Welsh language

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Welsh language
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{{use Welsh English|date=August 2019}}{{use dmy dates|date=August 2019}}{{short description|Brythonic language spoken natively in Wales}}

  • Wales: 562,016 speakers (19.0% of the population of Wales),WEB,weblink Welsh speakers by local authority, gender and detailed age groups, 2011 Census,, 11 December 2012, 22 May 2016, {{Dead link|date=August 2019 |bot=InternetArchiveBot |fix-attempted=yes }} (data from 2011 Census); All skills (speaking, reading, or writing): 630,062 language usersWEB,weblink Data Viewer – Nomis – Official Labour Market Statistics,, / 898,700 in 2018 according to the Annual Population Surveyweblink
  • England: 110,000–150,000 (estimated)
  • Argentina: 1,500-5,000WEB, Patagonia's Welsh settlement was 'cultural colonialism' says academic, Devine, Darren,weblink Wales Online, Trinity Mirror, Cardiff, 2013-03-30, 6 May 2017, Now, though 50,000 Patagonians are thought to be of Welsh descent, the number of Welsh speakers is believed to be between only 1,500 and 5,000.The Welsh language is spoken more in north wales, WEB, Wales and Patagonia,weblink Welsh Government, 2016-05-22, dmy-all, - The official gateway to Wales, Today the province of Chubut, where most Welsh immigrants settled, has a population of 550,000 people. Of these, some 50,000 can claim Welsh ancestry and 5,000 speak the Welsh language.,
  • Canada: L1, a Welsh regiment serving in Bosnia, used Welsh for emergency communications that needed to be secure.NEWS, Heath, Tony,weblink Welsh speak up for their ancient tongue, The Independent, 6, 26 August 1996,

Use within the British parliament

In 2017, parliamentary rules were amended to allow the use of Welsh when the Welsh Grand Committee meets at Westminster. The change did not alter the rules about debates within the House of Commons, where only English can be used.WEB, Welsh language to be allowed in MPs' Welsh Grand Committee,weblink BBC News, BBC, 8 February 2018, 22 February 2017, In February 2018, Welsh was first used when the Welsh Secretary, Alun Cairns, delivered his welcoming speech at a sitting of the committee. He said, "I am proud to be using the language I grew up speaking, which is not only important to me, my family and the communities Welsh MPs represent, but is also an integral part of Welsh history and culture".WEB, MPs speak Welsh in parliamentary debate for first time,weblink BBC News, BBC, 8 February 2018, 7 February 2018, NEWS, Williamson, David, A historic first for Welsh at Westminster as language officially used for first time,weblink, 7 February 2018, NEWS, Williamson, David, MPs use first ever bilingual debate in Westminster,weblink WalesOnline, 7 February 2018,

Use at the European Union

In November 2008, the Welsh language was used at a meeting of the European Union's Council of Ministers for the first time. The Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones addressed his audience in Welsh and his words were interpreted into the EU's 23 official languages. The official use of the language followed years of campaigning. Jones said "In the UK we have one of the world's major languages, English, as the mother tongue of many. But there is a diversity of languages within our islands. I am proud to be speaking to you in one of the oldest of these, Welsh, the language of Wales." He described the breakthrough as "more than [merely] symbolic" saying "Welsh might be one of the oldest languages to be used in the UK, but it remains one of the most vibrant. Our literature, our arts, our festivals, our great tradition of song all find expression through our language. And this is a powerful demonstration of how our culture, the very essence of who we are, is expressed through language."WEB, David Williamson,weblink,, 23 May 2010,

Use by the Voyager program

A greeting in Welsh is one of the 55 languages included on the Voyager Golden Record chosen to be representative of Earth in NASA's Voyager program launched in 1977.WEB,weblink Greetings to the Universe in 55 Different Languages, 10 May 2009, NASA, The greetings are unique to each language, with the Welsh greeting being , which translates into English as "Good health to you now and forever".WEB,weblink Welsh greetings, 10 May 2009, NASA, WEB,weblink The Welsh message hurtling through space 10 billion miles from its home, WalesOnline, 10 June 2011,


Welsh vocabulary draws mainly from original Brittonic words ( "egg", "stone"), with some loans (:wikt:Category:cy:Latin derivations|from Latin) ( "window" < Latin , "wine" < Latin ), and English ( "shelf", "gate").


{{IPA notice}}The phonology of Welsh includes a number of sounds that do not occur in English and are typologically rare in European languages. The voiceless alveolar lateral fricative {{IPA|[ɬ]}}, the voiceless nasals {{IPA|[m̥]}}, {{IPA|[n̥]}} and {{IPA|[ŋ̊]}}, and the voiceless alveolar trill {{IPA|[r̥]}} are distinctive features of the Welsh language. Stress usually falls on the penultimate syllable in polysyllabic words, and the word-final unstressed syllable receives a higher pitch than the stressed syllable.


Welsh is written in a Latin alphabet of 29 letters, of which eight are digraphs treated as separate letters for collation:
a, b, c, ch, d, dd, e, f, ff, g, ng, h, i, j, l, ll, m, n, o, p, ph, r, rh, s, t, th, u, w, y
In contrast to English practice, "w" and "y" are considered vowel letters in Welsh along with "a", "e", "i", "o" and "u".The letter "j" was not used traditionally, but is now used in many everyday words borrowed from English, like jam, jôc "joke" and garej "garage". The letters "k", "q", "v", "x", and "z" are used in some technical terms, like kilogram, volt and zero, but in all cases can be, and often are, replaced by Welsh letters: cilogram, folt and sero.Thomas, Peter Wynn (1996) Gramadeg y Gymraeg. Cardiff: University of Wales Press: 757. The letter "k" was in common use until the 16th century, but was dropped at the time of the publication of the New Testament in Welsh, as William Salesbury explained: "C for K, because the printers have not so many as the Welsh requireth". This change was not popular at the time.WEB,weblink English and Welsh, an essay by J. R. R. Tolkien,, 9 April 2018,weblink" title="">weblink 23 January 2018, dead, The most common diacritic is the circumflex, which disambiguates long vowels, most often in the case of homographs, where the vowel is short in one word and long in the other: e.g. man "place" vs mân "fine", "small".


{{anchor|mutation|mutations}}Welsh morphology has much in common with that of the other modern Insular Celtic languages, such as the use of initial consonant mutations and of so-called "conjugated prepositions" (prepositions that fuse with the personal pronouns that are their object). Welsh nouns belong to one of two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine, but they are not inflected for case. Welsh has a variety of different endings and other methods to indicate the plural, and two endings to indicate the singular (technically the singulative) of some nouns. In spoken Welsh, verbal features are indicated primarily by the use of auxiliary verbs rather than by the inflection of the main verb. In literary Welsh, on the other hand, inflection of the main verb is usual.


The canonical word order in Welsh is verb–subject–object (VSO).Colloquial Welsh inclines very strongly towards the use of auxiliaries with its verbs, as in English. The present tense is constructed with ("to be") as an auxiliary verb, with the main verb appearing as a verbnoun (used in a way loosely equivalent to an infinitive) after the particle yn:
Siân is going to Llanelli.
There, mae is a third-person singular present indicative form of bod, and mynd is the verbnoun meaning "to go". The imperfect is constructed in a similar manner, as are the periphrastic forms of the future and conditional tenses.In the preterite, future and conditional mood tenses, there are inflected forms of all verbs, which are used in the written language. However, speech now more commonly uses the verbnoun together with an inflected form of ("do"), so "I went" can be or ("I did go"). Mi is an example of a preverbal particle; such particles are common in Welsh, though less so in the spoken language.Welsh lacks separate pronouns for constructing subordinate clauses; instead, special verb forms or relative pronouns that appear identical to some preverbal particles are used.

Possessives as direct objects of verbnouns

The Welsh for "I like Rhodri" is (word for word, "am I in [the] liking [of] Rhodri"), with Rhodri in a possessive relationship with hoffi. With personal pronouns, the possessive form of the personal pronoun is used, as in "I like him": [Dw i'n ei hoffi], literally, "am I his liking" – "I like you" is [Dw i'n dy hoffi] ("am I your liking"). Very informally, the pronouns are often heard in their normal subject/object form and aping English word order: ("Am I liking you").

Pronoun doubling

In colloquial Welsh, possessive pronouns, whether they are used to mean "my", "your", etc. or to indicate the direct object of a verbnoun, are commonly reinforced by the use of the corresponding personal pronoun after the noun or verbnoun: "his house" (literally "his house of him"), "I like you" ("I am [engaged in the action of] your liking of you"), etc. The "reinforcement" (or, simply, "redoubling") adds no emphasis in the colloquial register. While the possessive pronoun alone may be used, especially in more formal registers, as shown above, it is considered incorrect to use only the personal pronoun. Such usage is nevertheless sometimes heard in very colloquial speech, mainly among young speakers: ("Where are we going? Your house or my house?").

Counting system

The traditional counting system used in the Welsh language is vigesimal, i.e. it is based on twenties, as in standard French numbers 70 (, literally "sixty-ten") to 99 (, literally "four twenty nineteen"). Welsh numbers from 11 to 14 are "x on ten" (e.g. : 11), 16 to 19 are "x on fifteen" (e.g. : 16), though 18 is , "two nines"; numbers from 21 to 39 are "1–19 on twenty"(e.g. : 30), 40 is "two twenties", 60 is "three twenties", etc. This form continues to be used, especially by older people, and it is obligatory in certain circumstances (such as telling the time, and in ordinal numbers).King, G. Modern Welsh: A Comprehensive Grammar, published by Routledge, {{ISBN|0-415-09269-8}} p. 114There is also a decimal counting system, which has become relatively widely used, though less so in giving the time, ages, and dates (it features no ordinal numbers). This system is in especially common use in schools due to its simplicity, and in Patagonian Welsh. Whereas 39 in the vigesimal system is ("four on fifteen on twenty") or even ("two twenty minus one"), in the decimal system it is ("three tens nine").Although there is only one word for "one" (), it triggers the soft mutation () of feminine nouns, where possible, other than those beginning with "ll" or "rh". There are separate masculine and feminine forms of the numbers "two" ( and ), "three" ( and ) and "four" ( and ), which must agree with the grammatical gender of the objects being counted. The objects being counted appear in the singular, not plural form.


Currently, there is no standardised or definitive form of the Welsh language, with significant differences in dialect marked in pronunciation, vocabulary and in points of grammar.For example: consider the question "Do you want a cuppa [a cup of tea]?" In Gwynedd this would typically be while in Glamorgan one would be more likely to hear (though in other parts of the South one would not be surprised to hear as well, among other possibilities). An example of a pronunciation difference is the tendency in some southern dialects to palatalise the letter "s", e.g. (), usually pronounced {{IPA-cy|miːs|IPA}}, but as {{IPA-cy|miːʃ|IPA}} in parts of the south. This normally occurs next to a high front vowel like /i/, although exceptions include the pronunciation of "how" as {{IPA-cy|ʃʊd|IPA}} in the southern dialects (compared with northern {{IPA-cy|sɨt|IPA}}).

The four traditional languages

Although popular understanding often splits Welsh into northern (Gogledd) and southern (De) Welsh, in reality significant variation exists within these areas. The traditional classification of four Welsh 'languages' remains the most academically useful:
  • , the language of Gwynedd
  • , the language of Powys
  • , the language of Dyfed
  • , the language of Gwent and MorgannwgWEB,weblink Index to Welsh dialects,, 20 April 2006, 27 February 2014,
A fifth 'language' is Patagonian Welsh, which has developed since the start of (the Welsh settlement in Argentina) in 1865; it includes Spanish loanwords and terms for local features, but a survey in the 1970s showed that the language in Patagonia is consistent throughout the lower Chubut valley and in the Andes.Dialectal classifications exist within the 'languages' (such as the Cofi dialect). The book ()BOOK, Thomas, Beth, Thomas, Peter Wynn, cy, Welsh, Welsh, Welsh: Introducing the Dialects, Gwasg Taf, 1989, 978-0-948469-14-5, was accompanied by a cassette containing recordings of fourteen different speakers demonstrating aspects of different area dialects. The book also refers to the earlier Linguistic Geography of WalesBOOK, Thomas, Alan R, 1973, Linguistic Geography of Wales, University of Wales Press for Board of Celtic Studies, Cardiff, as describing six different regions which could be identified as having words specific to those regions.In the 1970s, there was an attempt to standardise the Welsh language by teaching ("Living Welsh") – a colloquially-based generic form of Welsh.WEB,weblink Teach Yourself Welsh, Cymdeithas Madog, 15 March 2000, 25 March 2014, But the attempt largely failed because it did not encompass the regional differences used by speakers of Welsh.


Modern Welsh can be considered to fall broadly into two main registers—Colloquial Welsh () and Literary Welsh (). The grammar described is that of Colloquial Welsh, which is used in most speech and informal writing. Literary Welsh is closer to the form of Welsh standardised by the 1588 translation of the Bible and is found in official documents and other formal registers, including much literature. As a standardised form, literary Welsh shows little if any of the dialectal variation found in colloquial Welsh. Some differences include:{| class="wikitable"! Literary Welsh! Colloquial WelshPro-drop language>pro-drop)| Subject pronouns rarely omitted| More extensive use of simple verb forms| More extensive use of periphrastic verb forms| No distinction between simple present and future (e.g. af "I go"/"I shall go")| Simple form most often expresses only future (e.g. af i "I'll go")| Subjunctive verb forms| Subjunctive in fixed idioms only| ending and pronoun –nt hwy| ending and pronoun –n nhwAmongst the characteristics of the literary, as against the spoken, language are a higher dependence on inflected verb forms, different usage of some of the tenses, less frequent use of pronouns (since the information is usually conveyed in the verb/preposition inflections) and a much lesser tendency to substitute English loanwords for native Welsh words. In addition, more archaic pronouns and forms of mutation may be observed in Literary Welsh.">

Examples of sentences in literary and colloquial Welsh{| class"wikitable"

! English! Literary Welsh! Colloquial Welsh| I get up early every day.| I'll get up early tomorrow.| Codaf yn gynnar yfory.| Mi goda i'n gynnar fory. (North)Wna i godi'n gynnar fory. (South)| He had not stood there long.LAST=KLINGEBIEL PLACE=BELMONT, MASSACHUSETTS ISBN=978-0-926689-04-6, 223, | They'll sleep only when there's a need.The differences between dialects of modern spoken Welsh pale into insignificance compared to the difference between some forms of the spoken language and the most formal constructions of the literary language. The latter is considerably more conservative and is the language used in Welsh translations of the Bible, amongst other things - although the 2004 () is significantly less formal than the traditional 1588 Bible. Gareth King, author of a popular Welsh grammar, observes that "The difference between these two is much greater than between the virtually identical colloquial and literary forms of English".BOOK, King, Gareth, Modern Welsh: A Comprehensive Grammar, Routledge, Abingdon-on-Thames, Abingdon, 3rd, 2016,weblink 978-1-138-82629-8, 3, A grammar of Literary Welsh can be found in A Grammar of Welsh by Stephen J. WilliamsBOOK, Williams, Stephen J, 1980, A Welsh Grammar, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 978-0-7083-0735-9, or more completely in Gramadeg y Gymraeg by Peter Wynn Thomas.BOOK, Thomas, Peter Wynn, 1996, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 978-0-7083-1345-9, (No comprehensive grammar of formal literary Welsh exists in English.) An English-language guide to colloquial Welsh forms and register and dialect differences is by Ceri Jones.BOOK, Jones, Ceri, 2013, : A Guide to Colloquial and Idiomatic Welsh, Gomer Press, Llandysul, 978-1-84851-748-6,

See also

{{Spoken Wikipedia|Welsh language.ogg|2005-05-12}}




  • J.W. Aitchison and H. Carter. Language, Economy and Society. The changing fortunes of the Welsh Language in the Twentieth Century. Cardiff. University of Wales Press. 2000.
  • J.W. Aitchison and H. Carter. Spreading the Word. The Welsh Language 2001. Y Lolfa. 2004

External links

{{InterWiki|code=cy}}{{Sister project links|wikt=Category:Welsh language |commons=Category:Welsh language |b=Welsh |n=no |q=no |s=Category:Welsh language |v=Topic:Welsh |voy=Welsh phrasebook |species=no |d=Welsh }} {{Welsh linguistics}}{{Celtic languages}}{{Authority control}}

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