Pronunciation mayhem?

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Now that my far-from-expert piano playing is no longer needed for a few weeks, I’ve been catching up on reading the various phonetic blogs I usually follow, and have found my name mentioned a couple of times. In particular by Jack Windsor Lewis in relation to the pronunciation of names by BBC newsreaders. He in turn was responding to a blog by John Maidment, in which he complained of rising blood pressure caused by the mangling of Chinese names in a TV documentary.

My view is that John was being rather hard on the documentary makers: Kuomintang and Mao Tse-tung were the established anglicisations, with corresponding pronunciations, for many years before the People’s Republic started to insist on Pinyin romanisations, and I see no reason why we should kowtow to any foreigners who are trying to change what is, after all, our language. I think that Jack in his reply was trying to ride two horses at the same time: he agreed with me about Kuomintang, for instance, but is equally happy for Mishal Husain to use Urdu sounds which are totally un-English, when she is pronouncing Afghanistan. In any case, either my ears deceive me, or she has now adopted a far more English pronunciation of this name. Alvar Lidell, the BBC radio newsreader from the late 1930s to the 1960s, was Swedish, but I doubt whether he ever pronounced Scandinavian names in a Swedish way (/ˈʊʃluː/ anyone?), and similarly Peter Berg, Radio 3 announcer in the 1980s, was also Swedish, but no trace of his origins ever emerged on air.

Jack also takes the BBC to task for pandering to aristocratic wishes in the matter of their names, for instance, Althorp (when Spencer changed his mind, I immediately amended the BBC recommendation, so Jack cannot accuse me of inconsistency here). I wonder how Jack feels about people who omit the “Windsor” from his name, and call him “Jack (or maybe even worse, ‘John’) Lewis”? Whatever our political opinions, and I think that some form of inverted snobbery is at work here – to counteract Reith’s extreme inferiority complex, perhaps – it is surely only courteous to pronounce a person’s name, or a place name, in the manner in which the owners of that name (and the inhabitants of a place are the ‘guardians’ if not the owners of its name) are accustomed to pronounce it themselves. There has to be a rider, of course: “within the same language”. After all, The River Thames has two illogicalities in its spelling, but no one would suggest calling it /θeɪmz/ (and yes, I do know that the river where the Yale-Harvard boat races are held can be pronounced thus, at least according to Lippincott).

One Comment

  1. I agree, Pronunciation is poor on TV. Also, speed and tone are poor and are as important as actually saying words correctly.

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