Friday, December 17, 2010

Answer: How to find out how to pronounce Llewellyn

As I mentioned, this isn't an especially difficult search challenge, but that's okay because it teaches us something about what's out there on the web... to wit, that there are large repositories of recorded sound that are sometimes a bit difficult to unearth, but often delightful to explore.   
One of my favorite sites for recorded language is, which has a large collection of less-common languages (such as Micmac, Zulu and Venetian) as well as fairly large collection of words and phrases in more populated languages (Chinese, Arabic, Pastho, Khmer, etc.).  
Another fun site for language listening is  where you can hear author Frank McCourt pronounce (and explain) names like Siobhan ("shi-van"), a name I've stumbled over many times in my reading.  
But back to Llewellyn.  
The obvious first search:
gives a number of hits from which you quickly learn that Llewellyn is Welsh, and originally of Celtic origin. Old forms of the name include Lugobelinos (Celtic) and Lugubelenus (Old English).  Several kings and princes had the name, such as Welsh ruler Llywelyn the Great (1173-1240), and by a number of Welsh poets.
Other variations include the Anglicized name Fluellen, the Welsh Leolin, Llanberis, Llanelli and Lloyd.  Short forms include Llew (Welsh), Lyn (Welsh), and Lynn (English and Welsh), and the familiar form Llelo (Welsh). 
You can also quickly figure out that the key problem of the name is the initial double-L.  It's an “aspirated L," which is a phoneme exclusive to Welsh.  It's pronounced as an aspirated 'L' which is in practice formed by saying the sound "L" while also making a hard th and a hissing sound. 
Which is why you really want to listen to someone saying the name, rather than trying to figure it out from a pronunciation guide.  I don't know about you, but I can't imagine what "L" + "th" + "hiss" should really sound like.  
My next query was intended to look for the category of names (rather than just the single name Llewellyn) and also look for pages that would have recordings on them.  
What's the most common way of describing pages with sound bites?  I'm willing to bet they ALL say something like "hear these names spoken aloud" (or equivalent language).  So I chose to use the term 'hear' and the category 'Welsh names' as in this query:  
This query has a great first result:  The BBC site Living In Wales with a marvelous section on how to pronounce Welsh names.    
One small final step.  When I first went to the LivingInWales site, I saw the name pronunciation page in this form:  

What surprised me was that when I clicked on the "L" section, I didn't see Llewellyn.  That was a bit odd, so I went back and looked carefully and found that there's actually an "LL" button in the second row.  Ah ha!  In Welsh, the double-L is a distinct character (just as "LL" is a separate letter in Spanish words like "llamar").  
Once you click through the "LL" tab, you'll quickly land on the Llewellyn pronunciation page, and now you'll learn how to say Llewellyn with an aspirated L, or at least an approximation thereof!  

There are two search lessons here: 
(1) sometimes it's good to look for the category rather than the instance (that is, [ Welsh names ] instead of [ Llewellyn ]) 
(2) add in a word that's a context word that's very likely to be on the kind of page you're looking for.  In this case, it's "hear"  (and not MP3 because the audio clips might come in any of a variety of formats).  

In yesterday's comments, Hans points to the page, which has a nice "standard English" vs. "Welsh" pronunciation side-by-side.   As Hans' solution points out, there are multiple ways to find a good answer to the original question.  

Keep searching!  

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