By Matthew C Wallace Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on linkedin Share on pinterest Share on reddit Share
Announcers, experienced with Quick Facts or other pronunciation guides, already know how challenging they can be. Take a peek at the sample on the right. You can click on it for a closer view. The pronunciations are not too bad and, likely, work out for an announcer. Notice, however, that the style of the respellings are kind of all over the place, almost like multiple folks worked on them. The point being, pronunciation transcription can get messy mighty quick.
Generally, people writing the pronunciations are doing it to be helpful to announcers and broadcasters; however, most have no idea what they are doing and, if anyone is like me, you immediately head to the visiting coaches, without fail, to do a name check irrespective of the re-spellings provided. 99% of coaches are, honestly, happy someone cares enough to ask about their players’ name pronunciations (1% land in some intersection of narcissism, bumptiousness, arrogance, vexation or just plain indifference…I’m only speaking the truth…and you know i am).
Note: To their credit, the people laboring to create this little quick facts key give it the college try. They do. I give most people an A+ for effort but, a C- in execution. They would get an F- in execution if they were using a tool and the transcriptions were still below-par. But, these folks are given no tools and told to go figure it out.
Now, many announcers have long worked out a shorthand for themselves which is not too much different from the respelling found on the Quick Facts. Each announcer’s shorthand is esoteric in terms of their understanding of it only, of this you can be sure. It contains methods only they can decipher and, frankly, it does work for them. On the other hand, could there be a standard way of transcribing names phonetically, putting us all on the same page using the same tools, which could uplift the universal enunciation effort? Let’s explore.
Prefacing everything written in the forthcoming, the personal, arcane phonemic methods of the everyday announcer are perfect! They absolutely are. Why? Because each announcer knows their style. They get it. They can look at their respelling and figure out just about any name pronunciation.
There are, ostensibly, two prevailing methods in the world for getting pronunciations written down. One is IPA. The other is respelling. Sure, there are others but, these two are the most common. Let’s chat IPA first.
International Phonetic Alphabet. Boy, that’s a mouthful so, we’re gonna stick with IPA, if that’s OK with everyone.
Background: some British and French foreign language teachers developed the IPA in the 19th century in Paris, using Latin as the building blocks. Originally for educational purposes, the IPA evolved into a more general way of helping people articulate languages orally. I, the author of this piece, have a working knowledge IPA but, find it impractical for everyday use in an announcer’s world.
I mean just look at the IPA above. There are many pieces and parts to achieve maximum pronunciation precision. The ball park, press box, ice rink and scorer’s table can be pretty fast-paced (…and shall I say, “impatient”) environments whereby an announcer/broadcaster needs to be very focused and quick-footed. Consider using IPA in your work space. Agh!!! It’s scary! Even worse, think about handing IPA to a college intern to use to make pronunciations no one will understand. OMG! Stop-Sign!!! It’s off the chain. Take a look at my little example:
Sure, this is not hard for any of us to follow; however, imagine scanning a 2 rosters of 40-160 names with IPA as the provided tool for pronunciation guidance. NIGHTMARE!!! Whereas IPA provides extremely accurate elocution counsel, IPA obligates a fluency in an alternative alphabet for a working efficiency. Just look at it. It looks like English infused with some extra-terrestrial.
Frankly for the purposes of run-of-the-mill public speaking, IPA will not work well for 99% of folks. Admittedly, IPA certainly aids singers. Using it to figure out compositions in Italian, French and other languages works out very well. But, we’re talking announcers, broadcasters and public speakers here. These folks need to keep it quick and efficient. IPA is a whole lot of things but, quick and efficient is not it.
Let’s examine a name. One arrived online recently from an announcer in Seattle in a social networking feed. Peruse this:
Forget the Prz part. How about the L with a slash through it (what the heck is that!) or the accent on the n (eh? It’s not like it’s a syllable or vowel). The IPA for this sucker is:
Are you kidding me with this? So, everyone’s supposed to know plosive, fricative and nasal consonants along with front/back/open/closed vowels, right? Now, ask yourself if this would this be less daunting:
Even with the proper respelling right in front of us, the experienced announcer will still wonder whether the phonemes or accent points correct. Irrespective of this, this appears to be something you could wrap your arms around quickly and stand half a chance of spewing in the microphone.
Solution? Oral name check. I’ve restated so many names to coaches and administrators that I could likely fill my own white pages. But outside of talking to each individual, oral name checks remain the only professional avenue for nailing things down. I have, do and always will name check every single time. I practice every single name before a contest as well, more than once. When I say every name, I mean every name including John Smith and Jane Doe. On piano, a player cannot master the great works if he never, ever runs through a major scale. Fundamentals, in all careers, are the inarguable best practices.
Note: Why review and practice even the straightforward simple names? Andrea. I have decided there are 100 ways to say Andrea. Trust me. I know what I am saying. Check and practice even the basic names. Surprises hide everywhere.
Listen, I just marched down to a dugout and did an oral name check with one of the NCAA all-time winningest coaches in any sport in history. The coach was happy someone had the deference to make the effort. If it is a good choice to do a name check with a venerable person like this then, is it not a good choice with every darn team and organization in creation?
Back to Respelling
Announcers pride themselves on professionally articulating even the most perplexing monikers. It’s, categorically, the craft. Some of the re-spellings, which arrive to their eyeballs, raise the eyebrows more than challenge the speaker. First, you are likely to look at a name and notice that the individual who put the re-spellings together has little understanding of syllable stressing. Second, you’ll see re-spelling phonemes for names not needing them and nothing for a name that does. Third and most pointedly, the re-spellings are just plain wrong.
Respelling exists for no other reason than to help us all pronounce without requiring the thorough education in IPA. It is a simpler way, albeit less accurate, to get the pronouncing job done. The BBC and Wikipedia have good re-spelling charts which provide a standard way of re-spelling. Both are just about the same. Wikipedia employs the schwa as a separate sound from “uh”. I get it. The ol’ upside down e, ǝ , is a shorter “uh” sound than the regular “uh”. Consider the word about. The a in about definitely gets the schwa. Whereas the u in frustration gets held ever so slightly longer; therefore, it would be in the “uh” category. This sure seems like splitting hairs though. Boy!
As a public address announcer, I adhere to the Keep It Simple Stupid method (i.e., KISS). I, simply, do not see myself using schwas on a regular basis, though I have an open mind about it. To me, an oral name check plus a whole lot of common sense goes a long way towards getting names as right as they can be.
To start with, professional announcers aim at 100% pronunciation perfection. Seldom attained, we live with 95-99% correct and take aim at the 1-5% with all our speaking might to ensure those challenging names are not butchered over the sound system. Pre-contest, we do our phonetic transcriptions, do a name check and practice what we have and know to the best of our ability. From this, we set out to perform these names flawlessly in great veneration of their owners and their over-arching organizations. Plainly, we do our best.
Ok. A whole lot of chit chat here. Sorry! Let’s examine a simple chart of vowels which compares IPA, BBC phonetic transcription and Wikipedia re-spelling:
|a (arr)||a (arr)||æ||cat|
|e (err)||e (err)||ɛ||let|
|i (irr)||i (irr)||ɪ||pit|
|o (orr)||o (orr)||ɒ||pot|
In review of this chart, IPA for everyday usage? Uh, no. IPA is great and works. Sorry, not pragmatic. I lean towards the BBC since it abstains from the schwa. Regular people just don’t know what the heck that is. They have to look it up every time then, sotto voce, say, “Ohhhhh, yes…that thing…” I just don’t see the point of putting folks through a drill since figuring out how to properly say names is a solid enough challenge all on its own.
So, let’s reexamine our original example:
Two things are observed. First, IPA is perfect but complex. Wikipedia and BBC leverage methods we follow quickly. Second, we see the stresses. IPA plops the accent right before the syllable to stress when speaking. I, kinda, like that. Simple. Works. Wikipedia and BBC use upper and lower cases to do the job. This works, too. My proclivity leans the BBC direction due to its simplification of the process. It’s just easy for me to follow. My readers may see things different.
In the tools section of Public Address Announcer, we’ve put four phonetic transcription charts to help with pronunciations and prosodies that require unravelling so, they can be spoken out loud. The charts are: IPA, Wikipedia, BBC and PAA. What’s PAA? Well, I’ve combined a bit of each of the big three into a K.I.S.S. version of them all. Use what you want. Use your own. Make your own. BUT!!!!!! Use something. Encourage the organizations you work for to use a chart. A better job will get done. I promise.
Lately, folks have been putting pronunciation videos and recordings together to help us all pronounce names. This is really awesome when they get the owners of the names to pronounce what they want to hear themselves. Check out this video that was produced by Bradley University softball:
Wow!!! What a gift. You’re not going to have vocals spewing at you while you’re at the game on the microphone. What you will do, however, is use this video to do proper phonetic transcriptions for yourself so, you can get it right while performing.
Then, there’s that little ear we keep seeing on some websites. Ok. This is called the EAR IT APP and you will find it on The Name Engine. Check out UCLA Baseball:
Some of the professional-level sports even have websites with pronunciations recorded by each franchise’s announcer, et al. to help those in the given league. What a great community sharing model this is! I like it…a lot. However, each name in question will still be written or typed up on a reference chart and placed somewhere handy in the announcer’s workspace.
Every profession uses tools. A carpenter does not use his fist to hammer nails. Phonetic transcription/re-spelling tools are seldom used which is why items like quick facts (which are supposed to be tools…oh by the way…) give announcers and broadcasters headaches. Colleges, as an example, will toss the problem over the fence to a sports information director or torture a poor intern with the duty of hobbling together what they will loosely call a pronunciation key. Any of us in the trade will tell you there’s nothing key about the key. So, those of us who really care make the effort to figure it out ourselves and send the pronunciation key to the recycle bin, better served to return as coffee cup sleeves. Does it not make sense that using some everyday sense to assemble pronunciations on a sheet is analogous to using the fist to slam the nail? Would not having a simple 1-page chart of re-spellings at a person’s fingertips be like handing them the proverbial hammer (with transcriptions being the nails)?
Once you’ve dialed in a tool and method, share it with your administration so, they can give it to the SID or the intern or marketing person or whoever must do the work of transcribing. A tool puts everyone on the same page. A tool can manifest symbiosis. A tool designed for a specific job used for that very job embeds unprecedented efficiencies which affect simultaneous areas advantageously.
The more we collectively take steps to raise the bar on announcing, the more the profession transmogrifies into a superior degree of refinement and professionalism. The days of rosters being handed to a volunteer dad with no instructions are steadily ending. Folks behind the mic at any level are expected to be on their toes and, if not, suffer severe scrutiny. Just examine the things said about announcers online. It’s vicious!! The least little problem gets a stream of derision which can only be described as hurtful. Care and attention to detail posture paramount in a world whereby naysayers can hop on the social network bandwagon to censure folks just trying to do a good job, irrespective of how flawed. Now, grab that proverbial hammer and respell those names so you can be at your best when you announce the next batter, right wing, wide receiver, forward and point guard!
Matthew C. Wallace is the owner of publicaddressannouncer.org. He is a public address announcer, writer, webmaster, historian, author as well as a former executive and musician. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and children.
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