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On trying to find the pronunciation of the name of Mizero Ncuti Gatwa, a Rwandan-Scottish actor who will be playing the Fourteenth Doctor, I noticed the NC pairing and its pronunciation is listed on Wikipedia as ʃ. I then wondered what the origin of the orthography was.

I believe the name is Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Kiswahili... and Google translate seems to imply in Kinyarwanda the name means 'friend'.

But that doesn't explain how NC came to represent the sound that in English is most often spelt with SH. Is the N silent at least to English speakers, and part of a Swahili-esque noun class? N- is class 9/10 'animals, 'other', loanwords' according to Wikipedia.

Where does the orthography come from?

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    It's silent in English, all right. But it's probly not in Kinyarwanda; their phonotactics are different from ours. That should be labelled as the English pronunciation of his name; as an actor, he has undoubtedly been through this before.
    – jlawler
    May 8 at 16:05

2 Answers 2

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In Kinyarwanda, <nc> represents phonetic [n̥tʃʰ], at least in a somewhat-conventional style of IPA transcriptions. The [t] portion of the cluster is brief, and English speakers generally do not parse that sequence as [ntʃ], instead it sounds like a sneeze plus [ʃ]. The word incuti means "friend". The initial vowel is the "augment", a kind of determiner, and when a common noun is used as a name, the augment is omitted. /n/ is the class 9 prefix.

I don't know the exact history of Kinyarwanda orthography, but I suspect it originated from Eugene Hurel's work a century ago, such as Grammaire kinyarwanda.

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As noted by user7626, incuti means "friend" in Kinyarwanda. But the usual form of the word is inshuti in Kinyarwanda, and incuti is dialectal. Incuti is also the usual form in Kirundi, which is mutually intelligible with Kinyarwanda and is used in neighbouring Burundi. Kinyarwanda and Kirundi are both standardized from the same dialect continuum that we call Rwanda–Rundi.

Dropping the augment to turn into a name, you get Ncuti as a variant of the name Nshuti in Kinyarwanda. It looks like the anglicized pronunciation /ˈʃuːti/ for Ncuti is based on pronouncing the name as if it were spelled Nshuti, with the prenasalization omitted.

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