Obama’s Pronunciation Problem

My colleague, Dr. Washington, and I were probably among the first group people who suggested an early “Obama victory Party” before anybody else. Mr. Obama got our attention, our contribution and our vote because he was well-educated candidate and also was a professor for some time. During his debates, he sounded so cool, collect collected, and confident. We did not even compare him with the GOP’s candidate, especially when Sarah Palin was added to their ticket. She sounded so arrogant and funny when she did not even try to pronounce the names of Iran and Iraq accurately. She repeatedly called them “Eye-ran and Eye-rack”, respectively. But, wait a minute; didn’t Michelle Obama pronounce these two country names exactly in the same tunes?

The greatest majority of the news media from ABC to XYZ, including NPR and my favorite game show Jeopardy, are unable to pronounce most proper names from the Middle East correctly. The first President Bush still calls the now dead Iraqi leader “Saddam” as “Sodom” as the infamous city in the Bible. Maybe it was for propaganda purpose, but how hard is it for him to put “Sad” and “dumb” together? This would be the most accurate pronunciation of the name.

I only recently and accidentally, saw a small part of “Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work” on PBS. I was dumbfounded that the Queen England and her Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, could not correctly pronounce the name of their former colony, Iraq. They both reflected arrogant and ignorant colonial pronunciation aired on their propaganda machine, the BBC. It is more shocking because the Queen is supposed to be one of the most educated and experienced political leaders in the world. As for Dr. Gordon Brown, he has a doctoral degree in history. If both are not lost in time, they are lost in space, while maintaining their ugly colonial speech.

In a Presidential Debate for the Democratic candidates in Iowa on December 4, 2007, when in the light of a new intelligence report indicating that Iran has had stopped making nuclear bomb in 2003, none of them including Obama, Biden, and Clinton was able to pronounce the name of the country Iran correctly. Now, Biden, Clinton, and Dr. Susan Rice are going to advise our president on the matters of American foreign policy. How are they going to address Mr. Ahmadinejad? Do they know that it is not Ahmadijihad?

In their first debate, neither one of the two presidential candidates, McCain and Obama, knew the difference between the Republication Guards vs. Revolutionary Guards! Actually, it was McCain’s mistake first. Obama only repeated that mistake and the so-called well-informed moderator, didn’t catch that little big mistake.

Similar to all of his campaigns and debates, during his first press conference, Obama was cool, calm, confident, and professorial. I kept saying, please get to the point, you are not teaching a class on the state of the world in two hours. I was expecting that this Harvard Law School graduate and former law professor would practice learn, and pronounce proper names properly before his first press conference on February 9, 2009.

He was unable to pronounce the name of Pakistan’s president and mentioned a strange, albeit, abbreviated name of a region, FATA, more than once that sounded like a branch of Palestinian resistant groups. How many of the representatives of the mainstream media who are geographically illiterate knew anything about FATA? After I read the transcript of the press conference, I learned what that name was. According to Mr. Ertan’s site, with 3.0 million people, FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) is located in Pakistan.

Quoted in Jack Shafer’s (2009) piece, Zadie Smith believes that “Obama can do young Jewish male, black old lady from the South Side, white woman from Kansas, Kenyan elders, white Harvard nerds, black Columbia nerds, activist women, churchmen, security guards, bank tellers…” Let me disappoint Ms. Smith. I wish he could, in regards to pronunciation of proper names, but President Obama has not been able to do an educated person from the Middle East. During his first conference, President Obama probably unintentionally only once mimicked Ms. Helen Thomas’ pronunciation of Pakistan, then he went back to his homemade incorrect way of saying the name.

Unfortunately, the Harvard graduates, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Francis Fukuyama, George W. Bush, and Obama, to name a few, never learned any geography lessons. Harvard killed its geography department in 1948 for political reasons. Harvard graduates want to control the world without any maps. Harvard graduates need first to lose their colonial pronunciation and have a little respect for the rest of the world.

According to my biblical Shibboleth test, the shallowness of their knowledge is so pronounced by their inaccurate pronunciation of proper names for the Middle East. Most of them are lost in time and space. Could our brand new president and his foreign policy team learn that!

There is no “eye” in Iran or Iraq,

There is no “key” in Pakistan and no “lee” in Taliban, and

There is no “nee” in Afghanistan. No “dee” in Kurdistan.

The above proper names and many more were badly transliterated by the British. One can blame this mis-transliteration and mispronunciation on the British colonialism colonialists and their lack of respect for their subjects. There is only one way to pronounce proper names from the Middle East.

My website “Say It Right” should help, but I need to be given a chance to teach the new people in the White House, the State Department, and the UN how to say these names right, with delight. Even Dr. Brzezinski, a former national security advisor and a professor at the Johns Hopkins University, believes in “Yes, we can” (2009, p. 60). It is simply wrong to be out of tune and out of touch with the rest of the world. Yes, we can do it, with help from the educated people from the Middle East!

Dr. Kamiar is the author of a forthcoming reference book called Standard Pronunciation Guide for Proper Names from the Middle East. He can be reached at mkamiar@fccj.edu.


Brzezinski, Zbigniew. “Major Foreign Policy Challenges for the Next US President.” International Affairs, Vol. 85, No. 1, 2009, pp. 53-60.
Ertan, Fikret. “FATA, the US and Pakistan.” http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/yazarDetay.do?haberno=153105.

NPR. “Election 2008: Transcript: NPR Democratic Candidates’ Debate.” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16898435.

Shafer, Jack. “How to speak Obama: Zadie Smith’s two cents on how 44 mesmerizes.” Posted Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009, at 5:41 PM ET, http://www.slate.com/id/2211161.

White House. “Obama’s first White House press conference.” East Room, 8:01 P.M. EST, Transcript.” By Lynn Sweet, February 9, 2009 9:12 PM, http://blogs.suntimes.com/.

Say It Right – http://sayitright.fccj.edu/


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