How Dutch is Louis van Gaal?


Yesterday morning the Radio 4 Today programme wasted several minutes of valuable airtime discussing the pronunciation of Manchester United’s manager’s name. The editors no doubt see this as “good broadcasting”, but when you consider that most items are cut short through lack of time, this is a pointless discussion. All that needs to be done is for broadcasters to consult the Pronunciation Unit, and they will get definitive advice. Instead, the discussion was made even more ridiculous by someone talking to a Dutch BBC employee, who told them it was /xa:l/, only for the sports reporter (who is, naturally, renowned for his infallibly correct pronunciation of all sportsmen’s, and -women’s names) to say that he believed that the man had said to call him /gɑːl/. The Dutch employee is of course correct about the Dutch pronunciation, but is the reporter also correct about what Louis calls himself when speaking English?

This morning, as a counterweight to this, the same presenter (Evan Davis), happily pronounced President Assad’s name with stress on the second syllable, as did Sarah Montague, while Nick Robinson varied between first and second syllable stress. No comment was made about the appropriateness or otherwise of either version.

I may be wrong, but I should have thought that it was far more important to be consistent with the name of a politician who has been around for many years and may be around for many more to come, than to worry about a here-today-and-gone-tomorrow football manager (and if Man Utd’s results continue as they have started this season, then Mr van Gaal’s tomorrow will come quite soon).




  1. I’m surprised that you shd complain about a healthy discussion of pronunciation matters. Of course it is depressing that they shoudnt at least mention the possibility of consulting the Beeb’s own Unit. Anyway, having referred to it, why dont you satisfy your readers’ thirst for info by giving the Unit’s recommendation and prefrably also transcribing the Dutch pronunciation for us.

  2. Jack – I don’t know what the Pronunciation Unit’s recommendation for Louis van Gaal is. If they have consulted the man himself, and he tells them that when he’s speaking English, he is happy to be called /ˈluːi van ˈgɑːl/, then that will be their advice. On the other hand, if he says (Dutch phonemes)/vÉ‘n ˈxaːl/, then I suppose their anglicisation will be along the lines of /vÊŒn ˈxɑːl/. If Martha or her colleagues read this, perhaps they will tell us?
    As I said in the post, what annoys me most is that the Today programme’s presenters can afford the time to discuss this on air, and go to the lengths of finding a Dutch colleague in order to record a native pronunciation, while for names of far greater and long-lasting importance, they blithely each go their own way, clearly taking no advice from anyone. And there is also the point that they have no need to do their own research when the BBC pays (not enough in my opinion) a team of highly qualified linguists whose sole job it is to provide them with this information. Talk about keeping a dog and barking yourself …

  3. I think people are less sensitive to differences in stress in foreign words than they are to vowel or consonant sounds (and, I would guess, less concerned about vowels than consonants).

    I’m not sure why though, as there are pairs of words in English that are distinguished by stress.

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