Welsh Language Guide

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Welsh Language Guide

The language of Wales, more properly called Cymraeg in preference to Welsh (A Germanic word denoting "foreigner"), belongs to a branch of Celtic, an Indo-European language. The Welsh themselves are descendants of the Galatians, to whom Paul wrote his famous letter. Their language is a distant cousin to Irish and Scots Gaelic and a close brother to Breton. Welsh is still used by about half a million people within Wales and possibly another few hundred thousand in England and other areas overseas.

In most heavily populated areas of Wales, such as the Southeast (containing the large urban centers of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea), the normal language of everyday life is English, but there are other areas, notably in the Western and Northern regions, (Gwynedd and Dyfed particularly) where the Welsh language remains strong and highly visible. The Welsh word for their country is Cymru (Kumree), the land of the Comrades; the people are known as Cymry (Kumree) and the language as Cymraeg (Kumrige). Regional differences in spoken Welsh do not make speakers in one area unintelligible to those in another (as is so often claimed), standard Welsh is understood by Welsh speakers everywhere.

Despite its formidable appearance to the uninitiated, Welsh is a language whose spelling is entirely regular and phonetic, so that once you know the rules, you can learn to read it and pronounce it without too much difficulty. For young children learning to read, Welsh provides far fewer difficulties than does English, as the latter's many inconsistencies in spelling are not found in Welsh, in which all letters are pronounced.

THE WELSH ALPHABET: (28 letters)

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

(Note that Welsh does not possess the letters J, K, Q, V, X or Z, though you will often come across "borrowings" from English, such as John, Jones, Jam and Jiwbil (Jubilee); Wrexham (Wrecsam); Zw (Zoo).

THE VOWELS: (A, E, I, U, O, W, Y)

A as in man. Welsh words: am, ac Pronounced the same as in English)

E as in bet or echo. Welsh words: gest (guest); enaid (enide)

I as in pin or queen. Welsh words: ni (nee); mi (me); lili (lily); min (meen)

U as in pita: Welsh words: ganu (ganee); cu (key); Cymru (Kumree); tu (tee); un (een)

O as in lot or moe. Welsh words: o'r (0re); don (don); dod (dode); bob (bobe)

W as in Zoo or bus. Welsh words: cwm (koom), bws (bus); yw (you); galw (galoo)

Y has two distinct sounds: the final sound in happy or the vowel sound in myrrh Welsh words: Y (uh); Yr (ur); yn (un); fry (vree); byd (beed)

All the vowels can be lengthened by the addition of a circumflex (ä), known in Welsh as "to bach" (little roof). Welsh words: Tän (taan), län (laan)

THE DIPHTHONGS:

Ae, Ai and Au are pronounced as English "eye": ninnau (nineye); mae (my); henaid (henide); main (mine); craig (crige)

Eu and Ei are pronounced the same way as the English ay in pray. Welsh words: deisiau (dayshy), or in some dialects (deeshuh); deil (dale or dile); teulu (taylee or tyelee)

Ew is more difficult to describe. It can be approximated as eh-oo or perhaps as in the word mount. The nearest English sound is found in English midland dialect words such as the Birmingham pronunciation of "you" (yew). Welsh words: mewn (meh-oon or moun); tew (teh-oo)

I'w and Y'w sound almost identical to the English "Ee-you." or "Yew" or "You": Welsh words: clyw (clee-oo); byw (bee-you or b'you); menyw (menee-you or menyou)

Oe is similar to the English Oy or Oi. Welsh words: croeso (croyso); troed (troid); oen (oin)

Ow is pronounced as in the English tow, or low: Welsh word: Rhown (rhone); rho (hrow)

Wy as in English wi in win or oo-ee: Welsh words: Wy (oo-ee); wyn (win); mwyn (mooin)

Ywy is pronounced as in English Howie. Welsh words: bywyd (bowid); tywyll (towith)

Aw as in the English cow. Welsh words: mawr (mour); prynhawn (prinhown); lawr (lour)

THE CONSONANTS:
For the most part b, d, h, l, m, n, p, r, s, and t are pronounced the same as their English equivalents (h is always pronounced, never silent). Those that differ are as follows:

C always as in cat; never as in since. Welsh words: canu (Kanee); cwm (come); cael (kile); and of course, Cymru (Kumree)

Ch as in the Scottish loch or the German ach or noch. The sound is never as in church, but as in loch or Docherty. Welsh words: edrychwn (edrych oon); uwch (youch ), chwi (Chee)

Dd is pronounced like the English th in the words seethe or them. Welsh words: bydd (beethe); sydd (seethe); ddofon (thovon); ffyddlon (futh lon)

Th is like the English th in words such as think, forth, thank. Welsh words: gwaith (gwithe); byth (beeth)

F as in the English V. Welsh words: afon (avon); fi (vee); fydd (veethe); hyfryd (huvrid); fawr (vowr), fach (vach)

Ff as in the English f. Welsh words: ffynnon (funon); ffyrdd (furth); ffaith (fithe)

G always as in English goat, gore. Welsh words: ganu (ganee); ganaf (ganav); angau (angeye); gem (game)

Ng as in English finger or Long Island. Ng usually occurs with an h following as a mutation of c. Welsh words Yng Nghaerdydd (in Cardiff: pronounced ung hire deethe) or Yng Nghymru (in Wales: pronounced ung Humree)

Ll is an aspirated L. That means you form your lips and tongue to pronounce L, but then you blow air gently around the sides of the tongue instead of saying anything. Got it? The nearest you can get to this sound in English is to pronounce it as an l with a th in front of it. Welsh words: llan (thlan); llawr (thlour); llwyd (thlooid)

Rh sounds as if the h come before the r. There is a slight blowing out of air before the r is pronounces. Welsh words: rhengau (hrengye); rhag (hrag); rhy (hree)

The most common expressions that Welsh-Americans come across are Cymanfa Ganu (Kumanva Ganee); Eisteddfod (Aye-steth-vod); and Noson Lawen (Nosson Lowen)

PRACTICE
Read the following, written using the Welsh alphabet:

Gwd lwc. Ai hop ddat yw can ryd ddys and ddat yt meiks sens tw yw. Iff yw can ryd ddys, dden yw ar dwing ffaen and wil haf no problems at ol yn lyrnyng awr ffaen Welsh alffabet.

Good luck: I hope that you can read this, and that it makes sense to you. If you can read this, then you are doing fine and will have no problems at all in learning our fine Welsh alphabet.


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