Ever wonder how to correctly pronounce names in the news such as Domingo Iturbe Abasolo or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a resource that could help you find out quickly and easily? In this edition of Only at VOA, you'll see how VOA’s online pronunciation guide answers both of those questions. Since 2000, the guide has helped people around the world correctly pronounce challenging names in the news.
VOA’s pronunciation guide was the first of its kind on the Internet. Its database has nearly 7,000 entries, most of which have an attached audio clip. Along with showing the pronunciation of the word in text format, the audio clip allows you to hear what the name should sound like. VOA Special English broadcaster Jim Tedder says that using the correct pronunciation of a name shows that the speaker cares about his listener. It also builds credibility, which is very important for a news organization.
Before the pronunciation guide, VOA broadcasters used index cards with phonetic pronunciations written on them, a system that had been in place since the 1950’s. Announcers operating under a deadline found this a bit slow and ran into problems such as fishing through filing cabinets, human error, lost index cards, and running out of time. They also could only read their interpretation of how a name was supposed to be said. They had no way of hearing the correct pronunciation.
Just before 2000, Tedder conceived the idea of creating an online pronunciation guide. “I went to our IT department, and asked if an online pronunciation guide was possible. They said sure.” From there, Tedder embraced the role of pronunciation guide guru. “I constantly update the pronunciation guide - 7 days a week, 365 days a year,” he says. While checking the newswires many times each day, Tedder looks for new names that are either in the news now, or might be in the near future.
There are quite a few ways that VOA acquires the correct pronunciations, Tedder says. The most direct way is to get in contact with the actual person for each name. Other sources include VOA language services, embassies, the United Nations, colleagues of the newsmaker, and outside experts.
VOA’s broadcasters aren’t the only ones who use the pronunciation guide. The site was originally made public to help other organizations, schools, and universities and people such as politicians and corporate executives. Some notable figures that have referenced VOA’s pronunciation guide are ABC’s Peter Jennings, NBC’s Tim Russert, and Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek, Tedder says. He also stated that the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review also recommended the VOA Pronunciation Guide, saying it was the best on the web. (Links to a few sites recommending the Guide are listed upper left.)
If you haven’t used the guide before, give it a try. You can find it at: http://names.voa.gov.