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Issue 30 - In a Word...

Whisky Magazine Issue 30
April 2003


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In a Word...

Just exactly how doyou pronounce the name of that whisky you're so keen on? Pip Hills guides you through some Gaelic, Scots and Nordic basics

For some years now, I have been getting a curious sort of phone call. It usually comes from overseas and it generally takes the same form. There is a few minutes' chat, and then we get around to the real purpose of the call: a whisky is mentioned and my caller will ask if he or she has got the pronunciation right.

Now, I'm pretty relaxed about such things, taking the view that as long as you can understand what someone is saying, it doesn't much matter how it sounds. But my caller invariably wants to know the correct way to pronounce the name.

There is no point in my saying that intelligibility is the only criterion of correct pronunciation. What the caller wants is the genuine, authentic way of pronouncing the name: the way it's pronounced in Scotland, and preferably by the folk who make the whisky.

And for some time now, my callers have been asking why I don't produce something which will tell folks how to pronounce those very difficult names.

It's not easy to tell people in writing how they should speak names unless you have a common standard of some kind. Such a standard does exist – it's called the International Phonetic Alphabet – but unless you have a technical interest in language and appropriate training, it won't be much use to you, for it uses a lot of esoteric symbols. The only simple and reliable course is to let people hear the name – a matter which I will come to in a little while. In the meantime, some background may be useful.

The great majority ...

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