A village on the island of Anglesey in North Wales is famous for having the longest place name in the British Isles. Reciting the full name was the favourite party trick of a boy who was in my class in the first year of secondary school.
Name and history
This is the name:
English spells this name with 58 letters. But unlike English, Welsh spelling treats the sequence <ll> as a single symbol (a digraph), not a sequence of two symbols. Because the word contains 5 instances of this sequence, the name contains only 53 letters in Welsh.
For more on the Welsh digraph <ll), please see https://languagemiscellany.com/2021/09/how-do-you-say-llantwit-major
For more on digraphs in English, please see https://languagemiscellany.com/2021/12/can-english-words-start-with
The historical name of the village was just Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll. Then in the 19th century, a local cobbler concocted the longer version as a marketing stunt to attract tourists. Naturally, locals don’t use the full name. They generally call the village Llanfairpwyll or Llanfair PG.
The full name means ‘St Mary’s Church in the hollow of white hazel near the rapid whirlpool and Church of St Tysilio by the red cave’.
The following table shows the 13 components of this monstrous name, grouped into 6 clusters.
|Llan fair||Church (of) Mary|
|pwll [gwyn gyll]||pool (of) [white hazel]|
|y chwyrn drobwll||the rapid whirlpool|
|llan dysilio||Church (of) (Saint) Tysilio|
|gogo goch||cave red|
Some of the components above exhibit what is known in Welsh and the other Celtic languages as ‘consonant mutation’: regular sound changes that affect the first consonant of a word when it follows particular types of word. For example, fair is a mutated form of Mair (‘Mary’) which is used when it forms the second part of a compound word, such as Llanfair (‘Church of Mary’).
Other mutated forms in this name are gyll (form of cyll), drobwll (form of trobwll), dysilio (from Tysilio) goch (form of coch). For more on consonant mutation in the Celtic lagagues, please see https://languagemiscellany.com/2022/01/consonant-mutation-in-manx.
David Crystal’s book By Hook or by Crook: a journey in search of English (2007).
The book is an engaging travelogue, blending personal reflection, historical allusions and traveller observations. Crystal is a retired academic linguist, who has written dozens of books on many different aspects of language. He was brought up on Anglesey and moved back there after his retirement.