Monday, 22 February 2016

Julia Bradbury doing her bit for North Wales

If you didn't see the program on the beautiful walk that presenter Julia Bradbury took to Llanddwyn Island on Anglesey then it's well worth checking out online. You'll have to be quick though as it's only available for another 27 days or so. You can find a link to it here.

While the programme did an excellent job of showing off the magnificent view of the Llŷn Peninsula across the Menai Strait, the one area that it fell down was Julia's pronunciation of Welsh words. Julia even admitted during the show, and later on twitter, that she regretted her inability to pronounce them properly. Even we, as incomers to the area, winced a little when she referred to the "Thlun" Peninsula, so we can only imagine how a first language Welsh speaker might feel. To help any fellow learners out, we thought we'd offer some tips on how we learned to make a reasonably good pronunciation of the word.

If you break down the word Llŷn into its components is's actually not difficult. The initial double-l is a letter in its own right in Welsh, so Llŷn is really just a three letter word. The best way to pronounce it is to put your mouth into the shape you would use to say l, but then put your tongue behind your top front teeth and hiss. This sound doesn't exist in English, but if you find it difficult you can cheat a little and pronounce it as though it starts with a "th". It's not quite the same though.

The next part is the y with a little hat over the top of it that is commonly known as a "to bach" or "little roof". Y is actually considered a vowel in Welsh and so helps glue the consonants at the beginning and end of the word together. Vowels in Welsh can sometimes sound similar to each other and in this instance the y is pronounced a bit like the letter i in the English word "it", but with the to bach indicating that the sound should be elongated, like a double letter in English. (This is actually important because the word Llyn, without a to bach, is pronounced differently and is a completely different word meaning "lake").

Lastly the n is very easy as it is pronounced just the same as in English. Put them all together and it comes out a little like "Thliin". To be really authentic you need to develop a proper Welsh accent and perfect the double-l hissing sound, but at least the above is reasonably close.

Welsh spelling can seem a little daunting to English speakers at first glance, but as you become more familiar with it you realise that it is actually quite consistent, with letters usually making the same sound wherever they are found and with very few silent letters. The few exceptions we can think of are the silent g in the word "gwlyb" - meaning wet, and the slight variation in how the letter y is pronounced depending on its place in a word - for example pronouncing Aberystwyth as "Aber-us-twith".

And let's face it Welsh is hardly the worst offender in this category. Why do we add all those extra letters in Gloucester when we're only going to say "Gloster"? Why isn't Arkansas spelled with a w? And why do we pronounce the Vale of Belvoir as though it's home to large, dam-building rodents? Answers in the comments please...?

One last comment, Julia, Anglesey is a special and beautiful place largely because it has great views of Snowdonia and the Llŷn. Please, next time, come over to the Llŷn and we will show you the real thing itself, something truly exceptional.


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