Of Houses and Fakes
South Africans are appearing more and more abroad in Super Rugby and from time to time commentators mangle their names, which is not respectful or professional.
Last week we had a player called Fun Fake and a referee called Westhighsen and Westhousen. This week the Lions are in Australasia with more chance of name mangling.
The great Bill McClaren and his wife were once there to greet the Springboks on their arrival to find out if Ruben Kruger pronounced the g in his surname as a y or an English g, the u as an English u or as an English ee. McClaren got it right, but then he cared about getting things right.
Listen to Eddie Butler. He can get names right. He will pronounce Ghiraldini with a G and not a J as in Jerry and he will pronounce the ch in Dimarchi as a k and make part of his name the same as the month's name.
Asking the player makes it easier.
This first thing to do when pronouncing foreign names is to abandon your own way of using consonants and vowels. The world has got used to the Australian way of dealing with dentals and can translate words like opperchooneddy, adderchewed and penally and realises that jew is not a semitic nuisance but inconvenient dampness on the evening grass.
Secondly, it is important to acknowledge that getting the pronunciation is not impossible., little children in South Africa can pronounce Geldenhuys – as, bless them, the New Zealand commentators did when the Highlanders played the Reds in Dunedin. And it can be done with greater comfort than the guttural mangling that sometimes passes for a South African/Afrikaans G.
But let's get back to Fun Fake, who is a player for the Force and not an amusing forgery. Francois van Wyk is a prop – a real prop, not a forgery. It is the Wyk part of his name that seems to be an Australasian problem – for some, not all. Wyk is not wick, not any part of a candle. The W in Afrikaans has the same force as a V in English, and there are lots of English words that start with a V and so starting Wyk with a V is not a problem. Nor is the yk. The y in Afrikaans is more like an English a. So Wyk rhymes with bake, cake, sake, rake and indeed with fake but as Vake.
That's not hard at all.
Then Marius van der Westhuizen refereed in Perth. Westhuizen and Oosthuizen are especially hard for Australasians. The ui is pronounced as an a. Huis is as in haze or phase, not as in house or high. It's not hard if you hear it and practise it.
As the w in Afrikaans is a v, so a v in Afrikaans is an f. If the prop's name had been van Vyk, he would have been Fun Fake, but it was a w. Venter on the other hand is pronounced Fenter.
The Lions team do not have really difficult names though one could work on the o in Combrinck, Boshoff, Cronje and Mostert – which is nearer the vowel sound in corn. The oet is Coetzee does not rhyme with cot or dot. but is closer to roof and probably needs to be heard. The Rooy in Rooyen is easy – roy will do as in Roy Rogers. But then, lurking in the front row is Redelinghuys. There's that huys again. Here is rhymes with ace, lace, face. It's not really hard and is certainly not house.
The Sharks have another form of huizen – Esterhuizen, a centre. His huize will also be haze.
The Cheetahs have three 'y = a' names – Van Dyk, Meyer and Uys. The last is not ice or oose but Ace. And the uy in Van der Spuy rhymes also with day, ray and spay, not with spew.
There will be guttural g sounds on Labuschagne, Greyling and Engelbrecht. The g in Greyling and Labuschagne and the ch in Engelbrecht are like the ch in a Scottish loch. If the Scots can manage the guttural g, others should be able to do it. (Jean-Pierre Bodis, the great French rugby historian, found pronouncing Engelbrecht 'an ordeal of the most horrific kind' but he managed.)
The ch in Labuschagne and Schreuder is like a k.
There is some French residue in the names derived from Huguenots who came to Cape long ago. The last letter in Du Plessis, Du Toit and Marais is not pronounced. When the Springboks toured up north in November there was an English commentator who insisted in putting in the final s. He was wrong, where he need not have been.
And Kankowski is a polish name. The kow part is not a milk producer but pronounced cough.
It is better to get things right than wrong and in the case of pronouncing names it's not hard to do so – no need to be an ordeal. In fact it's fun.
By Paul Dobson