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Reference Question of the Week – 4/10/11

   April 16th, 2011

Bryn TerfelThis question is actually similar to last week's Qatar question, but with a new resource.

A patron calls in and says needs to know how to pronounce the name of one of his favorite singers. He spells is out B-r-i-n-t-e-r-f-l, a name which didn't sound at all familiar to me. I search for that and get no results, but Google recommends "bryn terfel."

The first result for that search goes to Wikipedia, but I'm disappointed when I get there, because the Bryn Terfel article doesn't have a pronunciation audio clip.

It does give a pronunciation note of (Welsh pronunciation: [ˈbrɨn ˈtɛrvɛl]), which, on the surface, was not at all helpful. But, by linking to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) pronunciation guide, I can kind of sound out the unfamiliar characters:

IPA Examples English equivalents
ɨ̞ gwyn, punt pin
ɛ perth well

While I was sounding this out, and the patron was trying out various pronunciations (Brinn, Brine, Brian, Brianne, Bran, Brawn - I think he could have gone on for hours). After a bit of back and forth, we thought we had the first name down, but were still unsure about the second name.

I tried to find another authoritative source that gave pronunciations, but really couldn't. For pop culture questions, sometimes the best answer comes from polling the wisdom of the crowd - and there were lots of search matches for how to pronounce bryn terfel.

The most helpful website was http://www.pronunciationguide.info/thebiglist.html which is a long list of names, phonetic spellings, and an audio clip of the pronunciations. It sounded more or less like what I expected after reading the other websites, and I played it for the patron by holding the phone up to the computer's speakers.

What will the internet think of next?

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4 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 4/10/11”

  1. Nancy Says:

    I live in an area with placenames like Bryn Mawr (Brin(short i) and like Mahr), Bala Cynwyd (Kinwid, short i), Llanerch (lanark) and Tredyffrin (tread-if-rin). I once had a telemarketer try to pronounce Bala Cywyd as Bala sinnyweed. Yes, there were lots of Welsh in the area at the beginning.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Nancy: I grew up in the Midwest, and now live in New England, both of which use a lot of Indian words for place names. I managed to get a handle on those (for the most part), but I think I would always struggle with Welsh. In fact, many Massachusetts place names are bad enough – Haverhill, Reading, Worcester, Quincy. Even “Chelmsford” is pronounced “Chems-fud” by locals (and sometimes “Klems-ford” by sales reps who call on me).

  3. Gretchen Says:

    It wouldn’t have been helpful for this particular patron, but one of my favorite pronunciation tools is TeachingBooks.net’s Author Name Pronunciation Guide, which has recordings of authors and illustrators pronouncing their own names–so you know it’s right. Super-helpful!

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Gretchen: thanks for the link – that website is great. Not only do the authors pronounce their names, but also explains, in some cases, the origins of their name – very interesting. Some of my favorites from just clicking around are Robert Quackenbush and Lee Harper, but also I learned that I was pronouncing An Na and Brian Jacques incorrectly.