This post originally featured on the former Language of Football blog in Summer 2012

In response to a friend’s suggestion, I have cast a casual linguistic eye over the pronunciation of one Dirk Kuyt, industrious forward for The Netherlands and Liverpool.

Leading up to his arrival at Merseyside after the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and well into his first season at Liverpool in the 2006/2007 season, there was division as to the correct pronunciation – /kowt/ or /kite/. Dirk himself admitted that the former is probably a more accurate interpretation, certainly one that native English speakers could achieve easily.

And, frankly, the matter should end there. Kuyt is perfectly happy with English speaker’s pronunciation of his name; a short name with an unusual vowel sound, not a particularly pressing issue.

A native English speaker’s instinctive urge might be to associate the written /uy/ with the /uy/ of words such as “buy” or “guy”. Nothing is wrong with such innate practice but consider that those example /uy/ words are isolated amongst other English words which feature the [ai] diphthong (two vowel sounds joined to make one) such as the difference between the words “buy” and “high”; words that sound the same but have a different meaning and spelling – heterographs, to use the technical term.

As Dutch is a sister language to English, it should come as little surprise to learn of similar inconsistencies as regards the written form of vowel sounds. The written /uy/ in Dutch is an older form of /ui/ – or [œy] in phonetics – a diphthong which has no comparative sound in English but has a root in the /ow/ sound commonly used by English speakers to pronounce Kuyt.  In your best Dutch accent, produce the /ow/ sound but round your lips as if about to blow bubbles through a hoop. Once the sound is made, retract the lips from their position and then proceed to make the /t/ sound. In practising this myself, I am intrigued to find that the sound created isn’t too dissimilar from the manner in which a Scottish or Northern Irish speaker might pronounce words such as “how” or “pout”. (Consider also that the “Dirk” in Dirk Kuyt is similar in native pronunciation to that of a Scottish accent).

The pronunciation of Kuyt can also help explain how one should approach the native pronunciation of the true doyen of Dutch football, Johann Cruyff. The phonetic transcription of Cruyff’s name uses the same Dutch diphthong as Kuyt – [œy] – and, much like Dirk, has been subject to continued deliberation as to what is the correct pronunciation.

While on the subject, I might as well chuck in some classic Cruyff action. Just remember, when you’re saying “wow” at his superior technical ability, round those lips, as if to blow a kiss. A kiss of appreciation, let’s say.

More on Dutch vowel sounds
More on Scottish vowel sounds

Proper Northern Dutch pronunciation of Dirk Kuyt
Proper Dutch pronunciation of Johann Cruyff
(note the /r/ is pronounced in the same way as the /r/ in Solskjaer)