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It ain't what you say - it's the way that you say it...

CUT-GLASS accents are no longer a prerequisite for BBC presenters, but a new book offers a fascinating insight into the strict codes that still govern pronunciation at the corporation.

Ever since the days of Lord Reith, BBC staff have been guided through tongue-twisting names and locations by a rule book that, until now, remained a well-kept secret.

With phonetic versions of words as diverse as the German breed of dog, the affenpinscher, (af-uhn-pinsh-uhr) to the oft-used Iraq (irr-ahk) and al-Qaeda (uhl-kah-id-uh), it is the definitive guide to avoiding embarrassing verbal blunders.

Christine Sangster, one of the editors of the Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation, said: "There are other pronunciation guides on the market, but we think ours is right up to the minute. We think it will appeal to English speakers who are curious about their own language - although we also hope it might settle a few pub arguments as well."

She said one of the most commonly mispronounced words - and the one that provokes the most complaints to the BBC - is genealogy. It should be pronounced "jee-no-AL-uh-ji", although many persist in replacing the "AL" sound with "OL".

The guide also places a strong emphasis on getting place names right, especially those in Scotland. Ms Sangster said: "One of the places that throws countless BBC presenters and journalists who don't come from Scotland is Milngavie. The guide makes it clear it should be pronounced 'mul-GY'. We also tried hard to get a good phonetic version of Hawick, with 'hoyk'."

Lord Reith, the BBC's first director-general, decreed in 1926 that the organisation would always get it right - whether pronouncing the names of visiting dignitaries or the battlegrounds of far-flung wars.

He set up an advisory committee on spoken English, whose members included George Bernard Shaw, Robert Bridges, the poet laureate of the day, and other language experts.

These days, the BBC has a pronunciation unit which includes a database of 200,000 words, names and phrases that may leave some newsreaders and presenters tongue-tied.

Derek McClure, a lecturer at Aberdeen University's school of language and literature, said: "This sounds like a very interesting book and I am glad to see they are putting the emphasis on getting the pronunciation right, not standardising accents.

"I can imagine this book could be quite helpful as a kind of 'court of appeal' when it comes to settling arguments over words in pubs and even in schools. Schools these days don't seem to put enough emphasis on getting spelling and pronunciation right and a book that encourages us all to make that effort can only be a good thing."

 
 
 

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