Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Miss Pronownciation

I just heard an anchor on CNN International pronounce Azberbaijan in a way so bizarre, so incorrect, that she must have read the word off her teleprompter wihtout ever having heard it before. Eyes squinting a bit, in a questioning tone, she laboriously said something like, Eh-zber-gee-an?

Now in Canada we obsess over pronunciation. A couple of decades ago there was virtually a national debate over Lithuania: Lith-YOO-ania or Lith-OO-ania. I believe it was Joe Clark who fell afoul of public opinion with a dodgy YOO version. I remember championing the OO side with some gusto, although I may have simply been unable to accept the articulation of a Conservative. After a great deal of taxpayer-subsidized research, the CBC made a ruling and, well, I seem to have forgotten what it was.

CBC announcers are given pronunciation guidelines. CNN announcers - not so much. They seem to wing it. For example, Qatar, usually pronounced something like kuh-TAR, is regulary called cutter on CNN. For that matter, American government officials often say cutter as well. Given the dominance of US TV, after a while the poor Qataris (kuh-TAR-ees) will probably give up and become KUT-ter-ees. That's certainly what happened to poor old al Qaeda - no AYE-EE left in that name.

Just guessing here, but the widespread disregard that American media has for the correct pronunciation of foreign words, isn't that based on a sense that Americans don't follow no furrin ways? This attitude has had some admirable effects - I am a great fan of American spelling and think it superior in all respects to British forms. But language is more than 99% about following and less than 1% about leading, and American visual media could show a little more respect for accepted pronunciation.

Ahmadinejad, anyone?


1 comment:

Graeme said...

There was an article in the Toronto Star this past weekend about how Beijing should be pronounced Bay-jing, not Bay-zhing as many people (myself included) do. Basically, the CBC has it right, and most other North American networks have it wrong.