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BBC PRONUNCIATION UNIT A body of ‘assessors and interpreters of educated usage’ (BBC Pronunciation Policy and Practice, leaflet, 1974/9), set up in the 1940s as part of the BBC Presentation Department to replace the Advisory Committee on Spoken English, and now part of the BBC's Corporate Library Services: see BBC ENGLISH for preceding events. The Unit does not promote a standard BBC accent, but decides on the PRONUNCIATION of individual words and names. Its decisions are mandatory only for announcers and newsreaders, not for other BBC broadcasters, professional or casual. Any influence it may have on BrE is therefore indirect and limited. Where names are concerned, the Unit's policy covers two areas: those used in English-speaking countries and those from other languages.

Names in the English-speaking world

(1) The United Kingdom. For personal names and titles, the BBC uses the pronunciation preferred by the person(s) concerned. To check such usage, the Unit consults them or near relations or colleagues. Some names are perennial problems, because of different preferences in vowel quality and stress: Burnett, Izard, Jervis, Laing, Powell, Symon(d)s. For place-names, local educated usage is followed, established when necessary by consulting local clergy, councillors, or police. Special policies have been developed for such bilingual regions as Wales, the treatment of place-names generally requiring English pronunciations for English-based names (Bridgend, Newport) and Welsh pronunciations for Welsh-based names (Ystrad Mynach, Llanfair). Because Wales is only partly bilingual, Welsh-language names in English-dominant areas are given local Anglicized pronunciations. (2) Elsewhere. For such countries as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the US, the Unit seeks to follow personal and local usage, consulting appropriate government offices, the works of reference of local broadcasting organizations, established gazetteers, and resident BBC colleagues.

Names elsewhere

(1) Where a well-established pronunciation and perhaps written form already exist, such as Florence for Firenze and Munich for München, they are used. Some pronunciations, however, change over time: where once Calais and Cadiz were ‘káliss’ (like chalice) and ‘káydiz’ (like sadist), they are now pronounced more or less as in French and Spanish. Seville no longer rhymes with Greville, but is stressed on the second syllable. In difficult cases, the Unit assesses the situation and makes its decision: for example, that Majorca remains Anglicized with a y-sound (‘mi-yórkă’), while Marbella has a Castilian-like pronunciation (‘maarbélyă’). (2) When there is no established usage, an Anglicization is recommended, based on the native pronunciation or the usage of long-term English-speaking residents. Thus, Chernobyl in the Ukraine becomes ‘chĕrnóbbil’. From time to time, adjustments are necessary: Kenya, once ‘kéenyă’, is now ‘kén-y̆a’, after a request from the Kenyan government.

English-language usage

The BBC policy leaflet notes that the Unit ‘normally does not step outside its advisory role to lay down the law on the pronunciation of individual words from the general vocabulary stock; but occasionally after pressure from outside, it issues reminders about this or that “desirable” pronunciation. Some modern phoneticians might be inclined to consider even this misguided.’ The aim is not to lead the way in language change, but to keep ‘an ear to the ground for the moment when a new pronunciation begins to displace an old one’. The leaflet notes: ‘The Pronunciation Unit is equipped to advise good speakers, indeed any speaker, on the finer or more controversial points of educated usage. It cannot eradicate overnight the habits of a lifetime from the speech of a bad speaker.’

In recent years, the Unit has found it ‘less useful to make rulings on English vocabulary words, as educated usage now accommodates far more variation than formerly, but certain words of more than one pronunciation have one which causes less annoyance than the others, and in these cases we do make recommendations which we like broadcasters to follow: controversy (first syllable stress), dispute (second syllable stress for both noun and verb), kilometre (first syllable stress), soviet (-o as in no rather than in not), cervical (first syllable stress, -i as in pin, not as in nine)’ ( Graham Pointon, Director of the BBC Pronunciation Unit, in English Today, 15, July 1988). The seven published pre-war Broadcast English booklets have long been out of print, but in 1971 Oxford University Press published the BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names, ed. G. M. Miller (2nd edition, enlarged, 1983). This work incorporates information from most of the booklets. The Unit publishes a series of Pronunciation Guides which it has compiled: lists of names of musicians, British politicians, and others, as well as Chinese syllables in their Pinyin and Wade-Giles transliterations, with BBC recommendations. It also publishes update bulletins for subscribers. The Unit is not perceived by the BBC as a guardian of the language but as a reflection of the preferred usage of the British public.