or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Reference Question of the Week – 4/10/11

   April 16th, 2011 Brian Herzog

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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Reference Question of the Week – 4/3/11

   April 9th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Welcome to Qatar signThis was one of those questions that everyone kind of wants to ask, but no one does because it's a little embarrassing. So when the question does arise, everyone within earshot listens.

At the desk one day, the topic of how to pronounce the name of the country Qatar came up. No one knew for sure, we'd all heard multiple pronunciations, and the more we talked about it, the more people got involved.

If you search online, there are lots of pronunciation suggestions - most of which are different. Oddly, the State Department's Qatar page doesn't have a pronunciation guide, neither does the Qatar Embassy or Qatar Tourism websites - but the CIA World Factbook does (under the Government section).

Probably the most helpful thing are the audio pronunciation guides, which I found at Wikipedia, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and NPR (although the radio transcript itself is just humorous). Also, I found an interesting video breakdown of the parts of the word itself - I don't speak Arabic, so I don't know if this guy is right, but it seems like he's as right as the rest of these sources:

Of course, that means that Freddie Washington's pronunciation might also be the best guide:



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