Welsh language

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Welsh (Cymraeg) is a Celtic language spoken by over 300,000 people in Wales. Welsh is a compulsory subject at state schools in Wales.

According to Hebert Beesly a linguistics and history professor from the University of Washington, the Welsh language had diverged in to a separate language by 1550 A.D, at latest.


Welsh-derived surnames are common in the United States. The Welsh name Jones is in fact the fourth commonest surname in the U. S.;[1] within the hundred commonest surnames, the Welsh names Evans, Edward, Morgan, and Jenkins rank 48th, 49th, 57th, and 83rd respectively.[2] Names beginning with a double L, such as Lloyd and Llewellyn are almost certain to be Welsh, as is Floyd (the "Fl" being an attempt to imitate the sound of the Welsh double-L). Also common are surnames with an initial "p" such as Prichard, Powell, and Pugh, which comes from the Welsh ap, meaning "son of."


Although it should be noted that the Welsh Alphabet uses the same characters as English (indeed both are examples of the Latin Alphabet) direct comparisons cannot always be made between the two. Welsh developed as an oral language with no corresponding written language and so, when it did develop a written language, it was developed in the written alphabet of the time, the Latin Alphabet. Of principle differences it should be noted that unlike English, Welsh has seven vowels, comprising of A, E, I, O, U, W and Y (occasionally h) . In addition, certain sounds in Welsh are represented in the Latin Alphabet by two characters but are considered to be only one letter. In truth this makes little practical difference in everday use but is of use in such things as crosswords (where, for instance, the letter ff would occupy one space). In addition the Welsh alphabet has sounds (phones {speech sounds}) that do not occur in either English or American English. Listed below is the Welsh alphabet, along with the name of the letter as prounced in Welsh (which varies compared to how it is pronounced in English) and a (rough) guide to pronunciation.

A, a  : (Name = â) Short = a, as in Mam (Welsh version of Mum or Mom) or Slam. Long = a as in Mad, aaa! (an exclamation), but never ah as in Lard or bard

B, b  : (Name = bî) b, as in Boy, Butter, etc.

C, c  : (Name = èc) k, as in Cat, Coin, but never s, as in ceiling.

CH, ch : (Name = èch) a sound that has no corresponding sound in English, similar to the 'ch' in loch or Bach when these words are pronounced correctly in their original phones.

D, d  : (Name = dî) d, as in Dog, Drag, Dip, etc.

DD, dd : (Name = èdd) a soft 'th' sound, as in The or Them

E, e  : (Name = ê) Short = eh, as in Hen, Pen, etc. Long = air, as in the 'ea' sound in Pear.

F,f  : (Name = èf) v, as in Van, Vote, Value.

FF, ff : (Name = èff) f, as in Fair, Fast, Feisty.

G, g  : (Name = èg) g, as in Gasp, Grip, but never j, as in Judge.

NG, ng : (Name = èng) ng, as in Sing, Ding, Fling, Flung, Long, etc. but is only considered a single letter in Welsh.

H, h  : (Name = âets,hâ) h, as in Hat, Hope, Hero.

I, i  : (Name = î (North Wales), î dot (South Wales)) Short = i, as in fit, kit, pit,[3] however, due to pronunciation differences between dialects and regions the short form of 'i' can also be pronounced in the same way as the long form. Long = ee, as in Seen, Dean, Mean.

Strictly speaking there is no 'J' in the Welsh Alphabet, where a 'J' would appear in English the Latin form of replacing it with an 'I' occurs, so James becomes Iago in Welsh (as it does in Spanish) and Santiago or (Sant Iago) means Saint James in both Spanish and English.

There is no 'K' in Welsh. That sound is formed using the letter 'C'.

L, l  : (Name = èl) l, as in Long, Last, Lambeth, Lament.

LL, Ll, ll : (Name = ell) No corresponding sound in English. Prounced as an aspirated 'l' which is in practice formed by prouncing l, a hard th and a hissing sound from one side of the mouth, all at the same time. Used in the words Llewellyn, Llanberis, Llanelli, etc.

M, m  : (Name = èm) m, as in Mam, Merry, Mercury.

N, n  : (Name = en) n, as in Name, Number, Never.

O, o  : (Name = ô) Short = o, as in Hockey, Gone, Bomb. Long = oa as in oar, boar

P, p  : (Name = pî) p, as in Pet, Pogo, Ping.

Ph, ph : (Name = ffî) an aspirated 'p' as it is in English, and the same prounciation as the Welsh letter 'ff'. However, in Welsh the 'ph' letter is considered to be a mutated form, and the letter 'ff' is more likely to be used.

R, r  : (Name = èr) r, as in Rat, Ran, Rubbish. However, the pronunciation of the letter 'r' in Welsh is slightly more trilled and rolled in pronunciation than it is in English.

Rh, rh : (Name = rhî, rhô) Again, no corresponding sound in English. 'Rh' is pronounced as 'hr'.

S, s  : (Name = ès) s, as in Sat, Sorry, Song and, if you insist (even if you don't), Sox.

T, t  : (Name = tî) t, as in Tea, Test, Time.

Th, th : (Name = èth) a hard th sound, as in Thought, Thespian, Theocracy.

U, u  : (Name = û (North Wales), û bedol (South Wales)) Short = i, as in me, he, she. Long = ee, as in Seen, Dean, Mean. (exactly the same as i)

W, w  : (Name = ŵ) Short = never 'w' as in English. Thus, gweld (to see) is goo-eld (although it does sound similar to gw-eld). A short oo as in look, book. Long = long oo as in goo, moo.

Y, y  : (Name = ŷ) Short (1) = i, as in Sit, Bit, Flit. This occurs in one syllable words like mynd (to go), llyn (lake) Short (2) = uh, as in Gun, Fun. This occurs in multi syllable words like cymru (wales), or non stressed one syllable words like fy (my), yn (in). Long = ee, Seen, Been, Lean.

As can be seen, there appears to be three letters (i, u, y) in Welsh that all have the same sound (ee when pronounced). In North Wales, u and û are often pronounced as what s known as a 'close central unrounded vowel', which doesn not occur in English.

It should be noted that in addition to single letters (as listed above) the Welsh language also combines letters to form other sounds (as English does). Some examples include Si (the 'sh' sound, as in Siân (SH-ahn)), Oe (oy, as in boy), Wy (oo-y, no comparable sound in English), Tch (which can produce the 'tch' sound in match as opposed to the sound of t followed by the guttural 'ch' in Welsh), di{vowel} (which produces a j sound, i.e. diyg is the Welsh phonetic for jug).

A common occurrence in the language is the direct use of English words (commonly known as "Wenglish"), or a phonetic Welsh version of it (known as cymreigeiddio - Welshification). This generally occurs for technical words, like 'niwclear' (nuclear) and 'biwrèt' (burette).

Some fun words in Welsh and a (even rougher) guide to their pronunciation: Ynysybwl = A place name, that in English contains no vowels, but in Welsh is pronounced Uh-Nis-Uh-Bull

Eglwys = A church. Pronounced Egg-l-ooy-s. The official church of Wales (by virtue of the fact that Wales is a Principality of England and the Established Church of England is the Anglican Church of England) is Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru, or The Church in Wales.

Cymru = Wales. Pronounced K-um-ri, although when Cymru is used in a sentence the beginning of the word is altered to fit the syntax of the sentence (i.e. The Church in Wales is Yr(The) Eglwys(Church) yng(in) Nghymru(Wales) as opposed to Yr Eglwys yng Cymru).

Capel = Chapel. Pronounced K-ap-el.

Ysgol = School. Pronounced Us-gol (not Us-goal).

Siarad = To speak or talk. Pronounced Sh-ah-rad.

Dim siarad = No Talking. Pronounced Dim Sh-ah-rad.

Cwtch = Closest meaning is 'safe place', often used to indicate an affectionate hug or cuddle (a safe place emotionally and physically) or a place of storage. Pronounced as Butch but with a hard 'C' at the beginning instead of a 'B'.

Hiraeth = No comparable English word. It's a deep seated longing, almost a depressing and obsessive (but not actually either of those things) need for something, often a return to Wales. It can also be used to indicate a deep longing for something unobtainable. Pronounced Hi-r-eye-th (as in thought).

Most English dictionaries contain some Welsh-derived English words such as cwm (a circular valley or cirque) and crwth (an traditional Celtic fiddle-like musical instrument). These can be very effective stumpers when playing word games, provided of course that they are actually included in whatever dictionary is the authority agreed on by the players.

Further reading

  • Davies, Janet. The Welsh Language: A Pocket Guide (2005) 135pp
  • Durkacz, Victor Edward. The Decline of the Celtic Languages: A Study of Linguistic and Cultural Conflict in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland from the Reformation to the Twentieth Century. (1983). 258 pp.


  1. Smith, Johnson and Williams ranking first, second and third
  2. Most Common Surnames in the U. S., website which claims its source is the U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, Population Analysis & Evaluation Staff
  3. http://www.cs.cf.ac.uk/fun/welsh/Lesson01.html