September 21, 2004

Stress for Russian tennis players' names

Guest submission by Barbara Partee

All through the television coverage of US Open tennis tournament this year, the names of many of the Russian women tennis players were pronounced incorrectly. I recently hunted around on the Internet for anything I could find about it, and found this article by Neil Schmidt in the Cincinnati Enquirer (August 18). The article includes a pronunciation guide, which is taken directly from the WTA's own pronunciation guide.

Amazingly, more than half the names are listed with the stress on the wrong syllable. Below is a list along with corrections provided by my husband Vladimir Borschev (Vlah-DEE-mir Bar-SHOFE), who is Russian and who watches tennis on Russian TV, where the players names are pronounced by Russian sports announcers (and by the players themselves in interviews). Most of the names would be clear to any Russian speaker anyway, although sometimes the stress is unpredictable.

Player Pronunciation
Name WTA Guide (from Schmidt's article) Comments
3. Anastasia Myskina Miss-KEE-nah NO: MYSS-kee-nah
(English speakers are unlikely to be able to distinguish the vowel traditionally transliterated as [Y], so it would probably be acceptable to represent it as "MISS-kee-nah".)
6. Elena Dementieva De-MENT-ye-vuh OK
(My husband writes "De-MENT'-ye-vah", but again English speakers are unlikely to be able to distinguish distinguish the ordinary consonant [t] from the palatalized [t]. )
8. Maria Sharapova Sha-ra-POH-vuh NO: Sha-RAH-pa-vuh
9. Vera Zvonareva Zvon-a-RAY-vuh NO: Zvah-na-RYO-vah
(If it's easier, it would be OK to write it as "Zvon-a-RYO-vuh" or even "Zvon-ar-YO-vuh". This is the Russian ë, pronounced "YO" and always stressed. But written Russians usually omit umlauts, so non-Russians often aren't sure whether it's "YE" (stressed or unstressed) or "YO". By the way, if there hadn't been the umlaut, it would have been Zvahn-a-RYEH-vuh, not Zvon-a-RAY-vuh.)
10. Svetlana Kuznetsova Kooz-NET-so-vuh NO: Kooz-ne-TSO-vuh or Kooz-net-SO-vuh
14. Nadia Petrova Pe-TROH-vuh OK
(My husband writes "Pet-RO-vah", but American announcers are not going to distinguish exactly where the syllable break comes anyway.)
25. Elena Bovina Bo-VEE-nah NO: BO-vee-nah or BO-vee-nuh
(I wonder why they wrote 'vah' rather than 'vuh' this time for the last syllable. These unstressed final "a"s are all the same, namely schwa,
and "uh" is a good way to represent it in English.
26. Elena Likhovtseva Lee-HOFF-she-vuh NO: LEE-hof-tse-vuh
(All of the last three syllables are unaccented. The "tse" gets a slight secondary stress, but the only real accent is on the first syllable.)
41. Dinara Safina Sa-FEE-nah NO: SAH-fee-nuh
71. Alina Jidkova YID-ko-vuh NO: Yid-KOH-vuh

It's remarkable -- 8 out of 10 are seriously wrong. 7 of the 10 in the list are given with the accent on the wrong syllable, and an eighth one (Zvonareva) had the stressed vowel wrong in an important way. (The two that were correct are Dementieva and Petrova.) I know from studying Russian that pronouncing Russian names is not easy! But if someone was going to make up a pronunciation guide, shouldn't they have checked more carefully before telling everyone "here's the right way"?

Correspondence with Neil Schmidt, the author of the Cincinnati Enquirer (who has, however, since left that paper), provided some clues. Schmidt reported to me that the WTA stands by its pronunciation guide. Its spokesperson suggested to him that many players might adopt Americanized pronunciations when they speak with foreign reporters. "Supposedly," Schmidt wrote to me, "the WTA Tour lists its pronunciations by what the players themselves submit".

Posted by Christopher Potts at September 21, 2004 11:40 AM