Travel Jottings

Celebrating the best bits and bobs to be found while exploring Britain, Ireland and beyond. Much is inspired by real outings, whether they were walking, cycling or photographic in nature, while virtual blundering in the name of planning them has turned up some gems too. Regardless of how they were found, I hope that they keep coming so I can continue to share new things with you.

A Few Words on Place Name Pronunciations

Pen Yr Ole Wen, Ogwen Valley, Gwynedd, Wales

To an English speaker, words in the Welsh language can look like inscrutable collections of letters. However, that does the language a disservice because it is full of regular rules that address these things. Of course, that brings up the matter of knowing and remembering all of them. That remains a feat that I cannot claim to have mastered yet and it is for that reason that I find a book like Tony Leaver’s Pronouncing Welsh Place Names (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, 1998) invaluable. It explains each rule in turn and even has a listing of place names and how to pronounce them in its appendix; I can see the impatient heading for that part of the book and that I have done the same from time to time.

One cause for confusion among non-Welsh speakers is that the language came into being using a different alphabet to the Roman one in which these words are written. The result is that there some imperfect mappings about. The obvious one is the (in)famous ll construct that becomes a sound part way between "hluh" and "thluh" when spoken. After that, f is pronounced like v and you need to write ff for an f sound. Then, there's the matter of a consonant becoming a vowel...

That last remark brings me to the rules for vowel sounds, particularly when two vowels come together. In all of this, you have to remember the w is pronounced as oo and y can be ah, uh or ih according to its placement in a word or sentence. These are but two behaviours out of many and not knowing them can throw you. Incidentally, the same remark applies to the Irish language too with first names like Aoife (try EE-off-ah) tripping up the unwary. These things are second nature to me because of my Irish schooling (the language is taught all of the way through the primary and secondary cycles) so I could understand if Welsh speakers were bemused by all of the fuss. In my experience, Scots Gaelic is more anglicised in its pronunciations and that does trip me up because of my knowledge of Irish (just don't go calling it Gaelic or Irish Gaelic because I don't take too kindly to that!).

All in all, there's a linguistic minefield out there and you don't have to go further than Britain and Ireland to meet it either. With that in mind, here is a list of a few of the Welsh places that have seen a visit from myself and their pronunciations. It goes without saying it is incomplete and that's after outings in the photo gallery and in the outdoors blog. However, that's because I have limited it to places where I have visited up to now. Even so, now that it's landed here, I hope to make it a bit longer. Hopefully, you'll start to ask bus drivers and others for places as they would and not like the butchering that I meted out to Waunfaur one Sunday morning.

Abergele: abair-gellay
Aberystwyth: abb-erruss-tooith

Bangor: bang-gor
Beddgelert: bathe-gellairt
Betws-y-coed: betooss-a-koid
Blaenau Ffestiniog: bligh-nigh fest-inn-yogg
Builth: billth

Caernarfon: kyre-nar-vonn
Caersws: kyre-sooss
Capel Curig: kappell kirrig
Conwy: konn-ooey
Crickhowell: krick-how-ull

Denbigh: dennby
Dolgellau: dol-geth-eye
Dolwyddelan: doll-ooey-thellann
Dyffryn Ardudwy: duffrinn ar-diddooey

Harlech: har-leckh

Llanberis: thlann-berriss
Llandrindodd: thlann-drin-dodd
Llandudno: thlann-didd-noh
Llanfair Pwllgwyingyll: thlan-vyre pooth-gwinn-gith
Llangollen: thlann-goth-lenn
Llanrwst: thlann-roost
Llantysilio: thlann-tuss-ill-yo
Llanuwchllyn: thlann-yookh-thlinn
Llanwrtyd: thlann-ooer-tidd

Machynlleth: mackh-UNTH-leth
Minfordd: minn-forthe

Porthmadog: porth_maddogg
Pwllheli: pooth-heli

Rhayader: rye-adder
Rhyl: rill
Rhosili: ross-illi
Ruabon: roo-abbon

Tal-y-sarn: tal-a-sarn
Tal-y-bont: tal-a-bont
Tanygrisiau: tann-a-grish-eye
Trefor: trevvor
Trefriu: trevv-roo

Waunfawr: wine-vowr