William Steed writes:

The recent problems encountered by reporters attempting to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull, the name of the Icelandic volcano causing a whole different set of problems, has caused a flurry of guides to pronunciation.

On youtube:

On Wikipedia:

And a comprehensive post on Language Log, describing the difficulty of Anglicising a difficult and long foreign word.

Language Log brings up the question of how close to the correct pronunciation should a reporter (or politician, or a person on the street) be aiming at? How much can one Anglicise a word before it is considered to have been butchered?

While Language Log has Eyjafjallajökull covered quite well, this is by no means a new problem. What do reporters do with Aboriginal names when they come across them? The name of the language Pitjantjatjara is enough to give some people pause. What about names of Australians of Chinese and Vietnamese descent who come up in news broadcasts? It must be difficult for a reporter to be reading off an autocue, when suddenly the next line comes up with Zhu Xiaoze, or Nguyen Giap-Nghia.

It’s a good thing they have a chance to go through it all to practise first! I suspect most Australians without a Chinese and/or Vietnamese background would stumble, coming across them. I’m in mind of reports about Qianxun Xue (best anglicised as Chien-Shwin Shwe), who was given the nickname Pumpkin, when her abandonment made international news.

Although Australia’s non-Anglo-Saxon population is not as big as some groups would have you think they are, they are still a sizeable minority, and it’s a good thing not to butcher their names. Teachers and lecturers who have overseas students in their classes often find themselves at a loss with some of their students’ names.

The question arises then, how close a pronunciation should we be aiming for? Authentic? Probably not – it sounds very jarring to add in an authentic pronunciation in an otherwise Aussie English sentence, and it’s quite difficult. As it looks? Also probably not – Qianxun Xue would be unrecognisable as Kwianksun Ksooey. It’s best to pronounce them with the most similar English sounds to the native pronunciation. That way they’re recognisable to a native speaker, but not out of place in an English-speaking context.

William Steed is proud to say that he can pronounce Eyjafjallajökull

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