How The Heck Do You Pronounce Yby Ya’u?

Places with strange, hard-to-pronounce names are intriguing.


Welcome to, um… Yee-by-yy… uh, Wy-bee-yaoww… oh, forget it.





A location seems more exotic when you go to say its name and your tongue doesn’t know what to do. You feel more curious about going there; and more adventurous for having gone.

What sort of adventure awaits in Joyabaj, for example? Or in Ischigualasto? Or Yby Ya’u?



Unpretentious and unpronounceable, Yby Ya’u sits in a hot, wet, green patch in Paraguay’s Concepción Department. It straddles the T-intersection of Highway 3 (from Asunción) and Highway 5 (to Brazil) making it a stopover for truckers, transients, and travelling cyclists (though rarely, this last group, I suspect).


Cerro Memby.

When I say, Yby Ya’u (or, try to say it), I’m really talking about the area in which it is located. The town itself is a forgettable mud-street settlement of dumpy concrete-block buildings and – although I never had any trouble when I was there – a history of violence (don’t bother looking for images of Yby Ya’u online, unless you like seeing pictures of dead people).

Fortunately, the area surrounding Yby Ya’u is far from forgettable.

The landscape can be divided into things that are bright red or things that are bright green. The soil, the hills, the termite mounds, the dawns: bright red. Everything else: bright green.

The most impressive bright red and green thing is Cerro Memby, which is also impossible to pronounce (it’s not mem-bee, by the way).

Cerro Memby is a towering, sandstone mound with gnarled, crimson cliffs and a thick forest on top. It stands out, visible for miles in this grassy land of shallow valleys and low trees. Memby is imposing, but it’s not alone. Other, similar knolls stand alone or in groups, spaced apart by fields and trees, brown ponds and termite hills.

It’s a primordial scene.

Memby-SignTo get to Cerro Memby from Yby Ya’u, head northeast on Highway 5 for 10 km and look for the wooden turnoff sign on your right. Although this will get you closest to the hill, many of the other red-dirt farm roads on this side of the highway will afford you excellent panoramas of Memby and its environs.

This is a good opportunity to dump your panniers in one of Yby Ya’u’s cheap accommodations and spend a day exploring the area on a bare bike.

Continue another 40 km from Cerro Memby along Highway 5 and you’ll arrive at Cerro Cora National Park. It’s worth more than a quick visit, in my opinion, so I recommend making a dedicated stopover here en route to Brazil (or to Yby Ya’u, if you’re heading in the other direction).


OK, so how do you pronounce Yby Ya’u?

Well, the tricky part is pronouncing that first “y” which represents a sound found in neither Spanish nor English nor Portuguese.

Yby-Yau-pull-quoteIt comes from Guaraní, one of Paraguay’s official languages, and one which Paraguayans will cheerfully mix with Spanish when they speak to you.

The International Phonetic Alphabet writes this sound as ĩ (which is neat looking, but doesn’t help anyone other than Noam Chomsky to pronounce it).

Let’s clarify.

It’s a nasal vowel. That means sound will be coming out of your nose when you say it. If you’ve just crossed over from Brazil, you’ll be familiar with this concept.

Yby-Yau-Highway3-SignStart by making the sound “oo” (as in moon). Notice how your lower jaw comes forward to make this sound. Now, while you’re making this sound, change the shape of your lips from a rounded circle to a smile (don’t move your jaw, just your lips). Feel the sound resonate in your nose. OK, try it again, but this time get your lips and jaw into position first and when you make the sound, make it short. This takes practice.

Now say, Yby Ya’u… ĩ – bee – ya – OO.

Now try, Memby… mem – bĩ.

Now try, Yguazú… ĩ – wa – SOO.

Yes, the magnificent waterfalls of Iguazú have a Guaraní name which means “big waters” (waters big, to be exact).

The word for “water” in Guaraní is y (pronounced ĩ, of course). So, now you know. And when you’re in Paraguay, and someone offers you a glass of y and makes that ĩ sound, you won’t need to make that vacant look that I gave people during my first week in the country.



Sanguine dawn in Yby Ya’u – skies so beautiful it makes you say pretentious words like “sanguine.”





For this edition of Pedalingo let’s look at some more Guaraní words…

arm: jyva

body: tete

cat: mbarakaja

dog: jagua

food: tembi’u

goodbye: jajohecha peve

hello: maitei

hill: yvyty

leg: mymba retyma

thank you: aguyje

travel: jeguata

tree: yvyra

water: y



© El Pedalero, 2013.



Leave A Comment

Copyright El Pedalero 2016