World and Nation

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Pronunciation Trips Up Amazon’s Kindle

The Amazon Kindle, an electronic reader, has had praise lavished on it by hopeful newspaper and book executives who believe it has the potential to do for newspapers and books what the iPod did for music.

But if the Kindle, which not only displays the news but also speaks it with a computerized voice, is ever to be the savior of print media, it needs to bone up on its pronunciation.

In particular, the voice of the Kindle mispronounces two important words that show up often in the pages of newspapers: “Barack” (rhymes with “black”) and “Obama” (sounds like “Alabama”).

The latest version of the Kindle was unveiled Wednesday at a news conference in Manhattan and has a big screen aimed at newspaper readers.

When asked about the error in pronouncing the president’s name, Jeffrey P. Bezos, chief executive of, said, with his trademark laugh, “that’s unfortunate.”

The next day, an Amazon spokesman, Andrew Herdener, wrote in an e-mail message that Nuance Communications, the Massachusetts-based company that licenses its text-to-speech engine to Amazon for the Kindle, had added the correct pronunciation of the president’s name.

“Nuance has updated its dictionary, which we plan to include in an upcoming wireless update to Kindle devices,” Herdener wrote.

Apparently, the matter was a simple oversight.

“These things happen a lot,” said Steve Chambers, an executive at Nuance, which also licenses its technology to Apple, Amtrak, United Airlines and Bank of America. “It’s not even considered a bug. If it encounters a word it has never seen, it approaches it almost like a kid, phonetically.”

Kindle owners in Boston, however, may want to stick to the front section and avoid the sports pages for now. The Kindle pronounces “Celtics” with an initial hard “c.”

Hope in Hand, Benedict Prepares a Mideast Blitz

When Pope John Paul II traveled to the Holy Land in 2000, the visit was history, the first by a pope to recognize the state of Israel or visit sites holy to Islam.

When Benedict XVI travels on Friday to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, it will be much more about him personally. A man whose four-year papacy has been marked by missteps that angered and offended Jews and Muslims will deliver 32 speeches at some of the holiest sites in the world to Muslims, Jews and Christians. Already, Islamic groups in Jordan are protesting.

In the works since last fall, Benedict’s trip comes at a time of change and uncertainty in the region. Israel just ushered in a new right-wing government, that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And the two main Palestinian factions remain hostile and divided, with the secular Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, controlling the West Bank and the Islamist group Hamas ruling Gaza.

Emotions are still raw after 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli military assault on Gaza in January, which the Vatican criticized.

But Vatican officials say the pope was eager to make the trip, no matter the conditions, given his age. He turned 82 his month.

His visit comes three years after he offended many Muslims with a speech in Regensburg, Germany, in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Islam encouraged violence and brought things “evil and inhuman.” To make amends, he reached out to various Muslim groups and prayed in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul on a trip to Turkey two months after the speech. And he will continue that effort in Jordan, where he arrives Friday and will visit a mosque and meet with Muslim clerics and scholars.