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How to Say: World Cup 2010 tongue-twisters

12:42 UK time, Wednesday, 23 June 2010

An occasional guide to the words and names in the news from Linda Shockey and Esther de Leeuw of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

South Africa is a land of many languages: there are 11 offical languages, many of which contain sounds which are unusual for English native speakers. For example, Xhosa has clicks like the sounds we write as "tsk tsk" and the sound we make to encourage a horse. These sounds are, to Xhosa speakers, just as easy as ABC to us. Small wonder that we aren't always sure how to pronounce the words we see associated with the World Cup.

The vuvuzela and the Jabulani - the name of the official World Cup football - are perhaps the most hotly debated words related to the World Cup. The English pronunciation of the instrument is voo-vuh-ZEL-uh (-oo as in boot, -uh as in a in ago) whilst the Adidas press office has advised that the English pronunciation of the ball is jab-oo-LAA-ni (-aa as in father, -final -i as in y in happy) and means "to celebrate" in Zulu. In the final match of the World Cup, the Jo'bulani ball will be in play, pronounced joh-boo-LAA-ni (-oh as in no).

According to our South African contacts, the English pronunciation of Johannesburg, and hence the one the BBC Pronunciation Unit recommends, is joh-HAN-iss-burg (-j as in Jack, -ur as in fur); whilst the Afrikaans pronunciation is closer to yoh-HAN-iss-burkh (-y as in yes, -kh as in Scottish loch). Other place names are pretty straightforward, like Polokwane (pol-uh-KWAA-nay; -aa as in father) and Durban (DUR-buhn; -ur as in fur), but not "Nelspruit" which is pronounced NEL-sprayt (-ay as in day).

Stadium names (see BBC Sport's guide to World Cup 2010 venues) can also be a challenge: Mbombela may appear to have an impossible consonant combination, but it might help when pronouncing m-bom-BAY-luh to think of the final sound in the English word "stadium" and the initial sound in "ball". Put these words together, remembering to softly pronounce "m", and you've pronounced the initial consonant cluster in Mbombela. Bafokeng is easy if you remember to stress the last syllable (baff-oh-KENG; -oh as in no, -ng as in sing), but Loftus Versfeld holds some surprises: the "v" and the "f", for example, are pronounced identically (LOFT-uhss FAIRSS-felt; -air as in hair).

To download the BBC Pronunciation Unit's guide to text spelling, click here.

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