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Although most Welsh records are written in English, understanding some basic elements of the Welsh language can help you with your research. Do not, however, rely on a translation of a record made by using a dictionary. Get help from someone who knows the language.

Contents

The Welsh Alphabet

Though the Welsh and English alphabets are very similar, each has some letters not used in the other. The letters j, k, q, v, and z are not used in the Welsh language. The following double letters are treated as a single letter in Welsh: ch, dd, ff, ll, ng, ph, rh, and th. These letters are part of the Welsh alphabet.

When you use a Welsh dictionary or an index written in Welsh, use Welsh, not English, alphabetical order.

Welsh Pronunciation

The sounds produced by certain letters in the Welsh alphabet are often misinterpreted and spelled incorrectly. This is particularly true of Welsh sounds not used in English. For example, the sound made by a double l (ll) is formed by placing the tongue at the roof of the mouth and blowing air sharply out the side. The sound comes when using it in conjunction with other letters. Words with ll are often misspelled. For example, 'Slanvihangel' should be 'Llanfihangel', and 'Thlangthovery' should be 'Llandovery'.

The letter dd, which forms the soft th sound, also causes confusion. 'Pontypridd' should be pronounced with 'pridd' rhyming with the English word 'breathe'.

The following table lists Welsh letters and their sounds:

Letter Pronunciation
a An ah as in the English word "father".
b Like an English b.
c Always hard as in the English word "cat", never soft as in "cease".
ch Like the Scottish ch as in "loch". Never as in the English word "choice".
d Like an English d.
dd voiced th as in the English word "breathe".
e The sound as in the English word "breath".
f Like an English v.
ff Like an English f
g Hard g as in the English word "get".
ng Sound as in the English word "longer".
h Like an English h.
i Long e as in the English word "meet".
l Like an English l.
ll No English equivalent. Made by putting tip of tongue on roof of mouth and blowing.
m Like an English m.
n Like an English n.
o Long o as in the English word "go".
p Like an English p.
ph Same as ph as in the English word "phone".
r Trilled r.
rh No English equivalent. Made by blowing while trilling an r.
s Always soft as in the English word "sat", never as in "advise".
t Like an English t.
th Unvoiced th as in the English word "wreath".
u A long e as in the English word "tea".
w As an oo as in the English word "broom".
y Like uh as in the English word "come"; or (at end of words) long e as in "family".

Note: The letters q, v, and z are not used in Welsh. The letters j and k are used only in adopted words like jam and kilo.


Using a Welsh Dictionary

If you cannot find a word in the dictionary, it may be that:

  • Your dictionary is too small.
  • The word is mutated (see below).
  • The word is a conjugated verb. For example, dod (to come) is in the dictionary, but daeth (he came) is not.
  • The word is a conjugated preposition. Am (about) is in the dictionary, but amdani (about her) is not.
  • The word is a comparative or superlative adjective. Hen (old) is listed, but hn (older), and hynaf (oldest) are not.
  • The word is a contraction. O (from) and yr (the) are both listed, but their contracted form o’r (from the) is not.
  • The word contains double letters such as ch, dd, ll, ng, and rh, which are filed after single letters. For example:
    • The word Would follow
      • rhad (free) ruban (ribbon)
      • dichell (treachery) dicter (anger)
      • goddef (to bear) godro (to milk)
      • gwyllt (wild) gwylan (seagull)

If a word you find in a dictionary does not make sense in the record’s context:

  • It may be part of a two-word preposition. Ol is a noun meaning "track." When it is combined with ar (on), the result is the preposition ar ol, meaning "after."
  • It may be part of an idiomatic expression. Hen by itself means "old," but hen bryd means "high time."
  • It may be an archaic word or have a changed meaning.

Books that can help you understand Welsh are:

Bowen, John T., and T. S. Rhys Jones. Welsh: A Complete Course for Beginners. David McKay Company Inc., 1960. (FHL book 942.9 A8b.)

Evans, H. Meurig, and W. O. Thomas. Y Geiriadur Mawr (The Complete Welsh-English English-Welsh Dictionary). Swansea, Wales: C. Davies, 1981. (FHL book 491.66321 Ev15y.)

Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (A Dictionary of the Welsh Language). Vol. 1-. Caerdydd, Wales: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru (Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales Press), 1950-. (FHL book 403.429 W465g.) This dictionary is being published in volumes; publication is still in progress. It is the most authoritative dictionary and gives Welsh spellings and English definitions.

Williams, Stephen J. A Welsh Grammar. Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales Press, 1980. (FHL book 942.9 G2ws.)

You may also find more language aids, including a audio recording of the pronunciation of some Welsh place-names, through the GENUKI website at:

www.genuki.org.uk/big/wal/#Lang

From the above site:

  • Click Sounds of Wales

Language books can be found in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under

WALES - LANGUAGE AND LANGUAGES

They can also be found in the Subject Search under

WELSH LANGUAGE - DICTIONARIES - ENGLISH

If the word:

Begins With Look Under a g
b p
ch c
d t
dd d
e g
f b and m
g c
h all vowels (including w and y)
i g
l g and ll
mh p
n d and g
ng g
ngh c
nh t
o g
ph p
r g and rh
rh r
th t
w g

Mutations

In Welsh, the first letter of a word often changes or disappears. This is called mutation. For example, teulu (family) can be deulu, nheulu, or theulu. Mutated words are not in Welsh dictionaries, so use the following chart to change a mutated word back to its original form:

Initial consonant Soft nasal aspirate

P

pensil

(pencil)

B

ei bensil e

(his pencil)

MH

fy mhensil i

(my pencil)

PH

ei phensil hi

(her pencil)

T

tad

(father)

D

ei dad e

(his father)

NH

fy nhad i

(my father)

TH

ei thad hi

(her father)

C

ci

(dog)

G

ei gi e

(his dog)

NGH

fy nghi i

(my dog)

CH

ei chi hi

(her dog)

B

brawd

(brother)

F

ei frawd e

(his brother)

M

fy mrawd i

(my brother)

No Change

D

dosbarth

(class)

DD

ei ddosbarth e

(his class)

N

fy nosbarth i

(my class)

No Change

G

gardd

(garden)

---

ei ardd e

(his garden)

NG

fy ngardd i

(my garden)

No Change

LL

llyfr

(book)

L

ei lyfr e

(his book)

No Change No Change

M

mam

(mother)

F

ei fam e

(his mother)

No Change No Change

RH

rhaglen

(programme)

R

ei raglen e

(his programme)

No Change No Change

Latin

Until 1733 many records were kept in Latin. Sometimes records written in English contain some Latin words. Knowing some Latin will help you read these records. For help with Latin words, see the Latin Genealogical Word List (34077) or the following books:

Ainsworth, Robert. Thesaurus Linguae Latinae Compendiarius. London, England: F. Westly and A. H. Davis, 1836. (FHL book 473 Ai65a 1836; film 599788.)

Simpson, Elizabeth, comp. Latin Word-List for Family Historians. Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies, 1985. (FHL book 478.1 S581.)

Web Sites

http://www.britannia.com/celtic/wales/language.html

http://www.walesindex.co.uk/pages/483.html

http://users.comlab.ox.ac.uk/geraint.jones/about.welsh/


 

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