I’ve been rather disappointed by the BBC since Christmas Day over the attempted bombing of an airliner approaching Detroit airport. For at least the first week, there was absolutely no consistency among even radio newsreaders in the pronunciation of the suspect’s name. Stress on the last element varied between Abdul’mutallab and Abdulmu’tallab.
Christmas Day is the worst day of the year for such a story to break, because there is noone in the Pronunciation Unit office, but for the uncertainty to last for a week is very unusual. There is a particular problem with this name, because although the individual names are Moslem ones, of Arabic origin, the bearer of them is a Nigerian, and so may not be a native Arabic speaker, although according to Wikipedia, he was a student of Arabic, and his mother is a Yemeni. The major language of the Moslem faith area of Nigeria is Hausa, but this may not be his first language either. The BBC does have a Hausa Section at Bush House who could be asked for information, and when I was the Pronunciation Adviser, my home telephone number was easily found throughout the Corporation in case of difficulty 24 hours a day (there was one occasion when I was rung at 3 am). I don’t imagine that any of the current members of the Unit have their numbers available in this way, and their manager, whose number may be accessible, would not be able to help, as he is not a linguist. I would have had to do some research to establish the best way to deal with the name, but the advantage of contacting me was that my advice would have been immediately available to the whole Corporation, whereas research by a newsreader, while it might well have been as good, would have been known to that newsreader’s immediate colleagues only, and not the wider broadcasting world.
Here is a plea by some American news people for a simplification of difficult names. Is that reasonable, or a cop out?