A guide to pronouncing your anthropologists

Having stumbled across two names in one week that I’d been mispronouncing (Loic Wacquant  and Walter Benjamin – I’ll get back to them in a moment) it strikes me that there’s no place online where all the commonly mispronounced names of anthropologists and key thinkers from kindred disciplines are gathered with the correct pronunciation given. I have trawled the internet for seems like the most-trustworthy pronunciation of each (is the auhtor there? Do they correct the person? etc…). This is not without the potential of my having got one or more wrong. I also accept that there is variability in the pronunciation of names  (I spent a year as Gabino in Guatemala), but this is the best guidance the internet has to offer (that I could find using my rudimentary skill set).

The problem of academic mispronunciation is one based on thankfully diverse backgrounds of academics. There are academic lineages of mispronunciation – poor pronunciation passed on from teacher to students (who then become mis-teachers themselves). The key problem seems to be reading a person’s work before you’ve heard there name pronounced correctly. The opportunity to re-read the name incorrectly in your head for several hundred repetitions is a foolproof way of guaranteeing sounding idiotic at some point in the not too distant future.

Of the two I’d been mispronouncing (Benjamin and Wacquant) neither is an anthropologist strictly speaking – but both transcend categories in ways that make them anthropological-ish. I’ve been saying Walter Benjamin for years then in a conversation I found the other speaker pronouncing it BenYamin in each sentence that followed mine. It took me a moment to realise I was being politely corrected. On reflection – of course it is pronounced with a Y sound. Any knowledge whatsoever of the man would tell you that – yet since being corrected I’ve noted that more people mispronounce it than pronounce it correctly. If you’re still in doubt here’s Judith Butler (who I’ll make a sweeping assumption would do it properly) talking about him.


Wacquant had me over-pronouncing the Q – it’s much softer. More like Whack-on:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoumuRRwOqY (3:38 in he’s introduced)

Confirmed here: http://www.forvo.com/word/wacquant/

OK – so who are the others that should be discussed here. Let’s start with the big-guns. Bronislaw Malinowski is ambi-pronounced. Is it a W or an F sound?


That would be Bronislav Malinofski then – Confirmed here: http://www.forvo.com/word/bronis%C5%82aw_malinowski/

Is Clifford Geertz pronounced Geer or Gur? Well this one might annoy many of my friends who a stubborn users of the EE sound – but it’s pronounced Gurtz:


It even makes it’s way onto Wikipedia’s list of names that are pronounced counter-intuitively.

If Melvyn Bragg can be believed Claude Levi-Strauss is pronounced Levee-Strouse. Those are the main forefathers of the discipline whose names are mispronounced – what of more recent bete noires?

Arjun Appadurai is remarkably phonetic compared to some of the messes that students get into with his name. Ar-Jun Apaduri in essence:


Speaking of bete noires – Napoleon Chagnon does appear to be Chanyon. Again – another I seem to be guilty of mispronouncing. For Adam Curtis’ pronunciation see 22:45 in on this video (and then watch the rest of the film because Adam Curtis is awesome):


It does appear I’ve been mispronouncing Philipe Bourgois’ name too.  Rather than being pronounced like bourgeois it is pronounced (1:18 in) Borg-wah. Now I’m pretty sure I’ve corrected students on that one incorrectly – my apologies former students. My sincerest apologies.

One I’ve had to look up historically is Gananath Obeyesekere. It’s pronounced Ober-seecra. 


I apologies for my ham-fisted attempt at doing this without using phonetic characters – this seemed to be a clearer way of doing it.

Who else needs to go on this list?



13 thoughts on “A guide to pronouncing your anthropologists

  1. Given that the ‘l’ in Malinowski’s first name is actually a ‘ł’, and as the Forvo man indeed says, it is pronounced as w rather than l. I am not sure what he would have done after moving to the UK, however.

  2. I don’t trust that video on Gananath Obeyesekere. The interviewer seems to mispronounce the first name as “Ganat,” missing a whole syllable, so what of the surname?

  3. Founder of Critical Medical Anthropology Merrill Singer’s first name is pronounced “Merle” not “Merr-ill.”

  4. Pierre Bourdieu. Is it like Gerard Depardieu, or like the wine – Bourdeau? (I corrected a professor once who was saying it like the wine instead of the French word for God). haha

  5. Pingback: Spellcheck | anthropolandia

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