Jun 29, 2011

Clicking sounds?

Yglesias directed me to this Bob Kravitz article, which contains, I surmise, what passes for humor:
There were foreign players chosen late in the second round whose names are a series of clicking noises. It was as if NBA general managers were playing some sinister sort of Scrabble game, grabbing Chukwudiebere Maduabum and Targuy Ngombo instead of the likes of Ohio State's David Lighty and Butler's Matt Howard. Ater Majok! Triple word score!

It somehow seemed disrespectful and frivolous to watch teams justify their overseas expense accounts by picking players whose scoring averages were lower than Lindsay Lohan's blood-alcohol level. I understand taking some fliers -- the Spurs grabbed Manu Ginobili at No. 57 in 1999 -- but Ginobili was already establishing himself as a prospect in the Italian league. Seriously, if Maduabum plays in the NBA, I will take a Rosetta Stone course to learn his language -- whatever that might be.
Staggering ignorance and prejudice aside, these names are fairly easy to pronounce; it's about how you'd expect just sounding them out.  As Yglesias points out, "click" languages exist mostly in southern Africa, and sure enough, we've got a few such sounds even in Setswana.  To say "I need," you say ke tlhoka.  That "tlh" sound is made by clicking your tongue against the side of your cheek Donald Duck-style.  It's not too hard, but does take a bit of practice.

Zulu and Xhosa, on the other hand, have many different clicks—the X in "Xhosa" itself is a click, and proper pronunciation can take years to learn.  I'd like to see Kravitz try to pronounce Mnquma.

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