Xhaka vs Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri

Unusually, the UEFA Euro 2016 group stage match between Albania and Switzerland pitted two brothers against each other—Taulant Xhaka representing Albania and Granit Xhaka representing Switzerland. The brothers were born in Basel, Switzerland to ethnic Albanian parents who had just moved from Kosovo. While both played for Switzerland at various youth levels, the older Taulant chose to represent Albania at the senior level.

An article called “How to pronounce EURO players’ names correctly” on the UEFA website interestingly gives Taulant Xhaka as “Taoo-lant Dza-ka” while Granit Xhaka is given as “Cha-ka”. The short answer as to why they give different pronunciations for the same surname is that the former is based on Albanian and the latter on German, but neither pronunciation guide is satisfactory.

In Albanian, the digraph xh represents the sound /ʤ/ as in English jack [ˈʤæk], so Xhaka is pronounced [ʤa.ka] (due to conflicting accounts about which syllables are stressed in Albanian, I have made no attempt to mark stress in the transcriptions of Albanian pronunciation here). JAHK-a [ˈʤɑːk.ə] would be a better approximation of the Albanian pronunciation than “Dza-ka”, which would be spelled xaka in Albanian, where the letter x represents [ʣ].

Why then “Cha-ka” for the younger Xhaka? The phoneme /ʤ/ is not native to German, and only occurs in loanwords such as Dschungel [ˈʤʊŋl̩] from English jungle. But while the Standard German pronunciation as indicated by Duden’s pronunciation dictionary retains the original sound for this foreign phoneme, many speakers in Switzerland, Austria, and Southern Germany replace it with its voiceless counterpart /ʧ/ (the ch sound in English). So [ˈʧa.ka] is indeed a reasonable realization of Xhaka in German, and probably the most appropriate one for Switzerland. However, for German speakers who distinguish /ʤ/ from /ʧ/, it is advisable to say [ˈʤa.ka]. And as English does have the phoneme /ʤ/, it is recommendable for English speakers to say JAHK-a [ˈʤɑːk.ə] for Granit as well, using the same pronunciation for both brothers.

Taulant and Granit are [ta.u.lant] and [ɡɾa.nit] and respectively in Albanian. In German, [ˈtaʊ̯.lant] and [ˈɡʁa.nɪt] would be reasonable approximations, although shifting the stress to the last syllable may be closer to the Albanian pronunciations. Reasonable English approximations could be TAO-lahnt [ˈtaʊ̯.lɑːnt] and GRAHN-it [ˈɡɹɑːn.ɪt].

Granit’s international teammate Xherdan Shaqiri, who was born in Kosovo before emigrating to Switzerland shortly afterwards, also poses a problem. The UEFA article mentioned above gives the pronunciation of his name as “Cher-dan Scha-ki-ri”, again following the German pronunciation.

In Albanian, the name is pronounced [ʤɛɾ.dan.ʃa.ci.ɾi]. In “Cher-dan” [ˈʧɛʁ.dan], we again see the /ʧ/ standing in for Albanian /ʤ/ in the German pronunciation typical of Switzerland. Again, for German speakers who distinguish /ʤ/ and /ʧ/[ˈʤɛʁ.dan] would be advisable. JER-dahn [ˈʤɜːɹ.dɑːn] or JAIR-dahn [ˈʤɛə̯ɹ.dɑːn] would also be better for English speakers.

The usual German pronunciation of Shaqiri is indeed “Scha-ki-ri” [ʃa.ˈkiː.ʁi], with the q having the /k/ sound as expected in German spelling. But Albanian q represents either the voiceless palatal stop [c] or the voiceless palatal affricate [c͡ç], sounds that are not present in German or English. Furthermore, in some dialects of Albanian, it might become an alveolo-palatal affricate [ʨ] or postalveolar affricate [ʧ], in the latter case merging with the sound /ʧ/ written ç in Albanian. The latter pronunciations are widespread in Kosovo, for example. So a closer approximation of the Albanian pronunciation in German would have been “Scha-tschi-ri” [ʃa.ˈʧiː.ʁi]. But it seems that the pronunciation more intuitive to German speakers stuck.

English speakers similarly expect the q in Shaqiri to represent a /k/ sound, so most commentators say sha-KEER-ee [ʃə.ˈkɪəɹ.i], which approximates the German pronunciation, whereas sha-CHEER-ee [ʃə.ˈʧɪəɹ.i] would be closer to the Albanian. Given the overwhelming popularity of the former pronunciation in English, it would feel needlessly pedantic to insist on the more Albanian-like pronunciation.

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