On the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster it seems appropriate to discuss the way the name is pronounced in English. In 1986, the main question was whether the stress should be placed on the first or second syllable: ‘Chernobyl, or Cher’nobyl. As it happens, this was a question that had been settled for the BBC as early as 1944, according to the entry in what was then a card index. Presumably there had been some action between Soviet and German forces there which had been important enough to get a mention in BBC news. The name also figured in the Duden Aussprachewörterbuch, which bears out this supposition. Stress is on the second syllable.
But now, how to deal with the stressed vowel? Russian /o/, in stressed position, is probably closest to Southern British English /ɔː/, but since the reversion of off, cross and suchlike words to /ɒ/ from /ɔː/, there is no common English word spelt ‘o’ and pronounced /ɔː/ in British English (provided the following letter is not ‘r’, of course). The choice lies between /əʊ/ and /ɒ/. I’m not sure if there is a definite pattern in all cases that determines which of these two is chosen, but names ending in -ovich (Shostakovich, Rostropovich) have /əʊ/, while -ovsky names (Tchaikovsky, Mayakovsky) have /ɒ/. This might lead one to think that it depends on whether the syllable is open or closed, with /ɒ/ before consonant clusters. However, Prokofiev, which in English is /prəˈkɒfief/, with /ɒ/ in an open syllable, goes against this.
The Pronunciation Unit’s recommendation to announcers was always /tʃə(r)ˈnɒbɪl/, but I’m not sure that there is any good phonotactic reason why /tʃə(r)ˈnəʊbɪl/ might not be preferred.
In a previous post, I mentioned the Spanish problem of Barcelona (/-əʊnə/) versus Tarragona (/-ɒnə/), which may be influenced by the long or short vowel in the first syllable. But then there’s Pamplona (/-əʊnə/)…