Wales Language and Languages
Welsh is a member of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages.
The most recent census figures for Wales (2001) indicate that 582,400 (21% of the population) were able to speak Welsh. However, in the western parts of the country the language is spoken by over 50% of the population.
The Welsh Language Act 1993, gives Welsh equal status with English in the public sector in Wales and the teaching of both languages is compulsory in all schools up to the age of 16.
Wales has one television channel, S4C (Sianel 4 Cymru), and one radio station, BBC Radio Cymru, broadcasting in the Welsh language.
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.
The Welsh Alphabet
Though the Welsh and English alphabets are very similar, each has some letters not used in the other. The letters q, v, and z are not used in the Welsh language and the letters j and k only occur in 'adopted' words. 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.
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:
|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".|
|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 hen (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 rhad (free) would come after ruban (ribbon)
- the word dichell (treachery) would come after dicter (anger)
- the word goddef (to bear) would come after godro (to milk)
- the word gwyllt (wild) would come after 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. ôl is a noun meaning "track." When it is combined with ar (on), the result is the preposition ar ôl, 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 on 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
In general, if you are unable to find a word:
|If the word begins with:||Also look under:|
|f||b and m|
|h||all vowels (including w and y)|
|l||g and ll|
|n||d and g|
|r||g and rh|
In Welsh, the first letter of a word often changes or disappears. This is called mutation. For example, teulu (family) can appear as 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 mutation
|| Nasal mutation
|| Aspirate mutation|
ei bensil e
fy mhensil i
| Ph |
ei phensil hi
ei dad e
fy nhad i
| Th |
ei thad hi
ei gi e
fy nghi i
| Ch |
ei chi hi
ei frawd e
fy mrawd i
ei ddosbarth e
fy nosbarth i
ei ardd e
fy ngardd i
ei lyfr e
|No Change||No Change|
ei fam e
|No Change||No Change|
ei raglen e
|No Change||No Change|
Soft mutation generally occurs:
- On singular femine nouns following the definite article. For example: "pont" (a bridge), "y bont" (the bridge).
- After one of the prepositions: "am" (for) , "ar" (on), "at" (towards), "gan" (with), "tros" (over), "trwy" (through), "wrth" (by), "dan" (below), "heb" (without), "hyd" (until), "o" (from), "i" (to). For example: "dim" (nothing), "am ddim" (for nothing)
- After the personal pronouns: "dy" (your), "ei" (his). For example: "pen" (head), dy ben (your head)
- After the numerals "un" (one, but only sing. f.), "dau" (two m.), "dwy" (two f.), "saith" (seven), "wyth" (eight). For example: "brawd" (brother), "dau frawd" (two brothers)
Nasal mutation generally occurs:
- After "fy" (my). For example "brawd" (brother), "fy mrawd" (my brothers)
- After "yn" (in). For example "ym Mangor" (in Bangor)
Aspirate mutation generally occurs:
- After "tri" (three m.), "chwe" (six). For example: "ceffyl" (horse), "chwe cheffyl" (six horses)
- After "ei" (her). For example: "pen" (head), "ei phen" (her head)
- After "a" (and), "â" (with). For example: "caws" (cheese), "bara a chaws" (bread and cheese)
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.)