Wednesday 30 December 2009


Just before Christmas a man was stabbed to death in Rhuddlan, north Wales.
Where was that again? The first news reader I heard on the radio pronounced the name as ˈrʌdlən. The second made a brave attempt at ˈr̥ɪðlan.
The Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation tells us we should say ˈrɪðlæn, but in LPD I chose to prioritize the anglicization ˈrɪðlən, i.e. with weakened second vowel. The (north) Welsh pronunciation is ˈr̥ɨðlan, i.e. with a voiceless initial trill and a close central first vowel.
According to the latest census statistics only 21.6% of the population of Rhuddlan speak Welsh. I wonder how the remaining 78.4%, the presumed English monoglots, actually pronounce the name of the place they live in.
Outsiders, seeing the letter u, generally assume it has its English value of ʌ. We see the same thing in Llandudno, which the English tend to call lænˈdʌdnəʊ. But I think the locals usually know better, and map this Welsh ɨ onto English ɪ, thus lænˈdɪdnəʊ (or ɬan-, or the same with some surrogate for ɬ). Am I right?Just outside Rhuddlan stands Twthill Castle. None of my reference sources supplies a pronunciation for this name. Read as Welsh, it would be ˈtuθiɬ. But that certainly can’t be right. As my photo shows, the name is rendered in Welsh as Twtil, implying ˈtutil. The second element in the name is presumably the English hill, and I surmise that its English name is ˈtʊt(h)ɪl. Is the first element Welsh twt (pronounced tut) ‘neat, tidy, smart’? The spelling is certainly an interesting hybrid of Welsh and English. Can anyone with local knowledge tell us?
I’m sorry it took a murder to get me thinking about these place names.


  1. An interesting one is Ruthin (in Denbighshire). This is an English spelling (the Welsh is Rhuthun) but it's pronounced /ˈrɪθɪn/, with the u treated as would be expected in the Welsh form.

  2. JHJ - this BBC website, which I think John Wells discussed a long while ago, has Ruthin pronounced ˈrʌθɪn - But I don't know what to make of that.

    John Wells - David Dimbleby on Question Time a few months ago did pronounce Llandudno with ɪ, and the first time he also used ɬ, but when he repeated it a moment later he instead said klænˈdɪdnəʊ.

    (That was the week before the Llandudno episode, announcing the following week's location - I didn't watch the Llandudno episode itself.)

  3. The issue is Anglo-Norman spelling of Welsh placenames, which makes knowing how placenames are pronounced in certain parts of Wales and Herefordshire very difficult indeed.

    With Rhuddlan there's the added confusion that words "rhudd" (a shade of red) and "rhydd" (free (as in speech)) both exist. They're homophones, and the latter is probably more common. The "y" vowel would alternate to a schwa in compounds and could well get spelt as "u" in an Anglo-Norman spelling. Unless you know for sure that "Rhuddlan" is the form that conforms to standard Welsh orthography (as it does in fact), you're going to run the risk of guessing wrong.

    Which brings me on to a magnificent case of getting a place-name wrong. There is a village in Gwent that in standard Welsh is spelt "Llanhiledd", but has a common Anglo-Norman alternative version "Llanhilleth". Rather predictably, the re-opening of its railway station saw the recorded announcements at Cardiff Central create the spurious /ɬænˈhɪɬɛθ/. It's a miracle I've never heard anyone butcher "Caerphilly" (i.e. Caerffili) like that -- this is probably thanks to only to cheese.

    Off the top of my head, other dodgy Anglo-Norman spellings include: Penally (Penalun), Cornelly (Corneli), Llanrumney (Llanrhymni), Trethomas (Tretomos), Aberdare (Aberdâr), Abercrave (Abercraf), Aberbeeg (Aberbîg), Abertillery (Abertyleri), Rudry (Rhydri), Cilfrew (Cil-ffriw) and the magnificent Pengethley (Pengelli). And there must be a dozen examples of "Dyffryn" getting spelt "Duffryn". Of course, they have a tendency to come up in places where correct Welsh doesn't get much appreciation.

    But probably the most amusing bit of those Anglo-Norman folk mangling Welsh is a street in Cardiff called Pen-y-wain Road. There are Welsh words "gwain" and "gwaun" (both feminine nouns, so they lose the "g" after the definite article "y"), and in south-eastern dialects they're homophones. I think you can guess where this is going: they probably wanted the other one.

  4. (That may be too subtle for some readers, James D. I had perhaps better explain that the Welsh word gwaun, presumabl what was intended, means 'moor'. Gwain, on the other hand, means 'sheath', and is borrowed from Latin vagina. )

  5. There are several Toot Hills/Toothills in England (, and there's one in Swindon, too) Perhaps Twtil is a Welsh one?

  6. One of the first google hits was and the pictures didn't show sword depositories.

  7. I do try to maintain a certain level of delicacy...

  8. English speakers always get confused with Penisarwaun....

  9. In Italian "vagina" means the same as in English, and "guaina" (a back-and-forth borrowing of the same Latin word with some Germanic language, I guess) means "sheath". (I picked up my mother's etymological dictionary of Italian to confirm or disprove my guess, but while I was looking for "guaina", after my eye stumbled on the item for "Guinness" claiming that the book's name originates from a publishing house, I immediately shut it and put it down.)

  10. I live just outside Chester, over the border into Flintshire. I'm located at 'Rhuddlan Court' and when I attempted to pronounce this the Welsh way during a telephone conversation with Flintshire County Council, it was repeated back to me as 'rʌdlən'!

  11. brianapgoff@googlemail.com28 March 2010 at 19:10

    On a completely different track, can Rhuddlan, its pronunciation, its meaning, et-al, be taken back to an earlier period, say to the 4th, 5th, and 6th Centuries? Then it was known as 'Alt Clwyd'. Not a lot of people know that!

    Now that is a story worth following, it is a shame that it has been absorbed into Scottish History.

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