Mind Your Language

Does it not irk you when a radio or television broadcaster mispronounces your favourite players’ names?  I am not going to single out individuals in this blog but instead urge South Africa’s radio and television workers to aim to do better.  I have long said that if you cannot pronounce a South African name, then you should not be on a South African broadcasting platform.  Just of late we have heard about “Andi-lay Phe-lukwayo” – whoever that is.  SuperSport’s rugby anchor Xola Ntshinga is referred to as “X” or “Kola”.  

Apparently this is okay because no one has been hauled off air by their bosses as yet, to go and learn how to pronounce these names before returning to the airwaves.  It is simply laziness, complacency and disrespect if you ask me.  What will some of these people do if Manqoba Mngqithi becomes Bafana Bafana coach?  It’s okay if an Australian commentator cannot pronounce Makhaya Ntini but if you’re a South African broadcaster I am sorry, there is no excuse.

Please do not misunderstand what I am saying.  Every one has an accent and in a country of 11 official languages, several unofficial mother tongues and many regional dialects for each language, there is hardly any hope that someone from Limpopo will pronounce an isiZulu word or name 100% correctly.  But we must at least try.  People appreciate the effort and if you are on the radio or TV then you have a responsibility to your audience to get it right.

“What about you, Pete?” you may ask.  Glad you asked.  

I first became fascinated with names foreign to my own native tongue when Sri Lanka’s cricketers toured this country in 1994.  I made it my own personal challenge to learn how to pronounce names like Muttiah Muralitharan, Pramodya Wickramasinghe and Ravindra Pushpakumara accurately.  I enjoyed this exercise so much that it was not long before I wanted to be accurate on all names from all countries!  How about on the home front?  Well yes, it helps that I studied Xhosa in high school – that certainly aids with the clicks.  Something that is easily forgotten though is that in isiZulu there is no “R” and in isiXhosa there is no R-sound like in English, yet several of these Nguni-language speakers have no problem greeting Ryan, Ruan or Refiloe.  I hope you can pronounce that last name!  If not, why not?

Siya Kolisi RWC

Granted not every one is/was as enthusiastic as me but we have people in our country who have grown up in Durban, lived there their whole lives and still cannot pronounce Umhlanga properly!  Radio and television reporters, anchors/presenters and commentators are obliged in my opinion to get it right.  No wonder you would not blame me for thinking Siya Kolisi was actually Siya Xolisi the first time I saw him on the television many years ago.