The apparent ambiguity over how to pronounce the surname of the breakout star of Southampton’s unexpectedly successful season is perhaps almost as much of a surprise as the lofty position the Hampshire club finds themselves in currently. As the player makes an increasing impact on English football, so indecision over how his name is pronounced prevails.
In this example, commentator John Roder repeatedly refers to Pellè as /pell-uh/:
Here is another example from the official Southampton F.C. commentary from the League Cup game at Stoke City:
Of course each case is determined by the individual’s accent, though commentators are more likely to have gone through a process of dialect leveling over the course of their professional careers. Roder and his fellow BBC colleagues will have been supplied with information on how to pronounce Pellè’s name correctly, irregardless of their respective accents. Yet it almost seems like they are contemplating it too much – the presence of the accented ‘e’ is a distraction to pundits and commentators, mindful that the accent is there for a reason and, therefore, it should be acknowledged. While any amount of consideration for the pronunciation of a person’s name is perfectly polite, there is a lot to be said for merely falling back on common sense.
As demonstrated by the man himself, the native Italian pronunciation sounds more like /pəl-eh/:
There is almost a reversal in the sequence of vowel sounds between the two pronunciations. While the Italian pronunciation places the emphasis on the second syllable and the corresponding accented ‘e’, the over-developed English pronunciation places the stress on the first syllable. In this respect, the presence of the accent has more influence on the unaccented ‘e’.
Although it is worth taking into account Pellè’s own Sicilian accent, the pronunciation of the name would not differ significantly across regions of Italy. Sicilian itself has a more restricted vowel system than a standardised Italian accent, similar to the difference between Cockney and a standardised English accent. But even considering this regional difference, there should not be any significant alteration in how Pellè is pronounced.
It is worth considering that, on arrival at Southampton, there were physical and aural comparisons to Brazil’s Pele (in name alone, it must be added). And those comparisons are correct; Pele’s name does not feature an accent over the second ‘e’, the pronunciation follows that of Pellè, with the emphasis on the second syllable and its shortened, accented ‘e’. The similarity between the player’s names is no coincidence as Pele’s native Brazilian Portuguese exhibits a similar convention of unstressed vowels as Pellè’s native Sicilian.
The difference in pronunciation is at once minimal yet still quite noticeable. While efforts made by commentators to take care over a player’s name are commendable, there remains something to be said for referring to instinct over perceived linguistic accuracy. To compare any footballer to Pele is potential career suicide but, in this case, there is credible evidence to do so. Just not necessarily in terms of football itself.