few seconds. Here, you can hear a “male from Philippines” say the name as /taʔˈklobən/, but there is no indication as to his first language. Stress has appeared on any of the three syllables, and sometimes on first and third. I am sure that the Pronunciation Unit is recommending only one of these, but clearly nobody is taking much notice. The one chosen is not so important as the making of a choice and sticking to it.
A few weeks ago Tony, Lord Hall, the Director General, made a speech in which he said he wanted to get back to the Reithian triad of the BBC’s purpose: to inform, educate and entertain. There have been at least two occasions in the past 15 years when direct orders have come from on high to use a particular pronunciation – the notorious case of Althorp, and the more benign one of Beijing during the 2008 Olympics. Surely the same could happen again. It would ‘educate’ (in teaching a standard) and ‘inform’ (by clarifying the identity of the place referred to).
Print journalists have to conform to the style of their organ, including using standardised spellings for proper names. The equivalent in broadcasting is standardised pronunciations.