Radovan Karadžić


With this man’s arrest at the weekend, broadcasters are once more having to struggle with the pronunciation of his name.

The BBC recommendation, which corresponds to that given in most if not all manuals of pronunciation for Serbian, is to treat the ‘dž’, written with the single letter ‘џ’ in Cyrillic, as the straightforward English voiced palato-alveolar affricate. The final ‘ć’ ([tɕ]) is not the same as the English voiceless palato-alveolar affricate /tʃ/, but this is the nearest English sound to it – many English speakers find it very difficult to distinguish between the two Serbian sounds represented as ć and č, the latter being the [tʃ]. So the full recommendation for BBC broadcasters is /’kærədʒɪtʃ/, or in the BBC’s Modified Spelling, ‘kárrǎjitch’. Radovan doesn’t seem to present any problems at all.

However, many broadcasters are ignoring the ž completely, and saying /’kærədɪtʃ/ (‘kárrǎditch’), while the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries, astonished me this morning by saying /kə’rædzɪk/ – ‘kǎrádd-zick’. He is a well-known commentator on current affairs. Does he never listen to what other people are saying?

It would help if the English-language media could be persuaded to use the necessary diacritics. With unicode fonts now readily available, there is no real excuse for not making use of them.


  1. English language media not using diacritics has been one of my pet peeves for years. As you say, there is no technical reason why it cannot easily be done.

    In my opinion, not using the diacritics is simply wrong. If one is not going to write Milošević, then write Miloshevich, at least it gives the reader some idea of how the name is pronounced. In Serbian and Croatian foreign names are always transliterated into local orthography, e.g. Buš.

    I suppose editors would argue that the average reader would have no idea what these ‘funny foreign letters’ mean. But this is surely a nonsense and rather demeaning to the reader. It’s not as if one is asking the reader to identify 胡锦涛.

  2. I put the blame squarely on dysfunctional English orthographic traditions (recognizing, as Tom/汤姆/tāngmǔ says, that there are even less phonetically-helpful orthographies in the world).

    If we could reform the system just enuf to represent the actual sounds of English consistently, the native speaker would have no difficulty then approximating kar-uh-jich, or whatever it’s supposed to be. It could be transliterated into English “local orthography” just like it’s translated into Serbian, Croatian and, I’d add, Latvian.

    But precisely because we haven’t reached that level of consistency, there is no way to communicate to English speakers how to pronounce the name most faithfully. The vast majority will find foreign diacritics to be of no use whatsoever. On the other hand, using a J in Karojich would run the risk that it ends up like Beizzhing, a windmill my friend Graham has already tilted at.

    Alas, then, I will fall in line and agree that the only bandage to put on this is to include diacritic marks. Thus the three people who care can track down what the actual pronunciation of the name would be in the local language. Everyone else will ignore it and probably end up saying what Lord Harries said.

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