In order to help you pronounce Welsh words correctly, here is a guide to the Welsh alphabet. Note that there are a couple cases where a Welsh "letter" is actually made up of two characters (e.g., "ch", "dd", etc). So when you're next doing a Welsh crossword puzzle, remember that these double character letters fit into one box.
Yr Wyddor Gymraeg / The Welsh Alphabet
|a||short: "a" as in "ham", e.g., "mam" long: "a" as in "hard", e.g., "tad"|
|b||as in "boy", e.g., "bara"|
|c||as in "cat" (never the "s" sound as in "cent"), e.g., "cant"|
|ch||a non-English sound as in Scottish "ch" in "loch", e.g., "bach"|
|d||as in "dog", e.g., "dros"|
|dd||"th" (voiced) as in "the" (never the voiceless "th" sound as in "thin, e.g., "bedd"|
|e||short: "e" as in "then", e.g., "pen"
long: similar to "e" in "then spoken in a southern drawl, e.g., "hen"
|f||as in "of", e.g., "afal"|
|ff||as in "off", e.g., "ffŵl"|
|g||as in "god", e.g., "glan"|
|ng||as in "long", e.g., "ing"|
|h||as in "hat", e.g., "hen"|
|i||short: "i" as in "sit", e.g., "inc"
long: "ee" as in "seen", e.g., "hir"
|j||as in "jam", e.g., "jar"|
|l||as in "lamp", e.g., "lol"|
|ll||an aspirated 'l' which does not occur in English, sounded by placing the tongue so as to say 'l' and hissing out of one side of the mouth, e.g., "llan"|
|m||as in "man", e.g., "mab"|
|n||as in "name", e.g., "nos"|
|o||short: "o" as in "gone", e.g., "llon"
long: as in "more", e.g., "to"
|p||as in "pet", e.g., "pen"|
|ph||an aspirated 'p' occurring only as a mutated form, sounded as in "graph", e.g., "tri phen"|
|r||as in "rat", e.g., "caru"|
|rh||an aspirated 'r' which does not occur in English; the difference between 'rh' and 'r' is similar to that betwen 'wh' and 'w' in "when" and "went", e.g., "rhan"|
|s||as in "sit", e.g., "sant"|
|t||as in "top", e.g., "tan"|
|th||as in "thin", e.g., "cath"|
|u||short: as in "sit", e.g., "sut"
long: as in "seen", e.g., "un"
|w||as in "wind", e.g., "wedi"
short: as in "look", e.g., "cŵm"
long: as in "fool", e.g., "mwg"
|y||short: as in "sit", e.g., "cyn" (clear sound)
short: as in "gun", e.g., "yn" (obscure sound)
long: as in "seen", e.g., "dyn" (clear sound)
- There are no 'k' and 'q' in Welsh and 'y' is a vowel
- Some language specialists do not consider "j" to be part of the Welsh alphabet. This being said, there are a number of words used in Welsh (such as "jam" and "garej") that use the letter "j" while most dictionaries contain a section for Welsh words beginning with the letter "j."
- There is no 'z' in Welsh, but the sound occurs in some borrowed words, in which case it is represented by 's', e.g., "sw"
- Two consonants, 'n' and 'r', are sometimes doubled in written Welsh, e.g., "tynnu," "torri." Note that 'dd,' 'ff' and 'll' are not doubled, but are consonants in their own right.
- When 'f' occurs at the end of words it is frequently silent, e.g., "ara" for "araf", but it is not incorrect to sound it.
- A vowel is sometimes interposed between pairs of consonants at the end of words, e.g., "llyfyr" for "llyfr" and "cefen" for "cefn."
- All vowels except 'y' have two sound only.
- Sometimes the long vowel is marked by a circumflex, e.g., "cân" or "pêl"
- Apart from the obscure sound of 'y', 'i', 'u' and 'y' are pronounced in essentially the same way in South Wales. There are, however, differences between the three in North Wales.
- The rules for the pronunciation of 'y' are as follows"
- Words of one syllable: The obscure sound occurs in a small group of words, e.g., "dy," "fy," "y," "yr," but otherwise the sound is clear. It may be short as in "mynd" or long as in "byd." Unless a circumflex is used (e.g., "ty^") there is no way of distinguishing the two cases
- Words of more than one syllable: In all syllables except the last, the sound is obscure, e.g., "byddaf." In the last syllable the sound is clear. It is short if the syllable ends in a consonant, e.g., "gelyn,", and long when no consonant follows, e.g., "gwely." Note that the obscure and open sounds can occur in the same word, e.g., "mynydd," "Cymry"
- The diaresis is sometimes used to indicate that a vowel must be sounded separately, e.g., "gweddïo"
Add some colour to your Welsh with some top-notch turns of phrases in this helpful article by Alun Hughes, a frequent teacher on Cymdeithas Madog's Welsh language weeks.
Priod-dulliau / Idioms
Don't be put off by the title, which I guess does sound rather dull, for in reality idioms are anything but dull. Indeed, idioms are fascinating, so read on. Idioms are those peculiarities of expression or phraseology, full of meaning (yet often meaningless when taken literally and commonly untranslateable from one language to another), that give a language colour, flexibility and uniqueness. Some English examples will show what I mean:
He ran as fast as his legs could carry him.
He made an off the cuff remark.
He really put a spanner in the works.
Mastery of idioms is often considered a sign of mastery of a language. Anyone with a basic knowledge of English can come up with he ran as fast as he could, but it is a different matter altogether -- and much more expressive -- to say he ran as fast as his legs could carry him. Welsh is no different from English, and the purpose of this brief article is to introduce some distinctively Welsh idioms (or as they're called in Welsh, idiomau or priod-ddulliau).
Distinctively Welsh, did I say? Perhaps I should qualify that. Many Welsh idioms are indeed quite distinctive, but others are similar or even identical to idioms found in other languages. Consider, for example, three idioms that use the verb berwi, to boil:
- Roedd ei waed y berwi ar ôl clywed y newyddion.
- (His blood was boiling after hearing the news)
- Beth wnaeth i ti ddod? Mae eisiau berwi dy ben.
- (What made you come? You need your head boiled / = read.)
- Roedd y plentyn yn berwi fel cawl pys.
- (The child was boiling like pea soup / = was chattering incessantly.)
The first example is a straight translation of the English (which is not to say that the English came first!), the second is similar to the English, and the third is quite different. This provides us with a simple (if not entirely hard and fast) classification for examining idioms in the Welsh language, so let us begin with some idioms that have exact English counterparts:
- Fe wnaeth Twm lyncu'r abwyd ar unwaith.
- (Twm swallowed the bait immediately.)
- Bu'r taith yn agoriad llygad i'r ferch fach.
- (The journey was an eye-opener for the little girl.)
- Gwisgodd esgidiau ail-law am ei draed.
- (He wore second-hand shoes on his feet.)
- Af i'r dre yn fy amser da fy hun.
- (I'll go to town in my own good time.)
- Roedd y bachgen dan fawd ei dad.
- (The boy was under his father's thumb.)
- Rydw i allan o'm dyfnder yn fy ngwaith.
- (I am out of my depth in my work.)
- Bydd rhaid i ni ladd amser cyn i'r trên ddod.
- (We'll have to kill time before the train comes.)
- Neidiodd o'r badell ffrio i'r tan.
- (He jumped from the frying pan into the fire.)
- Mae hi'n siarad trwy ei het.
- (She is talking through her hat.)
Idioms like these are familiar enough to English speaker, but sometimes you need to be careful lest you misinterpret them. Take for example the saying ail i ddim. Literally translated this is second to none, but the correct meaning is next to nothing, as in the sentence, roedd ganddi ail i ddim ar ôl (She had next to nothing left). Which brings us to the second group, comprising idioms that are similar to English ones yet have a special Welsh flavour:
- Cymerwch ofal rhag ofn i chi brynu cath mewn cwd.
- (Take care lest you buy a cat in a sack / = pig in a poke.)
- Mae hi'n bwrw hen wragedd a ffyn / cyllyll a ffyrc.
- (It's raining old ladies and sticks / knives and forks / = cats and dogs.)
- Roedden nhw'n dynn fel penwaig yn yr halen.
- (They were tight like herrings in the salt / = sardines in a tin.)
- Mae Ianto ni yn dipyn o aderyn.
- (Our Ianto is a bit of a bird / = bit of a lad.)
- Cannwyll fy llygad oedd fy mab.
- (My son was the candle of my eye / = apple of my eye.)
- Agorais y drws â'm calon yn fy ngwddf.
- (I opened the door with my heart in my throat / = heart in my mouth.)
- Siaradai'r hen wraig pymtheg yn y dwsin bob amser.
- (The old woman always talked fifteen in the dozen / = nineteen to the dozen.)
- Rydw i'n yfed cwrw ond unwaith yn y pedwar amser.
- (I only drink beer once in the four seasons / = once in a blue moon.)
- Roedd y ci cyn farwed â hoelen arch.
- (The dog was as dead as a coffin nail / = as dead as a doornail.)
- Fe godais yn y bore bach.
- (I arose in the little morning / = wee hours.)
Finally, we come to the most fascinating class of all, those idioms that (so far as I know!) are uniquely Welsh:
- Rhuthrodd ef i'r ty â'i wynt yn ei ddwrn.
- (He rushed into the house with his breath in his fist / = in a great hurry.)
- Rwy'n barod i roi'r ffidil yn y tô.
- (I'm ready to put the fiddle in the roof / = to give up.)
- Rwy'n teimlo fel tynnu blewyn o'i drwyn.
- (I feel like pulling a hair from his nose / = doing something nasty to him.)
- Mae fy nhad-cu yn rhydiau'r afon.
- (My grandfather's in the fords of the river / = on his death bed.)
- Mi rown fy mhen i'w dorri y byddan nhw'n priodi.
- (I'll give my head for breaking / = I'm absolutely certain / they'll get married.)
- Mae hi'n siarad fel melin bupur.
- (She talks like a pepper mill / = talks non-stop.)
- Rwy'n edrych ymlaen at gynnu t$acirc;n ar hen aelwyd.
- (I'm looking forward to lighting a fire on an old hearth / = renewing an old love.)
- Mae hi yn llygad ei lle yn ei barn.
- (She is the eye of her place / = totally correct / in her opinion.)
- Roedd y cwbl yn freuddwyd gwrach wrth ei hewyllys.
- (It was all the dream of a witch according to her will / = wishful thinking.)
- Paid â chodi pais ar ôl piso.
- (Don't lift a petticoad after p---ing / = cry over spilt milk; shut the stable door after the horse has gone.)
All these idioms -- even the last one -- appear in Llyfr o Idiomau Cymraeg by R. E. Jones, published by Gwasg John Penry. The same author has also produced a second volume, Ail Lyfr o Idiomau Cymraeg. Two other very useful collections are: Cymraeg Idiomatig by C. P. Cule, published by D. Brown a'i Feibion; and Y Geiriau Bach by Cennard Davies, published by Gwasg Gomer. The latter is aimed specifically at learners, and as the title (The Little Words) hints, groups idioms according to the prepositions (am, ar, at, dros, gan, etc.) that occur in them.
Part of the richness of any language derives from its idioms. In a world language like English, new idioms are being created almost daily -- relatively recent examples are: the bottom line, put on the back burner, and get a handle on. Welsh, like all languages, has a vast store of native idioms, but the process of idiom creation proceeds much more slowly than in English, and there is a real danger that the stock of idioms will become progressively depleted (and the language impoverished) as time goes on. The solution? Learn these expressions, and use them! To quote in translation Thomas Parry's introduction to Llyfr o Idiomau Cymraeg:
"I hope that everyone who uses Welsh seriously in speech and in writing will make room for these sayings in their language, in order to preserve them for our linguistic consciousness as a nation ... There has never been a greater need than there is today for contemplating the words of Emrys ap Iwan: 'As shall be the language, so shall be the man, and so shall be the nation. Good language promotes civilization, and poor language, or language that is not used well, hinders civilization.'"
"Have" is one of the most difficult words to translate into Welsh. Here's some helpful advice by Alun Hughes, a frequent teacher on Cymdeithas Madog's Welsh language weeks.
When You Have To Say "Have"
I remember once being teased by an English girl about the fact that certain Welsh words have more than one meaning. Glas was one she picked on, for amongst other things glas can mean blue, green or grey. 'Are you Taffies colour-blind?' she asked, her eyes of glas (being a Taffy I couldn't tell which variety, though they weren't brown, which is just as well because the Welsh language lacks its own word for brown) twinkling merrily. Totally captivated, I was able only to stammer unconvincingly, 'many languages have words like that, even English,' before blushing deep red and, well, moving on to other things. Which in retrospect is too bad, for I could have quoted many similar examples from her own language. One of these -- the word 'have,' and how it translates into Welsh -- is the subject of this article.
A quick check of the dictionary reveals over a dozen distinct meanings for 'have,' which makes glas seem positively pallid by comparison (for glas, read grey). Not only that, several of those meanings are so basic that 'have' is one of the most widely used words in the language (I have no evidence to prove this claim, but it just has to be true -- in fact I've used the word in different guises three times in these parentheses alone!). Let us look at how these same meanings are expressed in Welsh, where the situation is much less straightforward.
One of the most important uses of 'have' is to denote possession, as in 'she has a book,' or indeed 'I have no evidence.' Welsh has its own verb meaning 'to have' -- cael -- but unfortunately it can't be used in this sense! I shouldn't really say unfortunately, for it implies that Welsh is somehow deficient which isn't the case at all, though the Welsh way of expressing possession does sound rather awkward to ears accustomed to English. In Welsh, for 'she has a book' you have to say, 'there is a book with her,' i.e., mae llyfr gyda hi. Another example is roedd car gyda'r dyn -- 'the man had a car.'
Note the structure of these sentences: verb + noun + preposition + noun/pronoun. The first noun is the object of the equivalent English sentence, and the noun or pronoun at the end is the subject. This structure is very commen in Welsh, and to Welsh ears it doesn't sound awkward at all.
And so, when the thing 'possessed' is a quality or attribute rather than a possession in the normal sense, the same structure is used, albeit with a minor change. Thus, 'the church has beautiful windows' is mae ffenestri hardd i'r eglwys, literally, 'there are beautiful windows to the church,' the difference being that the preposition i replaces gyda. In the same fashion, the famous Canadian current-affairs program 'This Hour Has Seven Days' would have been Mae Saith Diwrnod I'r Awr Hon had it been produced on S4C in Wales.
The same structure is used to express 'have' in the sense of 'be affected by' or 'be suffering from.' Thus 'he has a headache' is mae pen tost gyda fe, or 'there is a sick head with him.' If the ailment in question does not make reference to a specific part of the body, as in 'you have the measles,' the structure is unchanged but the presposition becomes ar: mae'r frech goch arnat ti, literally (though none too agreeably) 'the red pox is on you.'
Another 'have' that can be conveyed by the same structure is the 'have' of obligation or requirement, as in 'I have to.' In Welsh, this is mae rhaid i fi, or 'there is necessity for me.' Normally, of course, the phrase is followed by whatever it is that has to be done, as in mae rhaid iddo fe fynd ('he has to go'), and Oes rhaid i ni ganu? ('do we have to sing?'). As can be seen, the verb denoting the action undergoes soft mutation.
A different sort of 'have' altogether is the one that signifies a past action, as in 'they have eaten.' The Welsh word for this 'have,' technically known as an aspect marker, is wedi. And so 'they have eaten' is maen nhw wedi bwyta. This is the perfect tense of the verb, and you may think of it as being 'derived' from the present tense (mae nhw yn bwyta -- 'they are eating') by replacing one aspect marker, yn, by another, wedi.
We can of course put almost any verb after wedi, to indicate any number of past actions, and one of these in fact is the Welsh word for 'to have,' cael, as in rydw i wedi cael. But what exactly does cael mean in this context? More generally, what meanings of 'have' does cael convey that have not been covered already?
Well, there are several of these, and I'll just mention two of the most important ones. The first, a kind of catch-all meaning really, is 'have' in the sense of 'experience,' or 'take,' or 'receive,' as in 'she'll have a good time,' 'I have lunch at midday,' and 'Twm had a car on his birthday.' In Welsh these become fe fydd hi'n cael amser da, rydw i'n cael cinio am hanner dydd, and fe gafodd Twm car ar ei benblwydd (gafodd being a past tense form of cael). If the third of these examples sounds a little strange to North American ears, it's because this use of 'have' to mean 'receive' is more old world than new. Combining cael with wedi, as we did in the last paragraph, we can also say things in the perfect tense, like rydw i wedi cael cinio yn barod, meaning 'I have had lunch already.'
The other use of cael follows on from this example, in that it too involves the use of cael with wedi. This is to help convey the perfect tense of the passive, as in 'they have been seen.' In Welsh this is maen nhw wedi cael eu gweld, literally, 'they have had their seeing.' Another example is roedd y ferch wedi cael ei chosbi ('the girl had been punished'). It should be noted cael is sometimes present only by implication in this construction, as for example in maen nhw wedi eu gweld.
The English 'have' has other meanings also, as in 'please have this done at once,' 'I won't have this nonsense,' 'she has a little French,' 'he has him where he wants him,' 'I feel I've been had,' and "have at you!' But I will have mercy, for I'm sure you've had enough, so I'll have done with it. Have a nice day, now.