Port-au-Prince, Haiti


Is it because of the enormity of the tragedy playing out in the western part of the island of Hispaniola that the pronunciations being used by the BBC have been standardised so quickly? Has the management sent down an edict that the established anglicisations be used for both the name of the state and that of its capital, so that no time need be wasted arguing with viewers and listeners, or internally, about the rights and wrongs of alternatives?

I’ve heard virtually no renditions of Haiti as /ˈɑːiːtiː/, but only /ˈheɪti/. As for the capital, very rarely has anyone uttered an attempt in my hearing at the word Prince with a French pronunciation. The usual ‘error’ is to call the capital /ˈpɔːt əʊ ˈprãs/, in the mistaken belief that this is the French pronunciation, but in French there is no liaison of the /t/, so the usual French pronunciation is /ˈpɔːr əʊ ˈprãs/ /ˈpɔːr o ˈpr̃ɛs/. (I’m sorry I’m using [ã], but placing a tilde above [æ] or [ɛ] is too much effort). /ˈpɔːt əʊ ˈprɪns/ has a long pedigree in English, and there is no need to replace it at this juncture.


  1. Graham,
    to display the nasalised version of ɛ add the following:
    ampersand + hash + 771 + semicolon and you get [ɛ̃]

  2. which, quite unexepectedly, doesn’t look the way it should. Sorry for that! It looked fine in my web editor. [̃ɛ]

  3. Now I know how it works with your web page: The tilde must come first. Graham, could you, please, delete the second entry (or all three)?

  4. Petr — ISTR a bug with one of Microsoft’s fonts that it renders combining characters incorrectly.

    But the thing that surprises me most about the Haïti coverage is that I haven’t seen one inadvertent flag of Liechtenstein yet. Perhaps that edict went out quickly too?

  5. Graham
    I’m not sure how to interpret your seemingly sardonic ref to a BBC management edict. Does this mean that you don’t approve of no alternative being recognised. You’ll find if you check that the three pronunciation dicts EPD, LPD & ODP all agree on recognising only /pɔːt əʊ prɪns/. The BBC hasn’t standardised quickly: OBG (the Oxford BBC Guide) gave only that same anglicisation in 2006 with only the “au” really anglicised, a version I find faintly ridiculous. I feel inclined myself to call it /pɔːt əʊ pr̃ӕ̃s/ [ I can’t get rid of the tilde over the s!] and in doing so I’m `not mistakenly believing th’t that version of ‘Port’ to be French. I consider myself to be anglicising the word ‘Port’. I shd think saying it with no final /t/ wd be as pretentious as using a uvular r for the word. So wd saying Haiti without an aitch. English speakers practicly always insert aitches into forren words written with an aitch the natives dont utter. That dropping aitches has been our number one shibboleth for such a long time is praps part of the reason.
    I noticed with pleasure that my favourite news presenter Jon Snow has consistently used the version of P au P I like best. And so have a few others — if only also on Channel 4.

  6. “the usual French pronunciation is /ˈpɔːr əʊ ˈprãs/”? /o/ not /əʊ/ surely.

  7. Graham,
    – in French there is no liaison of the /t/, so the usual French pronunciation is /ˈpɔːr əʊ ˈpr̃ɛs/ (thanks to Petr, but I shall no doubt forget about James’s bug again, as I did last time I discovered this workaround.)

    I wonder how long that has been the case. How long for example has that been common knowledge at the BBC? I always used to hear pɔrtopr̃ɛs, including from Francophone North Americans and Africans. Could it be part of the general loss of liaisons like that (and their insinuation into taboo places like les haricots)? Its Haitian Creole name Pòtoprens is obviously from the liaised form.

    Larousse and Robert certainly now have pɔropr̃ɛs, but Collins, which is usually OK for the original languages (though horrendous for some, e.g. Japanese!) and sensibly gives anglicized versions for naturalized expressions, for example [o fɛ], [əʊ ˈfeɪ] where OED only gives [o fɛ], has pɔrtoprɛ̃s for the French, and so does absolutely every other English dictionary I’ve checked, in IPA or out of it, except Wikipedia, which is no less on the ball than usual with [pɔʁopʁ̃ɛs].

    Wiktionary doesn’t have that but does have ˌpɔːtəʊˈpr̃ɛs and ˌpɔrtəʊˈpr̃ɛs as UK and US alternatives for the forms in ˈprɪns, as do many others in one form or another.

    Like JWL I feel inclined to call it /pɔːt əʊ pr̃ӕs/, as I always have done in English. I however consider myself to be anglicizing the whole name, but I certainly agree that saying it with no final /t/ wd be as pretentious as using a uvular r for the word.

  8. Sorry. Corrected the tilde and forgot the rest: /pɔr o pr̃ɛs/.

  9. It’s a pity this blog software doesn’t allow deleting or editing one’s own posts (unlike JCW’s blog).

  10. I had been wondering how people do that on JCW’s blog, Petr. It’s obvious that they do, but I’ve never attempted it. Do you think Graham would mind if you explained it here (and perhaps consider enabling it himself)?

  11. I’m sorry to have been so long replying to these comments, but I’ve been out all day, and am only just back. To save time, I copied and pasted the IPA, and then forgot to change [əʊ] to [o] for the French version.
    I’m indebted to Petr Roesel for telling me how to add an accent to vowel letters, and I’ll try to remember for future use.
    I’ll try to find out if the software will allow editing of comments by their authors.
    Jack – the BBC recommendation has been /-prɪns/ since at least 1937, when Broadcast English VI (foreign place names) was published. Even then, they knew that the French version did not pronounce the final -t of ‘Port’. What has surprised me has been the almost complete unanimity of BBC broadcasters in their pronunciation. I should be amazed if this was solely the result of the Pronunciation Unit’s efforts, but perhaps I’m underestimating my successors’ force of personality and influence.

  12. FWIW, Wikipedia gives:

    Port-au-Prince (pronounced /ˌpɔrtoʊˈprɪns/; French pronunciation: [pɔʁopʁɛ̃s]; Haitian Creole: Pòtoprens)

  13. Michael,

    being able to delete/edit posts is a feature provided by the blog software. So we’ll have to wait for Graham to find out if his blog provider offers this feature.


    you’re not in my debt for anything 🙂 As you can see I had to mess around with html code to get the tilde over the vowel symbol. The result is a surprise in a few cases and may change with the browser used.

  14. Graham, it does seem you can edit your own entries, but “the usual French pronunciation is /ˈpɔːr o ˈprãs/” is still wrong. Why didn’t you use /pɔr o pr̃ɛs/ as I finally succeeded in correcting it earlier?

    I think the answer you addressed to Jack (“the BBC recommendation has been /-prɪns/ since at least 1937”) may have been intended as the answer to my question how long the usual French pronunciation of which you write has been usual: “How long for example has that been common knowledge at the BBC?” Of course the BBC may never have concerned itself with the usual French pronunciation.

    But nedecky on John Wells’s blog confirms my above-mentioned experience of the local (and more widespread Francophone) pronunciation pɔʀtopʀ̃ɛs, quoting Klincksieck, 1959:
    ” Port-au-Prince, capitale de la république d’Haïti, se prononce soit [pɔʀtopʀ̃ɛːs] (prononciation locale), soit [pɔʀopʀ̃ɛːs].”

    My guess is that that local pronunciation has been current since 1959 as well, alongside the Creole Pòtoprens as one would expect, and that all the dictionaries I mention above as giving only the pronunciation with liaison for French are not as out of date as you might think.

  15. Michael Lamb said… “I always used to hear pɔrtopr̃ɛs, including from Francophone North Americans…”

    And indeed, that’s the pronunciation used by announcers on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). Which has a strong tendency to standardize its announcers’ usage and which also has a considerable francophone organization.

    However I have no knowledge of how the francophone-on-the-street pronounces it in Canada.

  16. I know about this indecent, Port-au-Prince was catastrophically affected by an earthquake on January 12, 2010

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.