First, in yesterday’s blog entry, John Wells claims of “agrément”: “You read it here first”. Perhaps you did, but John has not read Word for Word, pictured in the column to the right of this, which Stewart Clark and I published in 2003:
agrément, borrowed from French, is found on a product’s label to show that it has been approved by the relevant EU authority. Hence its meaning in English is ‘approval’.
Stewart and I included an approximation to the French pronunciation as we could find no evidence of an anglicized version, and considered it to be a word more likely to be encountered in print than in speech. John may well be right in saying that you saw an anglicization in his blog first.
Second, Jack Windsor Lewis disagrees with me here about the function of the BBC’s Pronunciation Unit. He would like it to be a purely advisory body, while I would like to see its recommendations made mandatory on those whom the public perceive as BBC personnel (presenters, newsreaders, journalists). The present situation, where staff newsreaders, particularly on Radio, are instructed by their management to follow the Unit’s line, while all others may simply ignore it, leads to the situation described by Jack in a later blog, here, when three pronunciations of the same name appear in quick succession, all spoken by broadcasters the public can only understand to be BBC employees. If it were a question of vocabulary words, then this would be acceptable, as the vast majority of people have now learned to accept that, in the old phrase, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. However, when we come to proper names, the rules change: even within English-language names, the rules of phonotactics are stretched: Laing /leɪŋ/ is the only English word I know in which a diphthong is followed by a final velar nasal. From the point of view of courtesy alone, it is surely polite to use the pronunciation of a person’s name that corresponds (within the bounds of one’s accent) to that used by the bearer of the name. This can be extended to place names: the pronunciation used by inhabitants – who may be considered the owners of the name – should be the one used by broadcasters. There are inevitably cases in which more than one pronunciation is used by the ‘natives’ (Shrewsbury in Shropshire is the most obvious one), but the rule holds in general.
When it comes to foreign names, well established anglicisations, such as Moscow, Paris, Germany, are clearly the ones to use, but for the majority of foreign names (and I was told long ago that there are about three billion place names in the world, to say nothing of the six billion people – who all have names), there is no readily available English version. This is where the Pronunciation Unit’s expertise can play a part, but only if it consults widely, not only among native speakers of the ‘difficult’ name’s language, but also among the potential users of the name – the broadcasters. In the specific case of Sarkozy, for which the final syllable stress is, to me at least, the most unsatisfactory English version, I believe that the Unit has failed to consult widely enough. However, one failure does not invalidate my argument, and if my suggestion for the future of the Unit – that it be transferred to Editorial Policy management – were to be carried out, then the Unit’s members would have easier access to these users, who would be led to respect its views more than they do at present, and such ‘mistakes’ would be further reduced.