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Getting Pacific languages right in sports commentary

Grace Fiavaai

Pacific names for commentators to try to get right

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

The growing number of Pacific athletes entering professional sports means there are more Pacific names for commentators to try to get right.

That's encouraging a trend for more televised sports events with commentary in indigenous languages such as Māori, Samoan and Tongan.

Pacific names represent ancestral links, history and identities, so that has meant a new breed of bilingual commentators was needed led by Lorenzo Kaisara.

Sky Sports sought out Kaisara in 2021 to train others in pronouncing Pacific names using his expertise in Gagana Sāmoa.

“I had never heard of such a service, it was a dream of mine to be able to do what I love, and to do it in my mother tongue, in the Gagana Samoa, was even special.”

There are 17 Blues players of Sāmoan heritage, 18 if an adopted son of Sāmoa, Beauden ‘Parete’ (Barrett) is included.

Samoan last names represent the lineage, history, and villages they are from.

Blues rugby player Stephen Perofeta (Falefa and Falevao) explains that his name means “a prophet in the bible.”

Fellow Blues player Patrick Tuipulotu is full Samoan but says his surname means that sometimes people think he’s Tongan.

His grandfather passed away when Tuipulotu was young, and he didn’t get the opportunity to dive deeply into his family’s history.

“A lot of people say my last name is Tongan. We haven't really researched that far back because my father's father passed away when he was 16.”

Hero Image: Ruby tui and Lorenzo Kaisara. Photo / Supplied

He says he wouldn't be surprised if there is a bit of Tongan in his family.

Kaisara says that presence is important, particularly for women in leadership.

“The current Prime Minister of Samoa is a woman, the first ever in history, and New Zealand just had another female prime minister.

“To keep the balance of having male and female commentators providing that commentary in Pacific languages is important.”

Ruby Tui (Samoan) says there is raw talent in the community when it comes to commentary, as well as being able to say a name with an apostrophe.

“These little tricks like not knowing how to deal with the apostrophe and atomic name as opposed to someone and little things like that. These women and men actually just know. It's actually a really cool challenge and I think people don't realise how much talent they have."

As one of her jobs off the field, Tui commentates for Sky Sport, and the media company says it is using a number of strategies to say things correctly on air.

By having collaborative partnerships it highlights successful collaborations between sports organisations, media outlets and Pacific and Māori communities to foster representation of diversity and inclusivity.

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