How to pronounce the name of Iceland’s latest volcano

'Katla' is a doddle to pronounce - once you know.

'Katla' is a doddle to pronounce - once you know. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Rax

News reports have been flying around over the past 24 hours of increased seismic activity near the South Iceland volcano of Katla.

Newsreaders across the globe are heaving a sigh of relief in advance that, when Katla erupts, they won’t have to torture their tongue with the likes of Grímsvötn, Bárðarbunga or – eek! – Eyjafjallajökull.

‘At least we can all pronounce Katla!’ seems to be the optimistic buzz on social media at the moment. But can you really?

MORE: When will she blow? Iceland’s vicious Katla volcano rumbles

The spelling of Katla seems terribly simple, but it does hide a pronunciation trap which will immediately mark you out as a clueless foreigner if you miss it.

The word involves a linguistic feature known as pre-aspiration, in this case affecting the consonant group ‘tl’. In simple terms, an ‘h’ sound should be inserted before the ‘tl’ – it’s not [kat-la], but [kaHt-la].

Don't just take your camera when you visit Strokkur - ...

Don't just take your camera when you visit Strokkur - take your knowledge of pre-aspiration, too! Photo: Morgunblaðið/Ómar

This intrusive pre-aspirate [h] is a major feature of the Icelandic language and can cause problems as is not represented by a written letter. It occurs before or as part of various different consonant clusters.

MORE: 5 things you need to know about ‘Icelish’

Another example would be the other famous South Iceland volcano, Hekla. The name is not pronounced [hek-la], but [heHk-la]

Also note that ‘kk’ also involves pre-aspiration. Many, many visitors to Iceland visit the erupting Strokkur hot spring at Geysir. But how many know it is pronounced with an extra ‘h’ sound, i.e. [stroH-kur]?

So as our eyes remain squarely fixed on Katla, don’t be an amateur – wow your friends in Iceland and abroad with your perfect pronunciation [kaHt-la], and leave your Eyjafjallajökull nightmares behind!

MORE: 5 tips for learning Icelandic

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