Friday 16 September 2011


At the time of writing we’re still waiting for news of the miners trapped underground in a drift mine in the Swansea Valley. We hope for the best but fear the worst.

The Gleision ˈɡlaɪʃɒn mine is at Cilybebyll ˌkɪləˈbebɪɬ, a village near Pontardawe ˌpɒntəˈdaʊi. I was impressed by the way the Sky News newsreader on TV yesterday evening handled the Welsh place names. He didn’t hesitate or stumble; he didn’t even break his rhythm. His ɬ was exemplary.

Gleision is a straightforward Welsh name, the plural of glas ‘blue, green’, so meaning just ‘blues’ or ‘greens’. The other two names involved are more interesting, because they bear witness to the influence of Latin on Welsh, dating from the time before the Anglo-Saxons arrived, when southern Britain was part of the Roman Empire.

Pontardawe means ‘bridge on the (river) Tawe’. The first element is pont, the Welsh for ‘bridge’, an obvious borrowing from the Latin pons, pont- of the same meaning. This word also gave us French pont and Spanish puente. No doubt the Romans introduced their bridge-building technology into Britain, and with it their word into the British (= Old Welsh) language.

Cilybebyll literally means ‘back of the tents’. The last element, bebyll, is the soft-mutated plural of the word pabell ‘tent, tabernacle’, from the Latin papilio, papilion-. In Latin this word primarily meant ‘butterfly’, but it was also a Roman army slang word for ‘military tent’, “probably from the similarity of shape when the ends of the covering are turned over at the entrance of the tent” (OED). The same word came into English via French as pavilion pəˈvɪliən, -ljən.
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I shall be away again next week. Next blog: 26 September.


  1. I'm curious how research is done for the pronunciation of town names. Do they always take the local pronunciation as the appropriate one? How do you come up with an RP pronunciation for a name that is seldom said outside a certain district?

    When I catch my train from Leeds station, I often hear announcements for a train that stops at Glasshoughton and the recorded message does not say the H in it [ˈɡlasaʊtn̩]. This place is too small to be in LPD and I don't recall its being on the news. It might be classified alongside Birmingham, Tottenham, etc. as place-names with a silent H. However, I have noticed that the Yorkshire town of Brighouse is listed in LPD with the H [ˈbrɪɡhaʊs], even though it is very commonly said as [ˈbrɪɡaʊs] even by people who do not normally drop their Hs.

  2. The soft mutation in Cilybebyll is also interesting. In Modern (nor Middle for that matter) Welsh you don't get soft mutation after the article in the plural. You might expect it in old names for masculine plurals, since the Proto-Brythonic form of the article in that form was vowel-final (lenition is still occasionally found in Breton masculine plurals following the articles, though it's restricted to animates). Pabell is feminine in Modern Welsh, but the online wordlist of GPC lists it as "feminine or masculine", so perhaps we are dealing with just such as relic of this old lenition pattern?

  3. Regarding the Sky News newsreader, are we sure he wasn't Welsh, and in fact his RP was examplary? On the Sky News website I can only find clips that are narrated by what to my ears sounds like native Welsh(wo)men.

  4. Pavel: I didn't go into this detail, but in fact pebyll was formerly the SINGULAR form, later reinterpreted as a plural and giving rise to a new singular pabell. Soft mutation after the article y, before a feminine singular noun, is normal.
    Paul: yes, anglicized. I'm well aware that in Welsh it has -ar-.
    Kilian: I didn't say he wasn't Welsh. He may well have been.

  5. Ed: Brighouse is well known outside the area because of the Brighouse and Rastrick band. Anyhow, even in the Leeds area there are RP speakers. (They used to own the big country houses, for example.)

  6. @ John Wells: Yes, there are RP speakers in the Leeds area, but (as you know) RP speakers may still prefer the local pronunciation for a place-name. To cite another part of the country, Norwich is said locally as [ˈnɒrɪdʒ] rather than [ˈnɒrɪtʃ].

    Interesting link to the Brighouse & Rastrick band. I didn't realise they were so well-known.

    I think that there is a problem with Hs in place-names, as English (in all accents) has silent Hs in some words. If BBC reporters had to cover a story in Glasshoughton, how would they decide whether to say the H or not?

  7. Ed: the BBC Pron Dict (1990) has ˈɡlɑs ˈhaʊtən, gláas hówtŏn.

  8. Norwich is said locally as [ˈnɒrɪdʒ] rather than [ˈnɒrɪtʃ].

    [ˈnɒrɪdʒ] is at least U-RP, and certainly acceptable in general RP, I think.

  9. I'm sure you think right. More acceptable I should think. In fact Ed's apparent implication that [ˈnɒrɪdʒ] was just local, and [ˈnɒrɪtʃ] the non-local norm had simply mystified me. It struck me as just one of those Delphic utterances that there is no point in pursuing. But your intervention stirred me to seek support from LPD3:
    Norwich place in England ˈnɒr ɪdʒ -ɪtʃ ǁ ˈnɔːr- ˈnɑːr-
    With however only -ɪtʃ in the sound files, but if the preference poll for "sandwich, S~" is anything to go by, a probable British preference for -ɪdʒ, though again regrettably with only -ɪtʃ in the sound files:
    ˈsæn wɪdʒ ˈsænd-, ˈsæm-, -wɪtʃ — Preference poll, British English: -wɪdʒ 53%, -wɪtʃ 47%.

  10. How is the exclamation 'Norwich!' usually pronounced, I wonder. Does it differ from the form used when referring to the place?

  11. "Ed: the BBC Pron Dict (1990) has ˈɡlɑs ˈhaʊtən, gláas hówtŏn."

    A publication like that really ought to give a form without the TRAP-BATH split.

  12. @ John Wells: Thank you very much for looking this up for me. I'm surprised by the stress markings.

    @ mallamb: I don't think that looking up "sandwich" is much use when it is considered that English has such an inconsistent orthography. I only became aware that ˈnɒrɪdʒ was a possible pronunciation a year ago. My parents met in that city and they both pronounce it as ˈnɒrɪtʃ, as does virtually everyone else I have ever met. Please do not call my comments "Delphic". We've had enough rudeness on this blog recently.

    @ JHJ: Graham Pointon has said on his blog that a short or broad vowel in BATH should be acceptable in place names. He must've been following the convention at the time. Interestingly has ˈkasl̩fəd as the primary recommendation for "Castleford" (kɑːsl̩fəd is also mentioned). I think that both versions should be considered to be within RP. There are a lot of southern migrants in this agree who pronounce "Castleford" this way even though they say "castle" as kɑːsl̩. It is usually pronounced as ˈkasl̩fəd on the news as well, but then it's usually only mentioned in the context of rugby league.

  13. P.S. forgot to mention above that Graham Pointon is the author of the BBC Pron Dict (1990).

  14. Ed, You can see from my last post that I looked up Norwich first, and that ˈnɒrɪdʒ is given as the first preference for it in LPD, but it would be surprising if that were an entry for which details of that preference were given in the form of a preference poll. I wouldn't expect looking up "sandwich" to be much use either, which is why I said "if the preference poll for "sandwich, S~" is anything to go by," but LPD does give the results of one, which I have copied.

    But the entry for Norwich alone does sort of vindicate my mystification at what you had written, which I thought might be inventively ambiguous or Delphic. I meant no offence and I'm sorry if you took any. I must learn to use smileys.

  15. @ mallamb: OK, I understand what you meant now and realise that you didn't mean to be rude :)

    I remembered the entry in LPD3 for "Norwich" at the time that I wrote my post @13:01, which is why I was writing that RP speakers in a location may pronounce the name in a different way from RP speakers elsewhere. I also remembered that "Greenwich" has the emboldened option with -ɪtʃ at the end. It seemed that, in each case, the form preferred in the locality had been emboldened, but I may be wrong on this.

  16. @Ed: The recorded announcements at Sheffield station (and presumably others) pronounce both "Newcastle" and "Doncaster" with TRAP, but otherwise use "RP" pronunciations for words such as "class" and "staff" (and "Glasgow").

    So I think there is a particularly strong case with Northern place names, but I think that both split and unsplit pronunciations for all BATH words should be included in any publication which claims to describe "British English".

  17. @ JHJ

    I don't know of any dictionaries which aim to describe 'British English'. That'd be biting off way more than anybody could chew. The real question is how long dictionaries (especially general, non-EFL, for the consumption of native Brits) can continue to present a south eastern model of pronunciation as the norm for the rest of (at least) England?

    As a Welshman, I'm a bit of an outsider, but I wonder what Northeners think of the southern bias in all things linguistic in England.

  18. @Paul Carley: that's essentially what I meant. Of course they're not going to be able to describe everything, but I think they should have a broader model. This particularly applies to BATH words, where the variation is not immediately predictable, and both alternatives are very widespread.

  19. @JHJ

    In that case, you are in luck. Clive Upton is the pronunciation editor for Oxford these days and includes the TRAP variant for BATH words in his transcriptions. Which has caused a bit of a storm, because he chooses to call this variety of pronunciation 'RP'...

  20. @ Paul Carley: Oxford Dictionaries are using Upton's transcriptions, but I thought that they still only gave the ɑː in BATH words. It's like that on the website and it's like that in my 1999 dictionary, which has ʌɪ in PRICE, a in TRAP, etc.

  21. @ED

    Upton's 'Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English' has both variants included and described as RP.

    LPD, of course, also has both variants, though the TRAP version is marked as not RP.

  22. Ed, thank you for understanding. I always value your contributions and this has proved most interesting. I'm glad we did pursue it. I only ever thought there was no point in doing so because I thought I must have misunderstood you. I did say "Ed's apparent implication that [ˈnɒrɪdʒ] was just local, and [ˈnɒrɪtʃ] the non-local norm" even after Lipman had explicitly contradicted that implication and I felt I had to throw in my two-pennorth of support and quote LPD3.

    So here too is counterevidence from LPD3 for your suspicion that the form preferred in the locality had been emboldened:

    Newcastle ˈnjuː ˌkɑːs ə l §ˈnuː-, §-ˌkæs-, §•ˈ•• ǁ ˈnuː ˌkæs ə l ˈnjuː- —In Tyne & Wear, locally njuː ˈkæs ə l ˌ Newcastle-(up)on- ˈ Tyne , locally New ˌ castle- ˌ Newcastle- ˌ under- ˈ Lyme
    Doncaster ˈdɒŋk əst ə ˈdɒŋ ˌkɑːst ə, -ˌkæst- ǁ ˈdɑːŋ ˌkæst ə r ˈdɑːn-, -kəst-
    Glasgow ˈɡlɑːz ɡəʊ ˈɡlæz-, ˈɡlɑːs-, ˈɡlæs-; ˈɡlɑːsk əʊ, ˈɡlæsk- ǁ ˈɡlæs ɡoʊ ˈɡlæz- — Preference poll, British English: z forms 85%, s forms 15%.

    I haven't bothered to put in the bolding in these copies of the entries, as it's always the first UK or US variant that's bolded.

    The joke about Glasgow is that it looks as if the first US variant would be the form preferred in the locality. It would be hilarious if the first UK variant were intended to be! Many years ago I watched a programme about Lord Reith's reign as DG of the BBC in which it was said that he never gave up fighting to expunge ˈɡlɑːz ɡəʊ from the airwaves.

    A stab at supplementing JHJ's examples with some more where a local pronunciation is made explicit:

    Burwash place in Sussex ˈbɜː wɒʃ ǁ ˈbɝː wɑːʃ —locally also ˈbʌr əʃ
    Althorp (i) ˈɔːl θɔːp ǁ -θɔːrp ˈɑːl- , (ii) ˈæl- —but the place in Northants is locally also ˈɔːltr əp , as is Viscount A~

    Though according I think to Graham Pointon the Spencers did give up on ˈɔːltr əp.

  23. @ mallamb: Yes, you are correct on this. The first three that you've mentioned do not give the local preference in bold text.

    I think that the local pronunciation of the village Haworth (as in the Bronte sisters) is ['hawəθ] rather than the ['haʊəθ] given in LPD3. However, I am aware that this is a surname as well as a village and there are many who say ['haʊəθ] for the surname.

  24. Paul Carley,
    Firefox Smartlink added a Wikipedia link to your mention of Clive Upton, and I risked apoplexy by following it. It doesn't give details of his system, which is what usually gives me apoplexy, but some dreadful rubbish about its alleged "qualitative-quantitative" presentation meaning "that short vowels are represented by a specific symbol, while long vowels are represented by the same symbol followed by the colon-like mark". It then gets worse and worse. Someone really ought to do something about it.

    As Ed said, Oxford Dictionaries are using Upton's transcriptions, and give only the ɑː in BATH words. Thus on the Oxford Dictionaries website he linked to we only see /bɑːθ/, with the plural baths /bɑːðz/ to rub it in, as with /pɑːθ/ noun (plural paths /pɑːðz/. Where there is free variance in RP the Uptonian a is given for the TRAP variant:/lɑːθ, laθ/, with the punctilious plurals /lɑːθs, lɑːðz, laθs/.

    However the similarly Uptonized OED has /bɑːθ/ /-æ-/, and æ hasn't been Uptonized to a, so what is it? It's still used for AmE, but AmE is supposed to be marked as in this entry: Brit. /pɑːθ/ , /paθ/ , U.S. /pæθ/. 'Bath' is treated no differently from 'lath': /lɑːθ/ /læθ/. These and /dɑːns/ /-æ-/ etc appear to be still as in the 1989 version, which gave the US versions without marking them as such. The Uptonization may yet fall by the wayside! But there are some improvements: 'rather' is now Brit. /ˈrɑːðə/, U.S. /ˈræðər/, whereas the 1989 version had ˈrɑːðə(r), which I think was meant to include US.

  25. Ed,
    «I think that the local pronunciation of the village Haworth (as in the Bronte sisters) is ['hawəθ] rather than the ['haʊəθ] given in LPD3. However, I am aware that this is a surname as well as a village and there are many who say ['haʊəθ] for the surname.»

    LPD3 as you will have seen has no indication of any difference between the village and the surname, and gives 'haʊəθ for the UK only, the transcription (which may not display properly here) allowing for smoothing and compressing:
    Haworth ˈha ʊ ‿əθ ˈhɔː- ǁ ˈhɔː w ə rθ ˈhɑː-
    The hɔː variants look like spelling pronunciations with and without linking w (I have only ever heard the 'haʊəθ version myself), and the hɑː variant, although given as US, is at least a well-formed one, the ɑː being in an open syllable. Could this be the local version? It's hard to imagine they could have short a in an open syllable even in Haworth, and I can't see how under normal circumstances 'hawəθ would be distinct from 'haʊəθ.

    Your only lists Haworth, Sir Walter Norman, for whom it goes the whole hog and amalgamates the two variants, thus abolishing this problem at a stroke: ˈhaʊwəθ.
    RH gives ˈhaʊəθ ˈhɔːwəθ for the village (with no obviously US pronunciation) and US hɑːwərθ, ˈhɔː-, UK ˈhɔːwəθ, ˈhaʊəθ for Sir W., based on that, has /ˈhɑ wərθ, ˈhɔ-/, but with the sound file [ˈhɑːˌwɝθ].
    AHD has hou'ərth, härth for both, the latter clearly reflecting the smoothing and compression which John allows for in LPD. has Haworth n. ['heɪwəʳθ] for NJ and OK place names. This is certainly a very mercurial name, but that looks odd even for a spelling pronunciation.

  26. @mallamb

    For the full apoplectic experience I recommend Upton's 'Maintaining the Standard' in 'Debating Dialect: Essays in the Philosophy of Dialect Study', ed. Robert Penhallurick. Here he expands on his boat-rocking choice of pronunciation model and symbols.

  27. Thanks for the laugh, Paul. I'll stick with that rather than follow up your recommendation for the full apoplectic experience.

  28. @mallamb: Could the OED entry simply reflect the conversion of Murray's original bɑþ?

  29. @Steve: yes, the difference between "bath" and "path" is that the latter has been updated (including Uptonisation, which I will provocatively describe as part of updating) to OED3 ("Third edition, June 2005"), and "bath" has not ("Second edition, 1989").

  30. Editions of the OED have allowed for a short vowel in BATH before this. See point 18 in this essay by Jack Windsor Lewis.

    @ mallamb: I agree that it can be difficult to distinguish between ['hawəθ] and ['haʊəθ]. The point of smoothing is interesting. I don't think that I've ever heard Haworth (the village) be pronounced with a monophthong, even though the local form for MOUTH in that area is [a:]. This suggests to me that it's ['hawəθ] locally, but it might just be pot luck that I've never heard smoothing in this particular name. I agree that the form with ɔː is probably a spelling pronunciation.

  31. This page on pronunciation in Wuthering Heights is interesting. It gives [ˈhæ.wɜ:θ] and [ˈhaʊ.ɜ:θ] for the village. I think that the second vowel is frequently shortened.

  32. Steve,
    No provocation, just a melancholy fact that the Uptonization is part of the updating. And for "provocatively" to be provocative to Upton himself I would have thought he would have had to be sufficiently provoked by the Wikipedia article about him I mentioned to correct its misrepresentations himself.

    I have had hardbacks with Murray's original bɑþ most of my life, and knew what the convention meant, but appear never to have realized that "the OED second edition of 1989 regularly added the ash symbol (æ) after such words in turning over the notation from Murray's set of symbols to one employing the International Phonetic Association's alphabet". Although this quote is from the JWL essay that Ed linked to above, which I recognize, having read practically everything on his site, it appears not to have impinged on my first impression that in the 1989 ed the æ was for US variants, to which I have confessed above. It seems I preferred to believe that it couldn't still be giving æ as an RP variant once ɑː had been established as the RP norm! Of course, on reinspection it doesn't seem to have got very far with providing US variants at all, or with marking them consistently when it did. (Even the present online version hasn't got all that far!)

    But my hardbacks also give the plurals bāðz, bāðz (but no plural for lɑþ), with ā defined as in "alms (āmz), bar (bāɹ)". Did you notice that? What do you make of it? It doesn't seem to be a usual manifestation of the Scottish vowel-length rule, but Murray must have thought it worth marking, and does so in an unambiguously defined way, unlike his bɑþ. But that doesn't after all seem to do the trick for English TRAP/BATH splitters, does it? And that convention for the plurals certainly hasn't been taken over into the 1989 ed IPA notation in any form.

    These are all respects in which Uptonization may yet fall by the wayside!

    «The point of smoothing is interesting. I don't think that I've ever heard Haworth (the village) be pronounced with a monophthong, even though the local form for MOUTH in that area is [a:]. This suggests to me that it's ['hawəθ] locally, but it might just be pot luck that I've never heard smoothing in this particular name.»

    Your page on pronunciation in Wuthering Heights is indeed interesting. It explicitly gives an unchecked syllable-final æ in [ˈhæ.wɜ:θ], describing it as in "hat", but a phonotactically sound syllable-final aʊ in [ˈhaʊ.ɜ:θ]. The latter is actually the more mysterious if the local form for MOUTH in that area is [a:]. What I now propose is that it is aː in closed syllables, and what is happening here is that it either reverts to aʊ before a vowel onset or has the linking w I proposed earlier. This may even be a case in which JW would not insist on having no truck with the idea of linking w. Since we are in square brackets I have no problem with representing that as [ˈhæ.wɜ:θ] or [ˈhaʊ.ɜ:θ] (or even the version ˈhaʊwəθ!) depending on the strength of this linking w. Or your ['hawəθ], or perhaps ['haːwəθ] if the aː is still felt to have the length appropriate to its role as the local form of MOUTH. And that might be what is reflected by ˈhɑːwᵊrθ, the second US variant in LPD3.

    I wonder if the author of your Wuthering Heights site is a Northern speaker himself. The fact that he gives both wʌ.ðə.rɪŋ and ˈwʊ.ðə.rɪŋ but only ˈθɾʌʃ.kɾɒs may be an oversight, but he says
    «Penistone "peni" as in "peninsula", "stone" as in "stun", stressed on first syllable ˈpen.ɪ.stən»
    and the strong e required in the example "peninsula" may suggest that he is, although John doesn’t slap a § on that variant, as he does with most Northernisms:
    peninsula pə ˈnɪn t s jʊl ə pɪ-, pe-, -ˈnɪn t ʃ ʊl ə ǁ - ə l ə peninsula|s z

    This may need to be seen in the context of the long ɜː in ˈhæ.wɜ:θ and

  33. By 'my hardbacks', I presume you mean editions of the SOED?

  34. @ mallamb: I'm not sure where the author is from. The transcription ˈheəɾ.tən for Hareton is strange. I don't know of any part of the country that would say it in that way. In the Haworth area, it would be said as ['hɛ:tn].

  35. Yes, Steve, you're absolutely right, and I regret to say that's all I consulted for that comment. I now find an interesting situation in the COD (1963 ed): bath n. is "bahth, pl pron. –dhz", but bath v. is "-ah- or –ă- in all parts". There's no such distinction in SOED, of course.
    hardbacks with Murray's original bɑþ most of my life,

    «The transcription ˈheəɾ.tən for Hareton is strange.»

    You're dead right it is! How extraordinary. I should have looked a bit further. And the way I've got this site set I can now see it's got a flapped ɾ! Same with ˈgɪm.əɾ.tən. For all the careful syllable marking it looks a bit like incompetence. Of course it's not a guide to pronouncing the names in the local accent, and there may have been some intention to allow for rhotic versions of the recommendations for appropriate pronunciations in whatever accent. Perhaps the ɾ was an attempt at doing a superscript or something.

  36. The transcription ˈheəɾ.tən for Hareton is strange.

    Reading əɾ as ɚ, it's exactly what I would say myself as a Yank using a spelling pronunciation. I don't trust that page one bit.


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