Тhe Welsh language
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
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
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
It is very interesting to show common and different things between the
words of these languages. You can sea these comparison in following
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
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 Gaelic.
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;
The noun has two genders, masculine and a feminine. The “it” of English
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) hwyaid
substituting a plural for a singular ending: cwningen (rabbit) cwningod
substituting a plural ending for a singular with vowel change: miaren
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
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 question:
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 contrary impression.
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
Davies Janet, The Welsh language, Cardiff, 1993.
Green Mirinda, The Celtic World, London, 1996.
Williams Stephen, A Welsh grammar, Cardiff, 1995.
McDowall David, An illustrated history of Britain, London, 1995
Khimunina T.N., Customs, traditions and Festivals of Great Britain,
Zaitseva S. D., Early Britain, Moscow, 1975.
Discover Welsh, London, 1997.
Clementiyev A.G., English literature, Moscow, 1968.
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