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?