4 Mar 2015

Why do we say it like that?

12:20 pm on 4 March 2015

How many kilometres is it to Motueka? What about Myanmar? We don't know off the top of our heads but we do know how you should pronounce the words.

A national census in Myanmar shows it has far fewer people than the 60 million the government had estimated.

A festival in Myanmar's capital Yangon. Photo: AFP


While we appreciate that most people today pronounce kilometre as kil-OM-uh-tuh [IPA: kiˈlɒmitə]*, it is Radio New Zealand's policy to pronounce it KIL-uh-mee-tuh, [IPA: ˈkiləˌmi:tə] recognising that it is purely a combination of two words, kilo and metre. We don't say sen-TIM-uh-tuh for centimetre or mil-LIM-uh-tuh for millimetre, so for the same reason, our policy is not to say kil-OM-uh-tuh, but rather KIL-uh-mee-tuh [IPA: ˈkiləˌmi:tə].


As things stand at present, it is Radio New Zealand policy to refer to the country generally as "Myanmar", at the same time acknowledging that it is also known as "Burma".

While there are differing views as to what the country should be called, Myanmar is, officially, the name of the country and that is recognised by the United Nations. It is BBC policy is to call the country Burma because, in its words "most of its audience is familiar with that name rather than Myanmar"

The words Burma and Myanmar mean the same thing. Burma, or "Burmah", as has been one of its spellings in the past, is derived from Bamar, pronounced buh-MAH, and is a corruption of the word "Myanmah" pronounced m-yuh-MAH (without the "n"). If you say "buh-MAH" and "m-yuh-MAH" quickly they are arguably almost identical.

Today we say it as m-YAN-mah [IPA: mˈjænˌma:]

A similar set of circumstances applies to the name of the largest city, Yangon or Rangoon.


A correspondent bemoans Motueka being pronounced mot-choo-EK-uh. Quite right, too! The correct Maori pronunciation is maw-too-EK-ah. We have little controI over the people we interview, or other contributors, but if said wrongly by Radio New Zealand staff, we would be disappointed.

Genealogy and genealogist

These words are commonly mispronounced as jeen-ee-OL-uh-jee and jeen-ee-OL-uh-jist [IPA: ˌji:ni:ˈɒlədʒi & ˌjini:ˈɒlədʒist]. An examination of the spelling will indicate that they should be pronounced jeen-ee-AL-uh-jee and jeen-ee-AL-uh-jist [IPA: ˌji:ni:ˈælədʒi & ˌjini:ˈælədʒist].

Note: IPA refers to the universal system of international phonetic symbols and provides a more exact notation of how we say things.

* Hewitt Humphrey is Radio New Zealand's Presentation Standards Manager. If there are any words you would like him to address in future please send your query to rnzwebsite@radionz.co.nz and put in the subject field: Attention, Hewitt Humphrey.