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How to Say: JM Coetzee and other Booker authors

10:49 UK time, Monday, 14 September 2009

An occasional guide to the words and names in the news from Catherine Sangster of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

The shortlist for the 2009 Man Booker Prize has been announced, and, as always, there are some names which raise pronunciation questions for broadcasters. These are usually easy for the Pronunciation Unit to resolve by contacting agents, publishers or, where possible, the authors themselves.

This year, the list includes Hilary Mantel (pronounced man-TELL), Simon Mawer (maw), Adam Foulds (fohldz), and AS Byatt (BIGH-uht).

But the trickiest name is probably that of South African author JM Coetzee. The first syllable is pronounced kuut (uu as in book); debate rages about the pronunciation of the "ee" at the end. Many South Africans, whether Afrikaans speakers or not, pronounce this as a diphthong EE-uh, as in the word "idea".

Indeed, kuut-SEE-uh was the Unit's original recommendation in the early 1980s, based on the advice of the South African Broadcasting Corporation and his London publisher, Secker and Warburg. However, that vowel can also be pronounced as a monophthong (kuut-SEE), especially by those from the south of the country, and this is the pronunciation that the author uses and prefers the BBC to use too.

We have a letter from JM Coetzee himself in our files, written in response to our query, making this very clear and, as our policy is always to say people's names in the way that they wish, that is what we have recommended ever since.

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