International tournaments expose us all to new players and styles we wouldn’t normally see, with Euro 2020 giving us the chance to discover players from unfashionable countries such as North Macedonia or Finland.
But this coming together of players and countries presents a unique set of challenges for commentators and it’s a test that the voice of the FIFA video games, Derek Rae, believes broadcasters have been failing at in recent years.
As the lead Bundesliga commentator for ESPN and a speaker of five different languages, player name pronunciations are something Derek Rae prides himself upon.
“We’d all want our names to be pronounced correctly if we lived in a different culture,” he points out. “If people make that effort for you it’s a huge sign of respect. It’s respect for a language and a culture, and I realise not everyone is a linguist and not everyone can do that, but I think we ought to be trying more than we are.”
Many people have begun to notice the regular mispronunciations creeping into football commentary. It’s something that while relatively understandable in certain cases, it does say a lot about our national attitude towards getting people’s family names right.
England is a country that, particularly in the wake of Brexit, has become even more inward-facing. It is almost ingrained in us that learning another language and respecting names isn’t worth our time and effort because ‘everyone else speaks English anyway’.
While there are bound to be several serial offenders who spring to mind immediately, Rae believes it’s not limited to a select few. It’s a problem the entire community should do better with.
“I think as a broadcast journalist we should be better than that,” he continues. “I always use the analogy that for a written journalist it would be a crime to just lazily misspell somebody’s name and just make it up because people will still know who you’re talking about. You wouldn’t do that, you’d write the name as it’s spelt. It’s the same when it comes to pronunciations.”
Rae reckons the issue is not specifically an English problem, though. He thinks it’s a scourge for all English-speaking countries.
“I’m going to say this is an Anglo thing,” Rae adds. “I don’t mean an English thing, I mean an English language thing. If somebody’s first language is English – whether they’re in the UK or the USA or Australia – there seems to be a God-given right to say a name in whatever way is easiest for a person to say.”
The topic of pronunciations is likely to crop up again during Euro 2020, as there are a few countries whose players are routinely subjected to some interesting interpretations of their names. There were a flurry of tweets expressing surprise at certain pronunciations when the commentators received their pronunciation guides ahead of the tournament.
Portuguese names are often read as if they are Spanish because they’re basically the same, right? A Portuguese player whose name resulted in Rae receiving a lot of attention online is Bruno Fernandes.
The Manchester United star has his name pronounced with a hard ‘des’ sound at the end. It’s how we’ve always said that name in England. While recording the names for FIFA 21, Rae naturally pronounced the name in the correct manner, Bruno Fernandsh.
There are multiple examples within the game of Rae saying names in an unrecognisable manner to assumed pronunciations but are actually correct.
“I did his [Fernandes’s] name long before he was at Manchester United so what I do with every new name is try to talk to a native speaker and if it’s possible then the player himself and make sure to do my research on it,” Rae reveals.
“I know enough Portuguese to know that name in Portugal is Fernandsh. Nobody said anything to me until he joined Manchester United and then all of a sudden I’m being told I’m saying it wrong. My rule is always that I want the player and his family to listen to it and say ‘ah there is a commentator who has got it right’.”
A series of Italian players tend to have their names said wrong, often in a more subtle way. Take the first name, Gianluigi, which many Italian players have. It’s often pronounced as ‘Jeeanluigi’ when actually it’s a harsher ‘Jan’ sound. The same rule applies to Napoli full-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo. It’s ‘Jov’ rather than ‘Jeeov’. Other transgressions include a hard ‘ch’ for Chiellini or Chiesa when a simple ‘k’ sound will suffice, and a hard ‘g’ when discussing Lorenzo Insigne.
Eastern European countries represent their own set of challenges as many letters can be completely misleading for an English reader. A prime example is Polish side ŁKS Łódź. That second part is pronounced ‘wuch’. It’s an extreme example, but one player who has possibly had his name said wrong more than any other player is Wojciech Szczesny. The ex-Arsenal keeper has heard multiple variations of his name before, but the correct pronunciation is Voy-chekh Sh-chen-sni.
The Ukrainian national side has a very specific gripe heading into Euro 2020 that doesn’t relate to player name pronunciations. The country is commonly referred to as ‘the Ukraine’ by people from countries all over the continent. As Ukrainian football website Zorya Londonsk pointed out in a tweet ahead of the tournament, this is something that really annoys the locals.
Having done some digging, the reason it annoys Ukrainians is that the word Ukraine means borderland, so during the Soviet Union it was a territory widely referred to as the borderland. Following independence in 1991 however, Ukrainians do not want to be constantly referred to as a piece of borderland attached to Russia.
It’s an issue that’s particular pertinent for this tournament, as the team’s shirts feature an outline of the country, including the Crimean Peninsula, which is a part of the country that Russia annexed in 2014 and believes to be theirs. Internationally, it’s recognised as being part of Ukraine.
Although now the commentators are all aimed with their pronunciation guide, there’s no excuse to get it wrong, right? It remains to be seen.
Euan Burns is a political correspondent for immigrationnews.co.uk. This is a media platform that helps to raise awareness about migrant injustices and news all around the world.