British broadcasters

Aaron E. Drews aaron at LING.ED.AC.UK
Mon Jan 31 11:09:14 UTC 2000

On Sun, 30 Jan 2000, Dennis R. Preston wrote:

}Read Charles Boberg's excellent piece on British and American handling of
}"foreign 'a' spellings" (pizza, Milan, Pakistan, etc...) in The Journal of
}Language and Social Psychology, Vol. 18, No. 1, March 1999.

That sounds like an excellent read.

Having not read it, my take on the matter is that the languages from which
English borrows these have a central /a/, which English (except Boston and
Scotland) doesn't.  In Southern British English, the borrwed central /a/
gets fronted because most of the time, it's not before a nasal+obtruent
cluster ('France'), before a voiceless fricative ('path')  or before 'r'.
Why borrowed /a/ gets backed in American English, I don't know.  Perhaps
AmE /ae/ is too far front?  The borrowed central /a/s are simply filed
into the categories English has, even though the lenders don't have them.

}>I've noticed that many American broadcast journalists try their best
}>to pronounce names of foreign places and people as much like the
}>native speakers as possible, rolling their r's and so on, sometimes
}>excessively so.

Spanish place names in California and French place names in the upper
midwest might prove exceptions to that, but that's another issue, I think.

}>In contrast, I've also noticed that many (though of course not all)
}>of the British correspondents make no such attempt whatsoever: a
}>certain Central American capital is "Mannaggwer" while Earth's
}>largest continent is "Aysher."

These are instances of 'intrusive-r', which is common in most non-rhotic
(r-less)  varieties of English (again, Boston is an example).  You find it
particularly in words like 'idea' if it is followed by a vowel, or in
'drawing' because the vowel in 'draw' is followed by a vowel.  This has
nothing to do with the attempt to pronounce the place name as natives.  It
just a part of the sound system.

}>But even more striking to my ears has
}>been the fact that many of these reporters stress foreign names in a
}>manner opposite from every other voice on the air: Bel-GRADE, East Ti-
}>MOR. And the Prime Minister of Israel is BAR-rack, just like the
}>buildings where soldiers live but without the final s.

"Timor" I've only heard with stress on the first syllable, like American.
"Timorese", the stress is on the second syllable.  I can't say for certain
why the stress is different for the other examples.  Barrack mighit have
stress on the first syllable because it's sort of French sounding, and
that's where stress goes on French loan words in British varieties of
English.  I have to say, though, that the stress placement Americans give
might not neccessarily be truer to the other langauge, but again, i can't
say for certain because I don't speak Serbo-Croation, Indonesian or Hebrew
(or whatever is actually spoken in Isreal).

}>When I started noticing that many of the British correspondents end
}>their sentences with an unusual (to my ears) change in pitch and
}>tempo I was fairly certain that I'd seen Monty Python skits where
}>Python "newscasters" used this seemingly unnatural cadence for comic

Oh, there is definitely a BBC Foregin Correspondant accent.  I remember
hearing what was clearly an Irish reporter in some international hot spot,
and equally clearly speaking with BBC Foreign Correspondant intonation,
which is quite different from Hiberno English.  This is probably what
Python was imitating.  This intonation isn't that common today, given
BBC's new approach to regional English accents (ie, it allows them), but
some of the older reporters still have it.

Another good place to find some answers might be the BBC website  I don't know if they have a guide to pronunciation on the
web, but it's worth a browse.  I vaguely remember seeing something in
print about what the BBC prescribes for its announcers.  I know they have
made a recent change in how the newscasters are supposed to refer to parts
of Britain since devolution.  Maybe there's something about foreign place
name pronunciation.


Aaron E. Drews                               The University of Edinburgh
aaron at                  Departments of English Language and       Theoretical & Applied  Linguistics


More information about the Ads-l mailing list