How Do You Pronounce "Gbagbo"?

Slate's Culture Blog
April 5 2011 11:19 AM

How Do You Pronounce "Gbagbo"?

Today in the Ivory Coast city of Abidjan, strongman LaurentGbagbo is "huddled in a bunker with his family", accordingto the AP , and seeking to negotiate the terms of his surrender. (Gbagbo hasrefused to step down as president after losing the election last November.) Howexactly do you pronounce Gbagbo ?


When Brow Beat called the Ivorian embassy in WashingtonD.C. this morning, the person who answered said that "we pronounce it in French" (the officiallanguage of the Ivory Coast) that is, with a silent initial g : BAG-bo .


UPenn professor MarkLiberman offers a slightly more complex discussion onhis Language Log blog. Gbagbo is a native of Gagnoa , which would mean that hislast name presumably comes from the Gagnoa Bété language. Languages in that family (Eastern Kru) often have consonant soundsthat involve two simultaneous articulations, one with closed lips and one withthe tongue against the soft palate.

The gb sound thatbegins Gbagbo is a bit like the gu sound that begins the English word guava one part of the sound is made by pressingthe back of the tongueagainst the soft palate ( g ) andthe other is made simultaneously withthe lips ( oo ). If you can manageto close your lips fully, without pursing them, you'd be able to makethe gb sound in Gbagbo , too.*

Photograph of Laurent Gbagbo courtesy Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images.

  *Update, April 7, 2011 : This paragraph wasrevised to clarify some technical distinctions in the pronunciation.


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