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TV presenter takes swipe at Daily Express story about Welsh placename

01 Sep 2023 3 minute read
BBC Wales presenter Jennifer Jones and the offending headline

A Welsh television presenter has hit out at a national newspaper’s story about a placename in Wales.

BBC Wales journalist Jennifer Jones took aim at the Daily Express after it published a story with the headline ‘The UK town without a single vowel that’s probably Britain’s hardest place to pronounce’.

The Wales Today presenter was one of many who took to Twitter to take issue with the quality of the journalism in the story about Ynysybwl, in Rhondda Cynon Taf – and also to point out that the village actually has four vowels.

She wrote: “Tired. Of. This. Ynysybwl has 4 vowels. If you’d bothered to check – Y and W are vowels in Welsh. And it’s a Welsh place-name. Diog iawn.” (‘Diog iawn’ translates as very lazy)

Hilariously in the Express article, supposedly about the hardest places to pronounce in the UK, a language tutor advises how to pronounce Ynysybwl and gets it badly wrong.

The paper writes: ‘Ynysybwl is a village in Cwm Clydach in Wales. An-is-abull is the correct way to pronounce it.’

It isn’t.

Sadly, it’s not the first time Ynysybwl has been included in such a list.

Back in 2021 it was one of several places in Wales included in a travel guide listicle of “Unpronounceable Welsh Town Names”.

In Your Pocket, which produces city guides, suggested that the Welsh language town names “might give you some problems”.

It also claimed that the “Celtic tongue is known for its absolute disregard for vowels”, despite it having more of them than the English language.

The listicle received a fierce backlash on social media and was panned as “ignorant”, as well as “utterly dreadful” and “disgraceful”.

The article said: “The Welsh language is a struggle, to say the least. The Celtic tongue is known for its absolute disregard for vowels, meaning some words can look completely unintelligible to the uninformed.

“We’ve collected a handful of town names that might give you some problems, to say the least.”

MyLondon website / Aberystwyth (Credit: Jeremy Segrott (CC BY 2.0)

Back in April of this year London news website My London ran a story with a headline that caused an angry reaction from people in Wales.

The website faced a backlash after titling a travel story with the following headline: ‘The underrated seaside town that’s almost impossible to spell correctly but named one of UK’s best and worth the long drive from London.’

The seaside town in question is Aberystwyth and as many people were quick to point out about the ridiculous and ignorant headline, it’s not that difficult to spell.

Has nobody ever heard of Google?!


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John Davies
John Davies
7 months ago

It is not that our place names are difficult to pronounce. It is that they are difficult for the Saes to pronounce. That is not quite the same thing. Possibly as a hangover from Empire, they are often willfully “incapable” of getting by in any language except their own.

My own personal favourite place name? Eglwyswrw

Paul Tarrant
Paul Tarrant
7 months ago
Reply to  John Davies

Mwnt mate Mwnt!

hdavies15
hdavies15
7 months ago

Express ? Is it read by anyone these days? Just another thing that bulks up a few people’s recycling bag every week.

Gisella
Gisella
7 months ago

I heard this sort of complaint often, and as a non first language English speaker I’ll have to ask this question, sooner or later: if in English “w” is pronounced like “oo” (e.g. wall, will, Winchester) and “y” like “ee” (e.g. windy, speedy)…what’s all the fuss about? They may not know how to pronounce all “y” sounds in Welsh perfectly (like people of the world don’t know how a vowel is pronounced in English unless we’ve heard it before, since it’s always different…e.g. Plymouth like play-mouth or plee-mouth? I don’t know). But sure can’t complain about lack of vowels! What… Read more »

Gareth
Gareth
7 months ago
Reply to  Gisella

I just wonder whether these idiots who complain about “unpronounceable” Welsh names have the same problem when they visit other parts of Europe- or is it just another swipe at Wales and the Welsh. They really should just get out more. Welsh is a Celtic language totally different to English. What’s so difficult to understand about that. If they can’t pronounce them ask someone who can!

Grainger
Grainger
7 months ago
Reply to  Gareth

I’ve travelled in places like Thailand, Greece, Morocco etc that use a different alphabet, so an English speaker wouldn’t have a clue how to pronounce any place names unless they spend a little time on them before they travel there. Anyone who isn’t prepared to take an interest in the culture of a place should probably spend their holidays at home reading their Daily Express.

Evan Aled Bayton
Evan Aled Bayton
7 months ago

I can think of plenty of Gaelic and Polish place names which seem impossible until you do the right thing and ask a native speaker how to pronounce them. The underlying attitude reminds me of the American politician who thought that the Bible was written in English originally.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
7 months ago

Was that the same American who asked why did the Queen have Windsor Castle built so near to a busy airport?

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
7 months ago
Reply to  Fi yn unig

Or why Conwy castle was built so close to a railway.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
7 months ago

The tragedy of this is that so many people do not possess the necessary human traits of shame and humility to spare them from making a total idiotic and pathetic show of themselves in public. The spaces left by the absence of these traits are filled instead with ignorance and disdain. Wales does not have any awkward unpronounceable words or place names nor does any country on the planet. It just takes respect and the will to find out. It’s ok if you can’t be bothered or don’t care but it is certainly not remotely acceptable to disparage the language… Read more »

Howard Edwards
Howard Edwards
7 months ago
Reply to  Fi yn unig

Quite. When you hear (too often, actually) someone uttering the word ‘unpronounceable’, you know that it’s their pathetic attempt to cover up their own linguistic ignorance and colonialism.

J Thomas
J Thomas
7 months ago

Nymph, fly, gyspsy. Even the English use ‘y’ as a vowel. Don’t suppose they have issues with that.

Tom Parsons
Tom Parsons
7 months ago
Reply to  J Thomas

Don’t forget rhythm

Richard Buck
Richard Buck
7 months ago
Reply to  Tom Parsons

By, my, try, sly.
And syzygy, of course.
Diolch byth bod ni ddim i gyd mor dwp yma yn Lloegr.

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
7 months ago
Reply to  J Thomas

Well the English rule when it comes to vowels is ‘a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y’

Grainger
Grainger
7 months ago
Reply to  J Thomas

Foreigners who’ve studied English have told me that learning the spelling is a nightmare compared to any other language.

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
7 months ago
Reply to  Grainger

English has its roots in the chaffering pidgin of the horse-trade, when settlers from overseas stopped warring to strike bargains. It is a language very adaptable especially to commerce and possesses a rich and various word-hoard. A magpie language, prone to filch any coinage! A common language, but however ill-spoken still understandable. Written English is a thing of shreds and patches. Still, this English motley has served writers well, however low its origins. A pity they gave it upstart airs to insult Cymraeg, the Senior tongue of Britain and despise us Cymru. Ond mae pob gair o’r Gymraeg yn cofio… Read more »

Ap Kenneth
7 months ago

Before the age of GPS when I was still in school, I had to direct a truck driver to Ynysybwl. The poor bloke had spent half an hour driving out of Cardiff and was heading down Port Rd in Barry towards the airport and Aberthaw. It took sometime to work out where he wanted to go!

Null
Null
7 months ago

I admit that before I started learning Welsh, I was somewhat overwhelmed by trying to say Pwllheli (there was a reason it kept coming up in conversation). However, I kept asking Welsh speakers how they said it and did my best to copy them. Obviously, once I learned the Welsh alphabet and became confident about sounding out the Ll, the problem vanished.

Frank
Frank
7 months ago
Reply to  Null

Good for you. Thank you for your courtesy and respect.

hdavies15
hdavies15
7 months ago
Reply to  Null

I’m not a very sympathetic bloke so very early on in my working life I came across a bombastic English manager who had difficulty with the “Ll” and “Rh” that crop up in Welsh place names. I tried to get him to crack the problem but he kept “llliping” and “llliding” his pathetic way and was becoming increasingly offensive about our language. Ended up advising him that he should see about his llpeech impediment as it was likely to damage his career prospects!

Howard Edwards
Howard Edwards
7 months ago
Reply to  Null

Yes. That’s spot on. Language learners need to copy the speech (including pronunciation) of the colloquial speakers. How would the Daily Express et al react to hearing some African Languages that use clicks? As a speaker of Cymraeg, I would find it initially difficult to learn some of those words that include clicks, but with practice, I’m sure that I could get it right. No word in any language is inherently ‘unpronounceable’. To call a genuine word ‘unpronounceable’ is utterly stupid. If it was ‘unpronounceable’, it would never have evolved in the first place. It’s a person’s attempt at covering… Read more »

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
7 months ago

Common or garden boorishness is unfortunately an all-too-common human trait. However, it is essential that such ill-educated and wilfully ignorant attitudes should never be permitted on any public platform. Cultural standards are crucial for the maintenance of a civil – and civilised – ethos in society. Such behaviour in the public arena – the Daily Express in this instance – is tantamount to vandalism. It is as if the wretched hack had scrawled offensive graffiti across our treasured cultural heritage. It is also a kind of libel against a small and inoffensive nation. Such humourless derision is a deliberately hurtful… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
7 months ago
Reply to  Philip Davies

As far as your argument goes, fair enough, but it’s a tad undermined in that those who write for the Daily Express, and other ‘newspapers’ of that ilk are already degrading the profession of journalism.

Probably the best thing for us to do would be to totally ignore stories like this. They are not going to change their tune any time soon, and the kind of people who are of into that kind of story are likely to be those who really don’t like being ignored. It’s probably best to remain untriggered.

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
7 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

‘Remain untriggered’? I never just ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ Padi. I always think first. That’s why I did, in fact, say that we should probably just decide that ‘our best remedy is quiet contempt and a dignified silence’. Nor is my comment ‘undermined’ any more than yours is by a recognition that one’s criticism of the bigoted excesses of anti-Welsh tabloids are, regrettably, unlikely to be sanctioned. You argue for exactly the view and stance I argued for, so why make the effort to damn me with faint praise? We’re surely not in a competition here for greatest… Read more »

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
7 months ago
Reply to  Philip Davies

[I expressed myself poorly – Editing hardly tolerated on this Forum – and meant to say: ‘‘Nor is my criticism ‘undermined’ any more than yours is by a recognition that the bigoted excesses of anti-Welsh tabloids are nevertheless unlikely to be sanctioned’]

Frank
Frank
7 months ago

Because of the lazy Saes’ inability to speak other languages around the globe the first words that comes out of their gobs are: “Do you speak English?” usually in a very patronising tone. If more people said “No” or shrugged their shoulders, even if they can, perhaps it would encourage the Saes to learn other languages to be courteous to other nations. Other countries have made it too easy for them by politely learning Saesneg. Make it bloody difficult for ’em!!!

P Reed
P Reed
7 months ago
Reply to  Frank

Every Welsh person who travels abroad would have to ask the very same question “ do you speak English”, don’t think there would much hope of a reply if they asked in Welsh.

Frank
Frank
7 months ago
Reply to  P Reed

The difference being the Saes expects foreigners to speak Saesneg. the Cymry don’t.

Self I C E
Self I C E
7 months ago
Reply to  Frank

Just as well

P Reed
P Reed
7 months ago
Reply to  Frank

You’ve got one helluva complex about English people. I’m pleased a large percentage of the world speak or are learning English, it’s the language all European countries need their folk to have as their second tongue, the fact they teach it in their schools speaks for its self.
PS: by the way I’m Welsh born and bread but can’t go along with the “anti anything English” feelings held by a lot of contributors on here.

Owain Morgan
Owain Morgan
7 months ago
Reply to  Frank

I’ve heard of a number of cases of English people just throwing their toys out of the pram, so to speak, when faced with locals that don’t speak English. If not these exact words then ones very much like them are used “How can you not speak English!? It’s the most spoken language in the world. You’re supposed to speak English!! We built the world. Speak English!!!”

Self I C E
Self I C E
7 months ago
Reply to  Owain Morgan

You’ve got one helluva complex about English people

The original mark
The original mark
7 months ago
Reply to  Frank

I’m quite sure most countries had little choice about speaking english, I doubt politeness had anything to do with it.

Steve Woods
Steve Woods
7 months ago

A linguist writes: Welsh spelling is far more consistent and logical than the system of orthography east of Offa’s Dyke.

McSaes
McSaes
7 months ago

As an English man who has lived most of my 50+ years in Wales, I can honestly say my pronunciation of Welsh place names is far better than most of my Welsh mates’.
It’s also amusing to read the comments that suggest the commenters consider themselves far more open-minded and accepting than the ‘dreaded’ English, yet the comments, themselves, show the opposite is true.
Also, do remember, the Express is written by and for idiots.

Owain Morgan
Owain Morgan
7 months ago

The problem isn’t the Daily ‘Excess’ o’r even the English themselves, it’s Monoglots. That obscure group of people who aren’t just Monolingual, they’re incapable of taking account of any other language. Does someone want to point out to the Monoglot that wrote this article the English word Rhythms? A seven letter word in their language without any of the five recognised vowels in English. Or maybe the phenomenon in English of place names that include multiple vowels, but you’re only supposed pronounce one or two e.g. Leicester, Gloucester and Bicester. How about those odd place names where the vowel or… Read more »

Owain Morgan
Owain Morgan
7 months ago

I can still remember standing on Gelliwastad road in Pontypridd when a man in a comfortable pulled up and asked in a very thick cockney accent “Is this Bontpride?” I had no idea what he was on about and asked what he meant. He proceeded to, with attitude, point to Pontypridd on a map. I explained to him how the place name was pronounced, but he turned away to drive off and then said in the rudest possible way” Same fing innit!!” I was to say the least angry and upset. His sense of ignorance and entitlement was palpable 😠😡

Philip Davies
Philip Davies
7 months ago
Reply to  Owain Morgan

Unfortunately, it is impossible to legislate for the terminally and aggressively thick.

Christine housley
Christine housley
7 months ago
Reply to  Owain Morgan

Explain please. What’s a comfortable?

Frank
Frank
7 months ago

I don’t know if this story is true or not but allegedly back in the 1960s a long distance lorry driver stopped to ask a Llanelli pedestrian for directions to Dafen. Unfortunately, because of the Sais driver’s mispronunciation, the pedestrian said that he was miles and miles off course and directed him back to the then newly built Pont Hafren and towards Devon. I often wonder if the pedestrian did it out of devilment. Another driver “allegedly” asked his way to Barry Port and was directed to Burry Port.

Windy
Windy
7 months ago

Quite a while ago a dj on the bbc pronounced Ystrad Mynach as
Why Strad mine arch

Marianne Hancock
Marianne Hancock
7 months ago

Oh no! Shades of that nauseating bigot, Rod Liddle! You only have to have a single Welsh lesson to know that Welsh has more vowels than English, as Rodolfo from Brazil has demonstrated scientifically.

We could do with citizenship classes in UK schools to dispel shocking drivel of this kind. BTW, when I wrote to the editor of the Express to complain about the paper’s bigotry, on an entirely unrelated issue, I received an extremely disingenuous and condescending reply.

There’s no point in taking the paper to task. Just don’t buy it.Almost unbelievably, it’s even worse than the Mail.

Pete
Pete
7 months ago

Most English folk I’ve met don’t understand that ‘y’ can be a vowel in English too – depending on it’s usage – and this was written by a journalist?

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
7 months ago
Reply to  Pete

Hardly anyone is taught grammar in the UK, which is why there is so much ignorance about language. Also, the standard of written English has deteriorated, even amongst some so called serious journalists you will see grammatical and contextual errors, things like ‘less clothes’ instead of fewer clothes, and ‘train station’ rather than railway station (though this is strictly speaking an Americanism) – there are plenty more.

karl
karl
7 months ago

When did the Bwl move to Cwm Clydach then. The apparent paper that defends Britian, again fails basic journalism. While not defending a part of Britian or a language that has more origins in Britian than the mixed language of English. But the SS express only exists to try and be the hate mail.

Riki
Riki
7 months ago

These incidents aren’t accidents, or born out of ignorance. They know full well what they are doing, it’s all designed to ground down the resolve of the British by ridiculing their native and ancient language. All in the hopes that the next generation will fully abandon it.

Howard Edwards
Howard Edwards
7 months ago

Typical of the attitude of most of the fish-and-chip – wrapping newspapers to the east of Clawdd Offa. Linguistic colonialism at its worst. Most of those who purchase those ignorant right-wing so-called ‘newspapers’ need to learn to speak and spell their own language properly before they take ill-informed pot-shots at other languages.

Windy
Windy
7 months ago

It’s about time street names on new build site were Welsh I’m fed up of seeing names like foxes hole and badgers bottom on sites to make new tenants think they are buying into a country lifestyle

Frank
Frank
7 months ago

The Saes moved into Britain over a thousand years ago and they still haven’t got a clue of how to pronounce Welsh or Scottish words. One would think they could at least by now be able to say a few words. I do remember being told that a Saes grocer in Carmarthen greeted customers by saying “cnycha bant” (eff off in English) to them because he wanted to impress. Unfortunately for him, some comic Cymro had told him that it was the equivalent to “hello”.

Phill H
Phill H
7 months ago

Any place with Cwm in it….:D

E Wellington
E Wellington
7 months ago

Is it really that much of a big deal that English people are ignorant? It’s not a shock that English tabloids use our language’s intelligibility with English for clicks.

Peter Nicholls
Peter Nicholls
7 months ago

Learning Welsh here from England. I thought I needed to learn the indigenous language of our countries! Words are only unpronounceable if you’re a tone deaf monoglot idiot. Urgh

Dave
Dave
7 months ago

It’s also where the Ark of the Covenant is hidden. Bet they missed that too.

Gwynfryn Evans
Gwynfryn Evans
6 months ago

Just spotted this. I have lived in London for many years and I have, a number of times, been asked by (obviously blind) hospital staff, when about to undergo an X-Ray, whether I might be pregnant.
The English, and Londoners in particular, are extremely lazy with regard to ‘foreign’ languages. With regard to our own language, I believe they are secretly jealous that people who share the same island speak another language, even when many of them are hardly able to speak their own.
Let them attempt Ffwrwm Ishta!

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