A son of one of my ancestors was born in Axbridge (Somerset) but later settled in the village of Llantwit Major in Glamorgan (Wales). According to Wells (2014), Llantwit Major is an English-speaking area and its name is actually English, though that name begins with the characteristic Welsh syllable llan-, meaning church.
Wells states that the Welsh name is Llaniltud Fawr. Illtud was a monk who reputedly set up a monastery in Llantwit Major in the 6th century. The -wit in the English form of the place name is from an early variant Illtwyd of the name, derived from an Irish genitive Illtuaith. Fawr is a form of the Welsh word Mawr, meaning great or big. It appears with an initial <F>, rather than <M> because it has undergone the regular process of ‘consonant mutation’ that occurs in particular grammatical positions in Welsh and other Celtic languages.
Wells reports that the name is pronounced as follows:
- English, Llantwit Major: ‘læntwit ‘meɪdʒə
- Welsh, Llaniltud Fawr: ɬa’nɪɬtɪd ‘vawr
Wells’s transcription is in the international Phonetic Alphabet, which may need some explanation:
- the apostrophe (‘) shows that the next syllable is stressed.
- the symbol æ is the vowel on standard southern British cat.
- the symbol a is the vowel in standard southern British far.
- the symbol ə is the neutral vowel (‘schwa’) that appears in many unstressed syllables in English.
- the symbol ɬ is the welsh sound spelled with a double <l>: a voiceless version of the sound spelled in English with a single <l>.
This post also appeared on my family history blog. I wrote there about Henry Escott (1801-1865) who settled in Llantwit Major at
Sections 1.46 Llantwit Major and 7.4 Welsh ll of Sounds Interesting: observations on English and General phonetics, J C Wells, 2014
The book’s author is Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at University College London. The book is a collection of over 200 short and very readable pieces for general readers, originally written as blog posts.