The Welsh language
III Региональный конгресс молодежи и школьников
“Молодые исследователи севера”
Секция Лингвистика (английский язык)
The Welsh language
Ковальчук М. С. МПЛ, 10 класс
Загородняя Л. М.
(учитель английского языка)
г. Мурманск, 1999
Тhe Welsh language
Ковальчук М. С. МПЛ, 10 класс
The Welsh language, like most of the languages of Europe, and many
of those of Asia, has evolved from what linguists term Indo-European.
Indo-European was spoken about 6000 years ago (4000 BC) by a
seminomadic people who lived in the steppe region of Southern Russia.
Speakers of the languages migrated eastwards and westwards; they had
reached the Danube valley by 3500 BC and India by 2000 BC. The
dialects of Indo-European became much differentiated, chiefly because
of migration, and evolved into separate languages. So great was the
variety among them that it was not until 1786 that the idea was put
forward that a Family of Indo-European languages actually exists. In
the twentieth century Indo-European languages are spoken in a wide arc
from Bengal to Portugal, as well as in countries as distant as New
Zealand and Canada, to which they have been carried by more recent
emigrants. The Indo-European Family is generally considered to consist
of nine different brunches, which in turn gave rise to daughter
languages. Welsh evolved from the Celtic brunch, as did its sister
languages - Breton, Cornish, Cumbric, Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx.
Сornish was a language of people who lived in Britain in the
Cornwall inlet and died out towards the end of the eighteenth century.
Dorothy Pentreath, who died in 1777, is usually considered to be the
last native speaker of Cornish. Manx was spread on the Isle of Man in
the Irish Sea, survived until well into the second half of the present
sentury and the last native speaker died at the age of 97 in 1974.
Other languages are still alive and a lot of people talks on them. But
nevertheless all this languages developed from the Celtic language and
the people who used this language were the Celts.
The Celts is a group of people who were classified as such by
communities who belonged to a separate cultural (and literate)
tradition. Celtic area is considered to be the north of Alps and
beyond the Mediterranean. It was observers from mediterranean lands of
Greece and Rome who called their neighbours Celts. But today
scientists ask the question who the Celts really are. The problem of
defining what is meant by the terms "Celt" and "Celtic" centres around
the relationship, if any, between material culture, ethnicity and
language. Judging by archaeology, documentary sources and linguistic
material the scientists came to the conclusion that by the last few
centuries BC, Celtic territory stretched from Ireland to eastern
Europe and beyond, to Galatia (see map). The Celts were technically
advanced. They knew how to work with iron, and could make better
weapons than the people who used bronze.
Early linguistic evidence for the Celts is extremely rare because
northern Europe was non-literate during most of the first millennium
BC. When writing was adopted in the Celtic world in the late first
millennium it appeared almost entirely in Greek and Latin. Early
Celtic evidence consists of inscriptions, coin legends and the names
of people and places contained within classical documents.
Now I would like to tell about the Brittonic brunch of Celtic
languages, which was spread over the territory of Britain. Because of
our knowledge of the Celts is slight, we do not even know for certain
how Britain became Celtic. Some scholars think that the Celts invaded
Britain, another - that they came peacefully, as a result of the
lively trade with Europe about 750 BC on wards. But we know for
certain that the language introduced into Britain was similar to that
spoken in Gaul (the territory of Celts in Central Europe); indeed, the
Celtic speech of Gaul and Britain at the dawn of the historic era can
be considered as one language, frequently, referred to as Gallo-
Britonic. Three successor languages of Brittonic evolved: Cumbric in
southern Scotland and north-west England, Welsh in Wales and Сornish
in south-west Britain. The speakers of all three of them were known by
their Anglo-Saxon neighbours as Wealas, or Welsh. The word is usually
considered to mean foreigner, but it can also mean people who have
been Romanized. To describe themselves, the Welsh and the Cumbric
speakers adopted the name Cymry and called their language Cymraeg.
Cymry comes from the Brittonic combrogi (fellow countryman) and its
adoption marks a deepening sense of identity.
It is very interesting to show common and different things between
the words of these languages. You can sea these comparison in
Cognate Celtic words
|welsh |breton |Irish |gaelic |
|ty (house) |ti |teach |tight |
|ci (dog) |ki |cu |cu |
|du (black) |du |dubh |dubh |
|cadair (chair) |kador |kathaoir |cathair |
|gwin (wine) |gwin |fion |fion |
You see that almost all words are similar to each other, that’s why
they were united in one brunch.
The transition from Brittonic to Welsh took place somewhere between
400 and 700 AD. The major problem in tracing this transition in
paucity of evidence. Not a sentence of Brittonic has survived. The
language was almost certainly written down, but the writing materials
used more probably perishable, the more highly esteemed Latin being
used for permanent inscriptions. Brittonic, like Latin, was a
synthetic language; that is, much of its meaning was conveyed by a
charge in the endings of words, as in Latin puella (girl), puellae (to
the girl), puellarum (of the girls). In an analytic language, like
Welsh, the relation of one word to another is conveyed by the use of
prepositions or by the placing of the word in the sentence. It is
difficult to date the change from synthetic to analytic, from
Brittonic to Welsh, with any certainty. It is generally accepted that
it had occurred by about 600 AD but it may have taken place in the
spoken language much earlier. The most obvious sign of the change was
the loss of the final syllables of nouns; when bardos (poet), aratron
(plough) and abona (river) had become bardd, aradr and afon, Brittonic
had become Welsh.
There are four periods in the history of the Welsh language: early,
old, middle and new. Early Welsh, a phase in the history of the
language, extending from its beginning to about 850, only survives in
a few inscriptions and marginal notes or glosses. The most interesting
of the inscriptions is that on a memorial in the Paris church of Tywyn
in Мeirionnydd. It was carved in about 810 and consist of the words
cingen celen tricet nitanam (the body of Cingen dwells beneath).
Although the inscription incomprehensible to the Welsh speaker of the
present day, the words celen, tricet, and tan (in nitanam) are related
to the modern forms celein (corpse), trigo (dwells) and dan (beneath).
In that time took place the influence of Latin and Irish. The Romans
invaded Britain in 43 AD and their power had collapsed by 410 AD and
Britannia ceased to be the part of the Empire. Of course during all
that period Latin was influxing Welsh because it was the language of
law and administration.
Words of Latin origin in Welsh
|WELSH |LATIN |
|pont (bridge) |pons |
|eglwys (church) |ecclesia |
|lleeng (legion) |legio |
|ystafell (room) |stabellum |
|trawst (joist) |transtrum |
|bresych (cabbage) |brassica |
Ireland never experienced Roman occupation but its settlers created
colonies in western Britain before the collapse of the Empire. They
were numerous in north-west Wales. That’s why there are a lot of Irish
place-names; for example Dinllaen, Gwynedd, and a lot of words of
Irish origin appeared in Welsh: cadach(rag), cnwc (hillock), talcen
(forehead), codwm (fall).
Old Welsh, the succeeding phase in the history of the language,
extends from about 850 to 1100. Again the evidence is slight of the
material that has indubitably survived unchanged from that period,
there is little beyond marginal notes and a few brief texts and poems.
Approximately in 930 a few settlements or Norse appeared in Britain. I
don't think that the norsemen influenced greatly on the Welsh
language, because only one Welsh word - iarll, from iarl (earl) - is
indisputably a Norse borrowing, but they influenced English (ugly,
rotten and husband - borrowings from Scandinavian language) and Scots
Thus, by the end of the eleventh century, Welsh was a rich, supple,
and versatile language. It had an oral literary tradition which was
one of the longest in Europe. It had an enviable coherence, for the
literary language was the same in old parts of Wales. It was spoken
throughout the land to the west of Offa's Dyke and in some communities
to the east of it. It was deeply rooted in the territory of the people
who spoke it. They had used it to name their churches and their
settlements, their rivers and their hills. Following the Battle of
Hastings in 1066, it came face to face with the French of the Normans.
The victory of William of Normandy led to the expropriation of the
land of England by the knew king and his followers.
French words become assimilated into Welsh (cwarel (windowpane),
palffrai (palfrey), ffiol (viol), barwn (baron), gwarant (warrant))
and Welsh literature come to be influenced by French forms and
conventions. A few places in Wales, such as Beaupry, Beaumaris, Grace
Dieu and Hay (la Haie Taillee) were given French names and Norman
French personal names - Richard, Robert and William, for example -
eventually won popularity among the Welsh.
As a result of population movements English has been the spoken
language of some communities in Wales for at least 800 years. That’s
why in Welsh appeared words from it: capan (cap), sidan (silk), berfa
(wheelbarrow), bwrdd (table), llidiart (gate). But despite the influx
of French and English speakers, Wales remained overwhelmingly Welsh-
speaking throughout the Middle Ayes and beyond. In most of the marcher
lordships - Brecоn and Abergovenny, for example - the vast majority of
the population was monoglot Welsh, and in lordships such as Кnockin
and Сlun and Huntingdon and Clifford the Welsh speaker population was
Indicative of the growth of English influence was the adoption of
fixed surnames, after the English pattern, instead of Welsh
patronymics. Thus Richard ap Meurig ap Lleurig apliywelyn of Bodorgan
up Gwilym of Brecon become Richard Meyrick, and John ap Rhys Gwilym of
Brecon become John Price. Most of the new surnames were based upon the
father's Christian name - Jones (John), Davies (David), Powell (ap
Hywel), but some were based on a nick-name - Lloyd (Llwyd - grey),
Voyle (Moel - bald), an occupation - bought (Gof - blacksmith). The
changes had occurred among the gentry by the mid-sixteenth century and
virtually completed among all classes by the late seventeenth century,
but as late as the mid-nineteenth century there are examples of a son
taking his Father's Christian name as his surname.
From the seventeenth century, in the era of industrialisation in
Welsh language changes took place. The growth of industry allowed
Wales to sustain far more people than had been possible under the old
agricultural economy. Some of them came from beyond the borders of
Wales. In 1851, the Welsh population included 115000 people born in
England and 20000 born in Ireland. Of course they took their languages
with them, which little by little mixed with Welsh. But most of areas
were Welsh-speaking and, in colonising their own country the Welsh
brought their language from the countryside to the towns. That’s why
alone among the Celtic languages, Welsh has had a considerable degree
of success in becoming an urban tongue. By 1851, large numbers of
Welsh speakers lived in mass urban communities in which the language
could be used in a new range of activities. Also in the late
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was widely practised in
Wales the coining of new words, which has been greatly stimulated by
the needs of modern society. Cyfrifiaduron (computers) with their
maddal medd (software) and caledwedd (hardware) are one of the many
fields in which a new Welsh terminology has been invented. Coinages
such as darllediad (broadcast), tonfedd (wave length) and orian brig
(peak hours) trip naturally off the tongues of broadcasters. Sports
commentaries lead to a wide range of neologisms, with those for rugby
(the work of Eric Davies) being particularly apt and idiomatic. Words
old and new have been collected in the most ambitions lexicographical
project yet undertaken in Wales.
Analysing all the information about Welsh-speakers I made a table
which I called "Development of Welsh-speaking population in Wales".
Development of Welsh-speaking population in Wales.
|years |welsh-speaking population |% of total population |
|1891 |910280 |54,4 |
|1901 |929824 |49,9 |
|1911 |977366 |43,5 |
|1921 |922092 |37,1 |
|1931 |909261 |36,8 |
|1951 |714686 |28,9 |
|1961 |656002 |26,0 |
|1971 |542425 |20,9 |
|1981 |508207 |18,9 |
|1991 |510920 |18,7 |
As you see from the table, the Welsh-speaking population of Wales
reduces greatly on 1931-51. The main reason of it is the Second World
War. And it also reduced greatly from 1961 till 1971. I don't know
exactly, but it seems to me the main reason from it is the problems in
the industry (mostly in coal-mining) and migration.
Also, the population of Welsh-speaking people was decreasing from
1921 to 1971, and was increasing from the beginning of the Welsh
language to 1911 and from 1981 till our days. At once the question
arises: "What happened in 1981?" There are a lot of factors which
influenced the growing of Welsh-speaking population from the 1981.
They are: development of education in Welsh, appearance of the
periodical press and books in Welsh, creation of radio and TV stations
in Welsh, appearance of "institutions" which protect the Welsh, and
the growing of national identity. Of course all this factors were
present in the 1950s and 1970s, but in 1990s they were in its heyday.
It is very interesting to say that many pupils who learn Welsh think
that Welsh is not a difficult language to learn and that it is easier
to learn than English. Unlike English, it has the inestimable
advantage of being largely phonetic; that is, the words are pronounced
as they are written, with non of the confusion which arises in English
over such words as cough, bough, through, though and thorough. While
English has several letters (g, h and k, for example) which are often
not pronounced at all, every letter in Welsh is pronounced.
The Welsh alphabet consists of twenty simple letters and eight
digraphs (two letters combining to produce a different sound, as with
ch and th), an unusual feature to include in an alphabet. Welsh has no
j, k, q, l, x or z. Most of the simple letters present no
difficulties, but it should be noted that c is always pronounced to
correspond with the English k, f with v and s with ss.
The Welsh alphabet:
a b c ch d dd e f ff g ng h i l ll m n o p ph r rh s t th u w y
Pronunciation of digraphs:
|ch as in loch |ll ch followed by l |
|dd as in that |ph as in pharmacy |
|ff as in fair |rh as in Rhein |
|ng as in singing |th as in thin |
In almost all Welsh words, the stress falls on the last syllable,
but one: gorymdaith; athro; ammnydifуad. In those cases where the
stress falls on the last syllable, it is usually the result of a
contraction in the word: Cymraeg was originally Cym-ra-eg, and paratoi
pa-ra-to-i. Some words borrowed from English also retain the original
accentuation: apel; polisi; paragraff.
The noun has two genders, masculine and a feminine. The "it" of
English doesn't exist.
As an French everything is either "he" or "she". Some adjectives
have masculine and feminine forms. Thus gwyn (white) is (g)wen when
following a feminine forms. Some adjectives also have singular and
plural forms. Dyn tew is a fat man, dynion tewnion fat men. Where
plurals are concerned, Welsh recognises that some things come in
pairs. Thus llaw (hand) has the plural dwylaw (two hands). To anyone
used to English plurals, with almost universal addition of s, the
variety of Welsh plural forms can appear wilfully multifarious. There
are seven ways of forming the plural.
Plural forms in Welsh:
adding a termination: afal (apple) afalau
vowel change: bran (crow) brain
adding a termination with a vowel change: mab (son) meibion
dropping a singular ending: pluen (feather) plu
dropping a singular ending with a vowel change: hwyadden (duck)
substituting a plural for a singular ending: cwningen (rabbit)
substituting a plural ending for a singular with vowel change:
miaren (bramble) mieri
The numerals in Welsh also have distinctive features. Twenty is the
basic unit in counting: ugain (twenty), deugain (two twenties -
forty), trigain (three twenties - sixty), pedwar ugain (four twenties
- eighty), followed by cant (a hundred) and sometimes by chwe ugain
(six twenties - a hundred and twenty). The teens offer interesting
complications: fourteen is pedwar ar ddeg (four plus ten), and
eighteen is deunaw (two nines).
In English, the order of the words in sentence is subject, verb,
object, indirect object. (The girl gave a book to her friend) In Welsh
it is verb, subject, object, indirect object:
Rhoddodd y ferch lyfr i'w chyfaill
Gave the girl a book to her friend
This order can be varied for the sake of emphasis or to ask a
Ceffyl a welodd y plentyn?
Horse saw the child (Was it a
horse the child saw?)
The adjective is almost always placed after the noun. When it is
not, the meaning may be different. Ci unig means a lonely dog, but
unig gi means the only dog; hen gyfaill means a friend of long
standing, but cyfaill hen means an aged friend.
The genitive expressed in English by an apostrophe s, is expressed
in Welsh by putting what is owned immediately before the owner: ci
Lowri - Lowri's dog; ty y dyn - the man's house.
It is very interesting to say that written Welsh and spoken Welsh
are very different. For a example, it is continued use in written
Welsh of the ending nt in the third person plural of the verb, as in
daethant (they came), which in speech becomes daethan. Another example
is hwy, which in speech becomes nhw.
“I sing” in standard written Welsh is canaf, but the usual spoken
form is yr wyf i canu (I am singing). This use of the verb to be (yr
wyr) with the verb noun (canu) may have been inherited by the incoming
Celts from the pre-Celtic population. The construction has been copied
in English to give the form “I am singing”, a construction not found
in other Germanic languages.
Although Welsh has no indefinite article. Thus, the dog is y ci, but
a dog is simply ci. This a feature Welsh shares with the other Celtic
language, as is the conjugation of prepositions and the absence of
over purpose words for years and no.
Although Welsh has absorbed words from other languages, Latin,
French and particularly English among them, its basic vocabulary is
still largely of Celtic origin. This is also true of more technical
words. Thus, while English words such as national, political,
industrial and philosophical have equivalents in French, German, and
other European languages which are very similar, Welsh uses its own
indigenous words – cenedlaethol, gwleidyddol, diwydiannol and
athronyddol. Indeed, it has a very considerable ability to coin words
from its resources, although the sloppy speech of many Welsh-speakers,
overloaded as it is with unnecessary English borrowings, can give the
The Welsh language has survived at all. Since the act of union in
1536 when it was virtually banned, it has been subjected to direct and
indirect bombardment which should have demolished it once and for all.
It has been neglected and discouraged for over four hundred years yet
it is still very much alive. Today it is tolerated by many, rejected
by many. It is used by a large number of people as a natural means of
Now the scholars discussed the problem of the position of the Wales
language. It could be claimed that its position is precisely in the
centre, a point emphasised by Tom Nail in his analysis of the non-
state nationalities of Europe. Although the Welsh-speakers are by no
means among the larger groups, Welsh has a far higher status than
several of the more widely spoken languages. Although the density
factor if fairly low, Welsh-speakers live in a country, the other
inhabitants of which recognise their kinship with the language, a
bonus of immerse importance. The centrality of Welsh is interesting in
itself. It may also be important, for if Welsh can solve its problems,
other languages can hope to do so too
1. Davies Janet, The Welsh language, Cardiff, 1993.
1. Green Mirinda, The Celtic World, London, 1996.
2. Williams Stephen, A Welsh grammar, Cardiff, 1995.
3. McDowall David, An illustrated history of Britain, London, 1995
4. Khimunina T.N., Customs, traditions and Festivals of Great Britain,
5. Zaitseva S. D., Early Britain, Moscow, 1975.
6. Discover Welsh, London, 1997.
7. Clementiyev A.G., English literature, Moscow, 1968.