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The Pronounciation Conundrum

We've all been there, you're reading along in your voice-over copy, whether that's for an audio book, e-learning narration, or commercial, and you come to that word that despite your overwhelming large knowledge of vocabulary, you have no idea how to pronounce.  Seriously, it's okay, you can admit it, it happens to best of us.




Now how do you pronounce these guys?  Usually I use a combination of two sources: Dictionary.com and the OED.  Between the two of these you can usually find out how to pronounce just about any word.  The OED is great for archaic words, or if you just like to geek out over the linguistic history of words.  As far as I know you can only check it online for free through something like a library.  My account with the Chicago Public Library gives me access.  (you can buy the full version, a micro-text version, or coming soon, the OED Thesaurus!)

Now that's all fine and dandy...but what if the word you're having trouble pronouncing is a proper name?  If it's the name of a person, or especially a foreign person, you might have a hard time knowing how to pronounce it.  I ran across this recently while recording a non-fiction audio book.  The author quotes numerous outside sources, many of them foreign writers or personages.  As an example, one of my first challenges was:

Dag Hammarskjöld

Phew - there's a mouthful!  First off I just did a Google search and was able to easily find out who he was: Swedish diplomat and author, and former Secretary-General of the United Nations.  News to me.

Photo: UN/DPI Photo: UN/DPI

His Wikipedia page conveniently has an audio file of how his name is pronounced - wonderful!  However, there were many other names I ran across that Wikipedia did not help with.  Enter a new site, or at least new to me: Forvo.com This site tags itself as "All the words in the world. Pronounced."  A hefty mission, to say the least.  I looked up Dag's page, and there is another pronunciation from a native speaker, similar to Wikipedia's.  They also give you a handy little map that shows the nation of origin.  I don't feel too bad for not knowing of Forvo already since it's only been online since January of 2008.

You can become a member and contribute to the cause!  Forvo now has a reserved spot in my bookmarks and will be a tool in my box for future projects.  If you have any tips and tricks for finding pronounciations of words, or helpful websites, leave them in the comments section!

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