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Ignorance and the Insistence of the Letter

There is no doubt that reading pronunciations reign supreme when speakers are ignorant of the traditional pronunciation of a word. This state of affairs is particularly relevant when the word belongs to the class of nomina propria.

The Cambridge Pronouncing Dictionary (17th ed., 2006) lists only one pronunciation for the name of the country of Bahrain, viz. without the h, and this is the traditional English version regardless of the authentic Arabic original. Yet Peter Kenyon, the NPR correspondent reporting from Dubai this morning (“Morning Edition”), repeatedly pronounced the word with an h, joining the majority of media representatives in their studied ignorance of the established phonetic form.

Ultimately, this kind of mistake is to be adjudged as yet another instance of the drive toward faux authenticity that besets American speakers of English in particular, abetted by an attitude that flouts linguistic precedent.


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