/kɑːɨr gʊrlɛ/ vs /kai gɜlī:/


Around 10 years ago I visited Theatr Clwyd in Mold for a Welsh-language drama called ‘Mae Gynnon ni Hawl ar y Sêr‘ – We Have a Right to the Stars.
The play was set as a sequel to the Oscar-nominated film Hedd Wyn, with the film’s main actor, Huw Garmon, this time playing the rôle of a Russian soldier in this particular play.
After the show, we went round to the bar area of the theatre where we were joined by the actors. It was a genuine pleasure to meet the talented cast – none more so than Garmon himself as Hedd Wyn remains one of my favourite films.
He congratulated us on learning Welsh and asked about where we lived and about our interests. The conversation reached hometowns and Garmon explained he had lived in Clwyd himself and that his name was a popular one within the history of the area. A friend of mine mentioned he lived in Caergwrle and the following exchange that took place between him and Garmon will remain with me forever:

“And from where are you?” asked Garmon.
“Caergwrle” [pronouncing it with a standard Welsh pronunciation] my friend replied.
‘I know it,” boasted Garmon. With a small smirk materialising in his face he asked; “How do they say that round there?”
“Ky-gerrlee” answered my friend.
“Ah yes [relatively long and humorous pause], Ky-gerrlee,” he grinned.

It was most definitely one of those you-had-to-be-there moments but it didn’t half make me chuckle.

It seems the fact that Caergwrle’s place-name being pronounced ‘incorrectly’ is almost as famous as the village itself – if not more so!
Informing Welsh-speakers from Western and Southern parts of Wales about our peculiar pronunciation of the village has been the topic of many a giggle throughout my time in university and beyond. I seem to remember my uncle calling it Coogly-Woogly once to make me laugh as a child.

As funny as it is to pronounce Caergwrle the way we do, it sometimes epitomises for me the fact that the Welsh language is neither strong nor, due to the apparent lack of effort by locals to pronounce ONE PLACE-NAME correctly, not too well valued either. I felt ashamed in many ways to pronounce it as the rest of the locals do.
In my final year in the university (when not laughing at the pronunciation of the village formerly known as Queen’s Hope) I completed my dissertation on the dialect of North Eastern Welsh. My findings interest me to this day and I continue to post new and existing findings to my specialised Twitter account, @TermSirFflint.
Since completing more and more research around the dialect in recent years I’ve come to some interesting conclusions. Conclusions which not only put to bed my previous shame and embarrassment to pronounce Caergwrle the way I (and the rest of us locals) do, but in fact instil me with an element of local pride.
I now wish to explain why Ky-gerrlee is, at least for us in the North East, the correct way of pronouncing Caergwrle.

SW = Standard Welsh
CW = Clwyd Welsh
Eng = English

Meaning ‘fort(ress),’ Caer appears in many place-names around Wales as well as in English and Welsh versions of place-names all around the British isles.
SW would have it said along the lines of /kɑːɨr/ with a trilled or rolled r-sound to finish.
It is, however, common along all of Offa’s Dyke as well as the Northern coast to pronounce it quickly [compare Caernarfon>C’narfon and Caerdydd>C’dydd].
With the additional fact that CW does not tend to trill its r-sounds, we are left with /ka/ or /kai/.

With g always as a voiced velar stop in all dialects of Welsh (aside from at times in Gwent), we move onto the w-sound.
In SW we expect what’s known as a near-close near-back rounded vowel <ʊ> – commonly heard in words in such as cwm (valley) and amlwg (obvious). With the addition of the SW trilled r-sound we can expect most Welsh speakers to say this part as /gʊr/. However in CW, the rounded vowel becomes unrounded to form a sound much like the i-sound in girl. IPA has it as a mid central unrounded vowel <ɜ> (or a long schwa sound) and it is common place in much of CW.
As aforementioned, the trilled r is dampened to a near-silence in CW and we are left with /gɜ/.

The suffix -le in Welsh often derives from the word lle meaning simply ‘a place’. SW (and CW when referring to lle as an independent word) will have this said as /lɛ; ɬɛ/ – sounding similar to the mono-syllabic pronunciation of the English word lair.
When said as part of a place-name, however, CW gets rather interesting here. I’ve noticed that many of the place-names of Clwyd (in English or in Welsh) that end similarly to Caergwrle all include a peculiar sound. It seems, for some reason, that where SW would say /lɛ/, CW says /lī/ with a lengthened final vowel much like the name Lee. Compare the following;

  • Abergele (SW: /abɛrgɛlɛ/ & CW: /abəgɛlī/)
  • Bistre (SW: /bɪstrɛ/ & CW: /bɪstrī/)
  • Buckley (SW: /bu:klɛ/ & CW: /bʊklī/)
  • Bradley (SW: /bradlɛ/ & CW: /bradlī/)
  • Froncysyllte (SW: /vrɔn kəsəɬtɛ/ & CW: /vrɔn kəsəɬtī/)
  • Wrddymbre (SW: /wərðəmvrɛ/ & CW: /wɛðəmbrī/

NB: The plural suffix -au is pronounced as -e in CW which gives rise also the CW pronunciation of places such as Ponciau (Ponky) and Dolgellau (Dolgelley).

I have no doubt that much of the unique and peculiar sounds of the Welsh language in North East Wales derive from sounds common to the North West of England but dialects and languages being effected by others is normal and is a healthy thing to happen.
On another note, could it not be possible that the Welsh language spoken in the North of England and South of Scotland (prior to Roman and Anglo-Saxon invasion) never had some of the sounds now common in the Welsh that we today agree to be ‘standard’? Is it perceivable that the reason North-East Welsh does not trill its r-sounds and does not round its vowels is because the Welsh of the North of England (and North-East Wales) has always been as such?

We may or may not have a right to the stars but we do have a right to pronounce our place-names how we see fit. I live in Hope that everyone will one day accept all of Caergwrle’s pronunciations – no matter their differences.



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