Доклад: 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 following table.
Cognate Celtic words
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
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),
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
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 considerable.
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.
|bresych (cabbage)||brassica |
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
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:
|years||welsh-speaking population||% of total population|
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
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
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 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 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
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 communication.
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
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
1. Davies Janet, The Welsh language, Cardiff, 1993.
2. Green Mirinda, The Celtic World, London, 1996.
3. Williams Stephen, A Welsh grammar, Cardiff, 1995.
4. McDowall David, An illustrated history of Britain, London, 1995
5. Khimunina T.N., Customs, traditions and Festivals of Great Britain,
6. Zaitseva S. D., Early Britain, Moscow, 1975.
7. Discover Welsh, London, 1997.
8. Clementiyev A.G., English literature, Moscow, 1968.