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Update: Oh yeah!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

from the desk of Daniel "Day-veez"

Jamie (correctly) notes in passing that Mahmoud Ahamdinejad's name is fucking difficult to spell. It's also difficult to pronounce. This forms the basis for my latest raft of pronouncements on international affairs.

It is based on the Davies BBC Pronunciation Department Theory Of Geopolitics, which basically states that the importance of any foreigner to the politics of the UK can be reasonably assessed by looking at how much trouble the newsreaders take to get his name right. In general, the BBC appears to believe that all foreigners are pissy little no-marks and you pronounce their names phonetically as if they were English words. Viz, the pronunciation of Ahmadinejad's name (which is actually much easier to spell than Khruschev's if you remember that it is actually a double-barrelled name - Ahmadi-Nejad - the Guardian actually used to spell it this way for a short while but seems to have given up). This is basically pronounced as "I'm a dinner jacket".

More important people, however, get flagged up for special treatment. In olden days, this used to be a formal process; the BBC actually had a special unit to teach newsreaders how to get important foreign words right. That unit has long been disbanded (I think; or at least had its budget radically trimmed) and so these days the newsreaders just seem to adopt an exaggerated stage version of the relevant accent, the degree of comic exaggeration being proportionate to the importance of the foreigner.

I actually developed this theory while watching the rise and fall of perestroika in the development from "Mik-ail Gorbachev" to "Mikhail GorbaCHOV" to "Mik-khi-yeel GorrrbaCHOV" and then back to "Mikail Gorbachov", as Boris/Buriss Yeltsin/YeltZEEN rose and fell - I suspect if they showed up again today it would be Mickle Gobbychev and Boris Yeltsen once more. It was confirmed to me by a French mate who added that he realised that Vladimir Putin was here to stay when the French newscasters started remembering not to call him Vladimir Prostitute.

Anyway, here's my current rankings:

Ahmadinejad - still nowhere. Not even a token attempt at Ahmadi-Nejad. Going backwards if anything, as Jeremy Paxman was experimenting last year with a "cch" in the middle of "Mahmoud" and appears to have given up.

Putin - still on top of his game. Invariably "Poot-EEN", lots of newsreaders having a go at putting a bit of slur on the "l" and "r" in "Vladimir"

Nicolas Sarkozy - on the up, with lots to play for. "NicoLA" is a won game for him, and the ubiquity of "SarkoZEE" ought to be seen as respectful even though it's wrong. Nobody is having a go at a French "r" in the middle of "Sarkozy", and I would imagine that at his apotheosis there will be all sorts of funny noises substituted for the "i" in Nicolas - I can certainly see "NeecoLA SaaggghhhhkoZEEE" as a possibility.

The general state of the Middle East - basically been downhill for Israel since Netanyahu, who enjoyed a few more or less random shuffles of the stressed syllables in his surname, plus a few adventurous souls having a go at "Binyamin" (Ariel Sharon made the transition from "Ariel" to "Aerial" a few times). Ehud Olmert ought to be considering that one benefit of a normalisation of the Gaza situation might be his regaining the regional supply of "cccch" noises for the h in "Ehud", from its current location at the front of "Hamas". "Hezbollah" is almost impossible to pronounce with a Hebrew h, otherwise I am pretty sure they'd have a go; the new found status of "HizbaLLLLLAH" can be seen in the fact that it's the only name in the region where anyone even attempts an Arabic double L.

Hugo Chavez - treading water. It was a big breakthrough for him when the H on Hugo went silent, but I think everyone was expecting him to continue the momentum and get the stress on the first syllable of Chavez. It never happened. I therefore conclude that his publicity drive with Ken Livingstone didn't take.

Check back on this post for updates throughout the day, as I have Radio 4 on in the background and might catch a few new ones.

Update: The Pronunciation Unit still exists and has a blog (thanks Jasper in the comments). To be honest, I don't think they're all that hot - they are wildly wrong on the pronunciation of "Clydach" in Wales. Note of course that the geopolitical theory is driven not so much by what the pronunciation unit says as whether the newsreaders care.


22 comments this item posted by the management 9/27/2007 02:08:00 AM

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