Thursday, April 28, 2016

Donald Trump didn't actually pronounce the word Tanzania incorrectly, when he called it 'Tan-Zane-Nee-Yah'.

Journalists love to butcher the language. Just a few years ago, the word 'terror' referred to an emotion, rather than to terrorism, a slightly longer word. Lately, media has set itself up as a watchdog on language usage, nonetheless. A favourite target is controversial and poorly spoken American politician, Donald J. Trump.

Most dictionaries give a uniform IPA rendering of the name of the African country known as Tanzania: /tanzəˈnɪə/. That is to say, following the American tradition of spelling out syllables: Tan-Zah-Nee-Ah (the 'ee' in the 'nee' technically being the 'i' sound in the word 'bit'). The blundering politician, The Donald Trump, called it /tanˈzeɪnɪə/ (Tan-Zane-Nee-Yah) in a recent speech, prompting media condemnation, and headlines about a 'zany' pronunciation. It also prompted me to feel slight surprise. In Africa, where I live, Tanzania is often pronounced /tanˈzeɪnɪə/, following the same manner as Trump pronounced it. I have always considered it one of several correct pronunciations for the word.

A quick Google search, followed by clicking through to travel and pronunciation forums and articles, reveals that /tanˈzeɪnɪə/ is a common pronunciation the world over, and is used in Tanzania itself, along with many other renderings of what is essentially a manufactured word. Whether you say /tanzəˈnɪə/ or /tanˈzeɪnɪə/, the meaning is translated, but more than that, a good portion of speakers recognise both as correct pronunciations, amidst others.

'The name "Tanzania" was created as a clipped compound of the names of the two states that unified to create the country: Tanganyika and Zanzibar' (to quote Wikipedia) i.e. it is a created word, rather than one which naturally developed. Both common pronunciations give the 'za' sound one which is not in the first part of the word Zanzibar (i.e. zæ). If we were to combine the two words with their sounds intact, we would speak of: /tanˈzænɪə/ instead.

Oxford Dictionary of English also references its origins: 'Tanzania consists of a mainland area (the former Tanganyika) and the island of Zanzibar. A German colony (German East Africa) from the late 19th century, Tanganyika became a British mandate after the First World War and a trust territory, administered by Britain, after the Second, before becoming independent within the Commonwealth in 1961. It was named Tanzania after its union with Zanzibar in 1964'

So, for a made up word, Tanzania sure creates some controversy. It probably is best to pronounce it as /tanzəˈnɪə/, which is how many dictionaries render the word, but on the ground level of real, spoken speech, /tanˈzeɪnɪə/ or /tanˈzænɪə/ are equally correct. You would have to be a pedant to declare otherwise.

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