Pronunciation matters: How should Canadian athletes’ names be pronounced?

Story updated at 6 pm with Lilley apology

MONTREAL – A Sun News Network television personality has publicly apologized after criticizing the way CBC anchors pronounced the names of French-Canadian Olympic athletes in English.

Brian Lilley made his comments as the host of the program Byline, which runs on Sun News, an English-language television network owned and operated by Quebecor Media.

“Why am I showing you CBC and their coverage of the Olympics?” Brian Lilley asked.

“Why? Because of the ridiculous pronunciation of the names involved.”

While Lilley acknowledged that the athletes’ names were French, he suggested that because they were used in an English context, they should be pronounced with “a certain English pronunciation.”

“If you listen to CBC, you wouldn’t even know that Charles Ham-a-lin had won a gold because he’s Sharle Am-e-leh, oui,” he said.

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“Broadcasters in this country think that they have to go all native and speak a foreign language just because they’re pronouncing somebody’s name.”

Lilley then turned to Harley Sims, a linguistics “specialist” in Nova Scotia, for some guidance.

“It was irritating because this is not how people speak,” Sims said.

“We have a phenology [sic] in English, the way we pronounce words, and this is not how they talk.”

Sims went on to suggest what he considered the motivation behind pronouncing Quebec athletes names as they are pronounced in French.

“The only thing I can think of an anchor doing this would be to show you smelly bumpkins who are used to only one language how to pronounce these words in these communities that you have no real acquaintance with. So it’s almost like a slapping, but it fell flat on its face because it’s ridiculous.”

TMS debates: What’s the correct way to handle the pronunciation issue?

CBC response
Chuck Thompson, the head of media relations for the CBC told Global News that journalists do their best to pronounce athletes’ names in the most respectful way possible.

“Some of our journalists are bilingual and more comfortable pronouncing names in what I will call the most authentic way,” he said.

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“We are saying the names in English, but always being respectful of that individual’s heritage, whether that person be Russian, Italian or French-Canadian.”

He also noted that although the Sun Media report showed clips of The National‘s anchor Wendy Mesley, Lilley failed to mention that she is a Montrealer and bilingual.

“A lot of our correspondents are bilingual and in some cases trilingual,” he added.

“Where they’re not, they do their level best, and are always mindful and respectful of a person’s heritage when saying their name.”

Sun News apologizes
Late Tuesday afternoon, Lilley issued a video statement to tell Canadians he was sorry for his decision to focus on the pronunciation of athletes names and not on their athleticism.

“The video has gone viral from this show for all the wrong reasons and it’s upset a lot of people,” he said.

“I understand why now and I want to apologize.”

Pronunciation problems?
How is this tricky pronunciation issue dealt with in other countries?

The British Broadcasting Company is internationally renowned for its attention to detail, especially when it comes to pronunciation.

“When forming recommendations, our approach is to reflect the native pronunciation as closely as possible while bearing in mind practical considerations,” the BBC noted on its website.

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Global News spoke with the BBC’s Pronunciation Research Unit in London to find out specific details for how the Beeb approaches foreign name pronunciation.

“Unless there is an established anglicization, we try to make it as close to the person’s name as possible,” confirmed a spokesperson, who also noted that Canada is not alone in finding a solution to this thorny issue; other bilingual countries, such as Belgium, also face pronunciation conundrums.

What do you think? How should Canadian athletes’ names be pronounced?

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