Kofi Annan and Edward Stourton

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When Mr Annan was appointed as Secretary General of the United Nations, we in the BBC’s Pronunciation Research Unit were sent a tape of his inauguration, in the course of which he had to pronounce his own name. He clearly said “I, KOHfi ANNann” (re-spelt to show where he placed the stresses: -oh as in ‘ohm’). Consequently, this was the recommendation that the Unit made to the Corporation’s broadcasting staff, and so far as I am aware, and judging by the Radio 4 newsreaders’ pronunciation, this is still the recommendation today, available to every BBC employee, whether staff or freelance, via their desktop. Nevertheless, yet again this morning, he has been interviewed live on Radio 4, and introduced as “KOHfi aNANN” by Edward Stourton. This is the man who when he first joined the BBC from ITN had us informed that as a linguist, he had no need of the help of the Pronunciation Research Unit, and could we please stop sending him notes! He is the only news presenter in my experience who ever behaved in this way. Most of them have always been delighted to have the responsibility taken off their hands.

It ill behoves a man whose own name is pronounced in an opaque manner (STURton, not as written) to believe that he can say anyone else’s name without help. The very fact that he could think of telling us he was a linguist and didn’t need help proved (a) that he is no linguist, and (b) that he needs lots of help.

3 Comments

  1. Pronouncing names in foreign languages is a real problem. With the effort of guidance and training news readers get from the BBC Pronunciation Unit, still they can’t “master” all the sounds and the “phonotactics” of other languages. I heard the Arab name /fahmi/ (typical English pronunciation will be /fa:mi/) being pronounced by someone as /faxmi/. The reason is that English cannot have /h/ in syllable-final position. So in the his/her attempt to realize a such a sound they use /x/ (which they are familiar with in “loch” and “Bach”). Similarly the Arab news-readers (including those working in the Arabic Section of the BBC) pronounce the name Kohfi Annan as /ku:fi 9ana:n/ (/9/ stands for a voiced pharyngeal fricative). The reason for this pronunciation is not clear. It could be in analogy to the Arab name /9anan/ (also /ku:fi/ is a name attributed to the place name Kufah).

  2. Even now I find myself thinking that Lord (Noel) Annan, that Widmerpool made flesh, has somehow been resurrected when I hear the name Annan, although he died in 2000. Perhaps pronouncing Kohfi Annan’s surname with the stress on the last syllable is an unconscious disambiguation?

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