Down in Brooklyn, chum Listmaker asks:
"On Meet the Press, Newt Gingrich kept referring to Al Qaeda as Al Kai EE DA. Is that the way you actually say it or is Gingrich just even more of an asshole than I thought he was?"
I say when in doubt go with the BBC, whose diction Gingrich appears to be copying in this case. Mastery of pronunciation does not mean that Newt has a bloody clue what he is talking about however.
After reading Listmaker's query I began to ponder the range of pronunciations and how they effect my opinion of the speaker. Hearing ignorant Bush Administration cowboys bang on about "Eye-ran" and "Eye-rack" makes my spit curdle, but so does the sound of a PC leftie making a meal out of "Nick-oooh-raugh-wah". Unless our Sandanista boosting authenticist says "Paree", "Meh-hi-ko", "Moskva", "Roma" and so on, they should probably stop attempting to re-live the glory days of Reagan's second term and get back to knitting ugly, itchy sweaters. The quest for too much authenticity is as annoying as a cavalier disregard for how people pronounce the names of their homes. But make no mistake, both set my teeth on edge.
As with all things, some sort of compromise is the best way forward. Sensitivity to the origins of a place name and local pronunciation is good but should be held in the context of one's own linguistic tradition. Sentences should run naturally but not grate on the ear of listeners beyond one's immediate circle (for the reverse of this listen to any speech by a member of the Bush Administration or any statement by any junior Republican member of the House of Representatives at any point in the past half century).
And if all else fails, and you want to trump former speaker Gingrich, you can always turn to the BBC Pronunciation Guide, produced by the Beeb's Pronunciation Research Unit. The only side effect is that you may start sounding like Helen Mirren or Colin Firth, but that surely is a small price to pay.
At the very least I'm going to print this out and send it to that annoying bastard at Maine Public Radio who consistently pronounces the word for an assemblage of chairs, tables, etc as "Fhur-naht-chooor". I swear he does it just to piss me off.