All rugby commentators must want to be as good as Bill McLaren. If not they have no ambition. If they want to be like Bill McLaren, they need to work as hard as he did.
The great Bill once met a Springbok team, with his wife, on arrival in Edinburgh to find out if Reuben Kruger, the Springbok flank, pronounced his surname to rhyme with luger or as kree-er. He would walk around saying Venter over and over to get it right.
Huw Llewellyn Davies of Wales - just listen to one word and you know he is from Wales - can get names spot on - whether they are South Africans with guttural bits or Frenchmen with their sliding accents.
In Super 14 the Antipodean commentators have enormous difficulty with South African names. There was an outcry in New Zealand a few years ago when a South African commentator made Mauger's name Mowger instead of Major. That is as nothing compared with .....
Perhaps we could help with some suggestions.
First, all things are possible with practice. Lots and lots of people can pronounce the guttural g. The Scots can do it and so can the Spaniards and all those Germanic peoples. It can be done Even children can do it! It is not a clearing of the throat mixed with a crashing of gears. It's more relaxed than that - not too far off an aitch.
For a start we shall concentrate on Afrikaans names.
The first thing to do is to get away from pronouncing the names the way we see them pronounced. This is a common requirement in language. Just think of the varying ways of pronouncing ough in thought, through, thorough and rough, and you realise that there is more to pronunciation than the letters that make up the word. People can get away from the actual letters and their customary values and pronounce Caucau Thowthow and put an n into Umaga. It's not odd really because the spoken and heard word precedes the written word both in history and in our own lives. Then the written word tries to capture the spoken word, not vice versa.
Two letters have to be got right to get Afrikaans pronunciation right. The v is pronounced as an f, the w as a v. These are important. This is not weird. After all many different languages are stuck with the same alphabet.
The v in Venter is not an English v but an English f. It is not hard to say Fieforafiddle the fiend of the fell. The Ven in Venter is simply Fen. It does not vent anything.
Janno Vermaak is also a problem. Yanno is OK. The Ver in Vermaak is not as the ver in vermin. It would be better pronounced as fair mark or, less authentically, fur mark - with more made of the mark than the fair or fur.
Lots of Afrikaans names have Van - as in Van Niekerk, Van der Merwe. That van is not a form of transport but simply fun. English speakers can say fun. Then with a little adjustment they can pronounce the Van in an Afrikaner's name.
Van der Westhuizen is a name that twists some tongues. It becomes van (vehicle) dare West (as in wild west) how zin. ItÂ could just as easily be fun duh Vest-hay-zin.
The letter y in Afrikaans is pronounced so as a to rhyme with hay. Strydom is Stray. So we come to Van Wyk. Again it is no good to see the letters as if they were English. Van - fun. The W is a v and the yk rhymes with ache. Wyk rhymes with cake. It's not hard. Wessels, too, has a v for a w. Wessels is easy - vessels, as in empty vessels.
Zyl rhymes with sail, not zeal or dial. So Van Zyl is fun sail. In fact the fun is nearer fin - fin sail.
Human is a funny one. It seems to have become You-mahn. Where the heavily accented mahn comes from is a mystery. The name could be pronounced in the Afrikaans way which is something like hymn-in, where the in is as in New Zealand and not as in Australia. But otherwise Human is just as the human in human being, human nature. The accent/stress on lots of words is not the same for all its parts but there are people who rely on what is written to form their pronunciation. So we have the Australian pronunciation of Highlanders and Hurricanes as if they were two words - high landers and hurry canes. But they are not two words. It is more correct - if there is a more or less correct in pronunciation - to say Highlinders and Hurrikins - with the i pronounced in the New Zealand way. So there is no big stress on the second syllable of Wylie Human's surname. It just falls away. It is not mahn.
The g-sound is harder. It brings the throat into action. Grobler - good guttural g followed by orb for ob. But the one giving most trouble is Grange. Le Grange is coming out as Le Grunge, which sounds like something evil. Sometimes it's Le Grahnge.Â It would be pretty good Afrikaans and make it easy for unaccustomed tongues to make the second g into an s. Le Gransie.
Recently New Zealand commentators debated the pronunciation of Kleinjan as in Tromp and got it wrong. Not that it's hard. The Klei is clay. Ei ryhmes with clay, not why. The j in Afrikaans is an English y. Clayn-yan is possible with practice. So Jantjes as Yantchizz is acceptable.
Here are some other suggestions:
Ruan Pienaar - Roo-arn Pienaar
Botha - Boota. The oo is actually two syllables as in boo-it with not much accent on the it which is a New Zealand it. The h is not pronounced. Boo-it-er.
Jacques Botes - Szuck Boo-tis (Sz is something like ll in Argentinian llama or Seville) The tis as in NZ, not Au
Nico Breedt - Nikkooh Bri-et (Ooh as in oohs and ahs)
Johann Muller - Yo - un Miller, Mill as in NZ
Albert van den Berg - fun den Berg to rhyme with the lurg in lurgie. The guttural g may be too much and one can get away without it!
Johan Ackermann - Yohan Uckermunn
Danie Saayman - Darnie Simon
Skipper Badenhorst - Bar
Bismarck du Plessis - Plissie to rhyme with missie (NZ)
They are just suggestions - respectful ones.[/b]