Welsh LL changing?

On phoneticist John Wells’ blog (he’s the man who invented the word rhotic, so he knows what he’s about) there’s an interesting article (scroll down to Friday 26th June, there are no permalinks) about this BBC Wales web page giving audio samples for some Welsh place names.

What he finds odd is that the Welsh speaker seems to use the wrong sound for the famous Welsh ”ll”. In technical terms, he uses a voiceless palatal fricative – a soft ch sound, a bit like in the German Ich or Licht – instead of the standard voiceless alveolar lateral fricative. It’s a completely different sound to me, made in a completely different way in the mouth, and yet – even odder – his Welsh-speaking correspondents claim to be able to hear no problem. On the BBC site, just try Benllech in Anglesey, Llanelli in Carmarthenshire, and Machynlleth in.. hell, you lot know where Mach is. It’s very odd.

He asks if there’s some kind of sound change going on in contemporary Welsh, and whether "speakers of Welsh will no longer be able to boast of having a really exotic sound in their consonant system. They’ll be no more able to lay claim to exclusivity than the Germans, and the use of the true alveolar lateral fricative will be left to Zulu and Xhosa."

(You can also check out the sounds on the Paul Meier IPA chart)

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