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How to say: Morgan Tsvangirai

12:00 UK time, Friday, 11 April 2008

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

One of the names that has been frequently mentioned in the news of late is Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe.

The Pronunciation Unit's recommendation of Tsvangirai's surname is chang-girr-IGH (-ch as in church; -ng-g as in finger; -irr as in mirror; -igh as in high). This recommendation has recently stirred up public and media interest, inside and outside the BBC (eg Matthew Parris' column in Thursday's Times), because of different opinions of how the Shona -tsv cluster should be pronounced in English.

Although written with the same Roman alphabet, the -tsv consonant cluster in Shona is not equivalent to -tsv in English (as in the phrase "its vanguard" minues the "i"); Shona has what are commonly referred to as "whistling" fricatives ("s" and "z"), which sound and are produced differently from English "s" and "z". The "v" does not have the same quality as English "v"; for many Shona speakers, the "v" in -tsv is co-articulated; that is to say, the quality of the "v" adjusts to that of the neighbouring consonants.

In the case of the anglicisation of foreign names, when the BBC is not able to verify the pronunciation preferred by the person concerned, we consider a number of factors before making a recommendation:
the phonetics and phonology of the relevant language
the opinions of native speakers on how they might expect it to be anglicised, and
the ease of pronunciation for our broadcasters.

Our original recommendation TSVANG-girr-igh was made following consultation with our colleagues in Network Africa. In 2000, a journalist, who personally knew Tsvangirai, contacted the Unit to advise us that chang-girr-IGH was a more preferable anglicisation (-ch as in church; with stress on the last syllable).

We also consulted native speakers of Shona at the Zimbabwe High Commission who favoured the anglicisation chang-girr-IGH. Our Zimbabwean colleague also confirmed that while neither English "tsv" or "ch" sounds were equivalent to the Shona -tsv, producing the Shona -tsv cluster as an English "ch" (as in church) was acceptable.

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

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