Welsh language

Welsh (Cymraeg, pronunciation [kəmˈrɑːɨɡ]) belongs to the Celtic languages, Brythonic branch. It is spoken in Wales and Chubut province, Patagonia, Argentina.

Welsh status

Nearly 20% of Wales population speaks Welsh (about 740 000). There are few people among Welsh native speakers who do not speak English (except for Chubut inhabitants whose second language is Spanish).

Notwithstanding the Welsh language is the minority language and is influenced by the English language, in the latter half of the 20th century it’s support was enhancing along with rising of  nationalistic political organizations such as Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales) and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society).

Welsh is living language and is used in everyday life by thousands of people throughout Wales. Welsh Language Act (1993) and Government of Wales Act (1998) stipulate equality of the Welsh and English language. Thus, local councils and the National Assembly for Wales use the Welsh language as the official one, publish official printing materials and releases duplicating in Welsh (for example, school letters, reference information, local council information). All road signs in Wales must be in English and Welsh including Welsh variants of geographical names.

History of Welsh

Welsh history extends back over 14 centuries. Linguists divide it into four periods: Archaic (mid VIth to mid VIIIth centuries), Old Welsh (mid VIIIth to early XII centuries), Middle Welsh (early XIIth to XIVth centuries) and Modern Welsh Language, which in its turn is divided into two periods: Early Modern Welsh  (ran from the early 15th century to roughly the end of the 16th century) and Late Modern Welsh  (began in XVIth century).

The Welsh language got an incentive to further development in the 19th century with the publication of first unabridged Welsh dictionaries. Work of early lexicographers and dictionary makers such as Daniel Silvan Evans, allowed to record the language as accurately as possible and modern dictionaries such as Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (the University of Wales Dictionary), are direct successors of such dictionaries.

Welsh alphabet and pronunciation

Welsh is written in a Latin alphabet traditionally consisting of 28 letters, of which eight are digraphs treated as single letters for collation.

LetterNameCorresponding soundsEnglish approximation
aa/a, ɑː/cat (short) / father (long)
chèch/χ/loch (Scottish)
ee/ɛ, eː/bed (short) / closest to hey (long)
iii dot (S)/ɪ, iː, j/bit (short) / machine (long) / yes (as consonant; before vowels)
llèll/ɬ/not present in English; a voiceless alveolar lateral fricative. A bit like what the consonant cluster “hl” would sound like.
oo/ɔ, oː/Short, like “bog” in RP; long like stove in Scottish English, North Central American English and West–Central Canadian English
rer/r/rat (trilled)
rhrhi/r̥/pray (trilled): an unvoiced [r]
uu (N), u bedol (S)/ɨ̞, ɨː/

/ɪ, iː/ (S)

for Southern variants: bit (short) / machine (long); in Northern dialects /ɨ̞, ɨː/ not found in English. Identical to “î” and “â” in Romanian, and similar to the “e” in English roses.
ww/ʊ, uː, w/book (short) / pool (long) / wet (as consonant)
y/ɨ̞, ɨː, ə/

/ɪ, iː, ə, əː/ (S)

for Southern variants: bit (final syllable, short) / machine (final syllable, long)
above (other places, short) / roses /ɨ̞, ɨː/, found in certain dialects of English that differentiate “Rosa’s” and “roses”, for example, General American.

Notes to pronunciation and alphabet

  1. There are no ‘k’ and ‘q’ in Welsh and ‘y’ is a vowel
  2. There is no ‘z’ in Welsh, but the sound occurs in some borrowed words, in which case it is represented by ‘s’, e.g., “sw
  3. Two consonants, ‘n’ and ‘r’, are sometimes doubled in written Welsh, e.g., “tynnu,” “torri.” Note that ‘dd,’ ‘ff’ and ‘ll’ are not doubled, but are consonants in their own right.
  4. When ‘f’ occurs at the end of words it is frequent silent, e.g., “ara” for “araf“, but it is not incorrect to sound it.
  5. A vowel is sometimes interposed between pairs of consonants at the end of words, e.g., “llyfyr” for “llyfr” and “cefen” for “cefn.
  6. All vowels except ‘y’ have two sound only.
  7. Sometimes the long vowel is marked by a circumflex, e.g., “cân” or “pêl
  8. Apart from the obscure sound of ‘y’, ‘i’, ‘u’ and ‘y’ are pronounced in essentially the same way in South Wales. There are, however, differences between the three in North Wales.
  9. The rules for the pronunciation of ‘y’ are as follows”
  • Words of one syllable: The obscure sound occurs in a small group of words, e.g., “dy,” “fy,” “y,” “yr,” but otherwise the sound is clear. It may be short as in “mynd” or long as in “byd.” Unless a circumflex is used (e.g., “ty^“) there is no way of distinguishing the two cases
  • Words of more than one syllable: In all syllables except the last, the sound is obscure, e.g., “byddaf.” In the last syllable the sound is clear. It is short if the syllable ends in a consonant, e.g., “gelyn,“, and long when no consonant follows, e.g., “gwely.” Note that the obscure and open sounds can occur in the same word, e.g., “mynydd,” “Cymry
  1. The diaresis is sometimes used to indicate that a vowel must be sounded separately, e.g., “gweddïo

References: – Welsh letter pronunciation – the Welsh Language

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