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Welsh language

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Cymraeg, y Gymraeg
Pronunciation [kəmˈrɑːɨɡ]
Region Spoken throughout Wales, and in Chubut province of Argentina
Native speakers
All speakers: 740,000 (2004–2014)
Early forms
Latin (Welsh alphabet)
Welsh Braille
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated by Meri Huws, the Welsh Language Commissioner (since 1 April 2012)[5] and the Welsh Government (Llywodraeth Cymru)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 cy
ISO 639-2 wel (B)
cym (T)
ISO 639-3 cym
Glottolog wels1247[6]
Linguasphere 50-ABA
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Welsh (Cymraeg or y Gymraeg, pronounced [kəmˈrɑːɨɡ, ə ɡəmˈrɑːɨɡ]) is a member of the Brittonic branch of the Celtic languages spoken natively in Wales, by some in England, and in Y Wladfa (the Welsh colony in Chubut Province, Argentina).[7] Historically it has also been known in English as "the British tongue",[8] "Cambrian",[9] "Cambric"[10] and "Cymric".[11]

The 2011 UK Census counted 3.1 million residents of Wales. Of these, 73% (2.2 million) reported having no Welsh language skills. In 2011, 27% (837,000) of the total population of Wales were born outside of Wales, and of these, 636,000 (76%) were born in England.[12] Of the residents of Wales aged three and over, 19% (562,000) reported being able to speak Welsh, and 77% of these were able to speak, read and write the language (making 431,000 – 15% of the total population).[13] This can be compared with the 2001 Census, in which 20.8% of the population (582,000) reported being able to speak Welsh.[14] In surveys carried out between 2004 and 2006, 57% (315,000) of Welsh speakers described themselves as fluent in the written language.[15]

A greeting in Welsh is one of 55 languages included on the Voyager Golden Record chosen to be representative of Earth in NASA's Voyager program launched in 1977.[16] The greetings are unique to each language, with the Welsh greeting being Iechyd da i chwi yn awr ac yn oesoedd, which translates into English as "Good health to you now and forever".[17][18]

The Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 gave the Welsh language official status in Wales,[19] making it the only language that is de jure official in any part of the United Kingdom, English being de facto official.

Throughout Wales, roadsigns are bilingual with Welsh and English (e.g. Chepstow is the English name, also given as Cas-gwent which is the Welsh name). The language that appears on the signs first is decided by the local government.


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This tattered Welsh Bible of 1620, in Llanwnda church, is said to have been rescued from the hands of French invaders in 1797.

Welsh emerged in the 6th century from Common Brittonic, the common ancestor of Welsh, Breton, Cornish and the extinct language known as Cumbric.

Four periods are identified in the history of Welsh, with rather indistinct boundaries: The period immediately following the language's emergence from Brittonic is sometimes referred to as Primitive Welsh;[20] this was followed by the Old Welsh period, considered to stretch from the beginning of the 9th century to the 12th century.[20] The Middle Welsh period is considered to have lasted from then until the 14th century, when the Modern Welsh period began, which in turn divided into Early and Late Modern Welsh.

The name Welsh originated as an exonym given to its speakers by the Anglo-Saxons, meaning "foreign speech" (see Walha). The native term for the language is Cymraeg and Cymru for "Wales".


Welsh evolved from British, the Celtic language spoken by the ancient Britons. Alternatively classified as Insular Celtic or P-Celtic, it probably arrived in Britain during the Bronze Age or Iron Age and was probably spoken throughout the island south of the Firth of Forth.[21] During the Early Middle Ages the British language began to fragment due to increased dialect differentiation, evolving into Welsh and the other Brythonic languages (Breton, Cornish, and the extinct Cumbric). It is not clear when Welsh became distinct.[22]

Kenneth H. Jackson suggested that the evolution in syllabic structure and sound pattern was complete by around 550, and labelled the period between then and about 800 "Primitive Welsh".[22] This Primitive Welsh may have been spoken in both Wales and the Hen Ogledd ("Old North"), the Brythonic-speaking areas of what is now northern England and southern Scotland, and therefore been the ancestor of Cumbric as well as Welsh. Jackson, however, believed that the two varieties were already distinct by that time.[22] The earliest Welsh poetry – that attributed to the Cynfeirdd or "Early Poets" – is generally considered to date to the Primitive Welsh period. However, much of this poetry was supposedly composed in the Hen Ogledd, raising further questions about the dating of the material and language in which it was originally composed.[22] An 8th century inscription in Tywyn shows the language already dropping inflections in the declension of nouns.[23]

Old Welsh

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The next main period, somewhat better attested, is Old Welsh (Hen Gymraeg, 9th to 11th centuries); poetry from both Wales and Scotland has been preserved in this form of the language. As Germanic and Gaelic colonisation of Great Britain proceeded, the Brythonic speakers in Wales were split off from those in northern England, speaking Cumbric, and those in the south-west, speaking what would become Cornish, and so the languages diverged. Both the Poetry of Aneirin (Canu Aneirin, c. AD 600) and the Poetry, or Book, of Taliesin (Canu Taliesin) were in this era.

Middle Welsh

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Middle Welsh (Cymraeg Canol) is the label attached to the Welsh of the 12th to 14th centuries, of which much more remains than for any earlier period. This is the language of nearly all surviving early manuscripts of the Mabinogion, although the tales themselves are certainly much older. It is also the language of the existing Welsh law manuscripts. Middle Welsh is reasonably intelligible, albeit with some work, to a modern-day Welsh speaker.

The famous cleric Gerald of Wales tells, in his Descriptio Cambriae, a story of King Henry II of England. During one of the King's many raids in the 12th century, Henry asked an old man of Pencader, Carmarthenshire whether the Welsh people could resist his army. The old man replied:

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It can never be destroyed through the wrath of man, unless the wrath of God shall concur. Nor do I think that any other nation than this of Wales, nor any other language, whatever may hereafter come to pass, shall in the day of reckoning before the Supreme Judge, answer for this corner of the Earth.[24]

Welsh Bible

The 1588 Welsh Bible

The Bible translations into Welsh helped to maintain the use of Welsh in daily life. The New Testament was translated by William Salesbury in 1567 followed by the complete Bible by William Morgan in 1588.

Geographic distribution

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The proportion of respondents in the 2011 census who said they could speak Welsh.

Welsh has been spoken continuously in Wales throughout recorded history, but by 1911 it had become a minority language, spoken by 43.5% of the population.[25] While this decline continued over the following decades, the language did not die out. By the start of the twenty-first century, numbers had begun to increase again. The 2004 Welsh Language Use Survey showed 21.7% of the population of Wales spoke Welsh,[26] compared with 20.8% in the 2001 census, and 18.5% in 1991. The 2011 census, however, showed a slight decline to 562,000, or 19% of the population.[27] The census also showed a "big drop" in the number of speakers in the Welsh-speaking heartlands, with the number dropping to under 50% in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire for the first time.[28]

The number of Welsh-speaking people in the rest of Britain has not yet been compiled for statistical purposes. In 1993, the Welsh-language television channel S4C published the results of a survey into the numbers of people who spoke or understood Welsh, which estimated that there were around 133,000 Welsh-speaking people living in England, about 50,000 of them in the Greater London area.[29] The Welsh Language Board, on the basis of an analysis of the Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study, estimated there were 110,000 Welsh-speaking people in England, and another thousand in Scotland and Northern Ireland.[30]

Welsh-speaking communities persisted well on into the modern period across the border with England. Archenfield was still Welsh enough in the time of Elizabeth I for the Bishop of Hereford to be made responsible, together with the four Welsh bishops, for the translation of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer into Welsh. Welsh was still commonly spoken here in the first half of the nineteenth century, and churchwardens’ notices were put up in both Welsh and English until about 1860.[31]

Historically, large numbers of Welsh people spoke only Welsh.[32] Over the course of the twentieth century this monolingual population "all but disappeared", but a small percentage remained at the time of the 1981 census.[33] Most Welsh-speaking people in Wales also speak English (while in Chubut Province, Argentina, most speakers can speak Spanish – see Y Wladfa). However, many Welsh-speaking people are more comfortable expressing themselves in Welsh than in English. A speaker's choice of language can vary according to the subject domain and the social context, even within a single discourse (known in linguistics as code-switching).

Welsh as a first language is largely concentrated in the north and west of Wales, principally Gwynedd, Conwy, Denbighshire (Sir Ddinbych), Anglesey (Ynys Môn), Carmarthenshire (Sir Gâr), north Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro), Ceredigion, parts of Glamorgan (Morgannwg), and north-west and extreme south-west Powys, although first-language and other fluent speakers can be found throughout Wales.


Official status

Trilingual (Spanish, Welsh and English) sign in Argentina
Bilingual road markings near Cardiff Airport. In Welsh-speaking areas, the Welsh signage appears first.

Although Welsh is a minority language, support for it grew during the second half of the 20th century, along with the rise of organisations such as the nationalist political party Plaid Cymru from 1925 and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) from 1962.

The Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 provide that the Welsh and English languages be treated equally in the public sector, as far as is reasonable and practicable. Each public body is required to prepare for approval a Welsh Language Scheme, which indicates its commitment to the equality of treatment principle. This is sent out in draft form for public consultation for a three-month period, whereupon comments on it may be incorporated into a final version. It requires the final approval of the now defunct Welsh Language Board (Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg). Thereafter, the public body is charged with implementing and fulfilling its obligations under the Welsh Language Scheme. The list of other public bodies which have to prepare Schemes could be added to by initially the Secretary of State for Wales, from 1993–1997, by way of Statutory Instrument. Subsequent to the forming of the National Assembly for Wales in 1997, the Government Minister responsible for the Welsh language can and has passed Statutory Instruments naming public bodies who have to prepare Schemes. Neither 1993 Act nor secondary legislation made under it cover the private sector, although some organisations, notably banks and some railway companies, provide some of their literature in Welsh.[citation needed]

On 7 December 2010, the Welsh Assembly unanimously approved a set of measures to develop the use of the Welsh language within Wales.[34][35] On 9 February 2011, this measure received Royal Approval and was passed, thus making the Welsh language an officially recognised language within Wales.[36] The Measure:

  • confirms the official status of the Welsh language;
  • creates a new system of placing duties on bodies to provide services through the medium of Welsh;
  • creates a Welsh Language Commissioner with strong enforcement powers to protect the rights of Welsh-speaking people to access services through the medium of Welsh;
  • establishes a Welsh Language Tribunal;
  • gives individuals and bodies the right to appeal decisions made in relation to the provision of services through the medium of Welsh
  • creates a Welsh Language Partnership Council to advise Government on its strategy in relation to the Welsh language;
  • allows for an official investigation by the Welsh Language Commissioner of instances where there is an attempt to interfere with the freedom of Welsh-speaking people to use the language with one another.[37]

With the passing of this measure, public bodies and some private companies will be required to provide services in it, though it remains to be seen which companies will have to comply.[needs update] The Minister for Heritage at the time, Alun Ffred Jones, said, "The Welsh language is a source of great pride for the people of Wales, whether they speak it or not, and I am delighted that this Measure has now become law. I am very proud to have steered legislation through the Assembly which confirms the official status of the Welsh language; which creates a strong advocate for Welsh speakers and will improve the quality and quantity of services available through the medium of Welsh. I believe that everyone who wants to access services in the Welsh language should be able to do so, and that is what this government has worked towards. This legislation is an important and historic step forward for the language, its speakers and for the nation."[37] The measure was not welcomed warmly by all supporters; Bethan Williams, chairperson of language campaign group Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, gave a mixed response to the move, saying, "Through this measure we have won official status for the language and that has been warmly welcomed. But there was a core principle missing in the law passed by the Assembly before Christmas. It doesn't give language rights to the people of Wales in every aspect of their lives. Despite that, an amendment to that effect was supported by 18 Assembly Members from three different parties, and that was a significant step forward."[38]

On 5 October 2011, Meri Huws, Chair of the Welsh Language Board was appointed the new Welsh Language Commissioner.[39] In a statement released by her, she said that she was "delighted" to have been appointed to the "hugely important role", adding, "I look forward to working with the Welsh Government and organisations in Wales in developing the new system of standards. I will look to build on the good work that has been done by the Welsh Language Board and others to strengthen the Welsh language and ensure that it continues to thrive." First Minister Carwyn Jones said that Meri will act as a champion for the Welsh language, though some had concerns over her appointment; Plaid Cymru spokeswoman Bethan Jenkins said, "I have concerns about the transition from Meri Huws's role from the Welsh Language Board to the language commissioner, and I will be asking the Welsh government how this will be successfully managed. We must be sure that there is no conflict of interest, and that the Welsh Language Commissioner can demonstrate how she will offer the required fresh approach to this new role." She started her role as the Welsh Language Commissioner on 1 April 2012.

Local councils and the National Assembly for Wales use Welsh, to varying degrees, issuing their literature and publicity in Welsh versions (e.g. letters to parents from schools, library information, and council information) and most road signs in Wales are in English and Welsh, including the Welsh placenames. However, some references to destinations in England are still given in English only, even where there are long-established Welsh names (e.g. London: Llundain; The [English] Midlands: Canolbarth Lloegr).

Since 2000, the teaching of Welsh has been compulsory in all schools in Wales up to age 16, and that has had a major effect in stabilising and to some extent reversing the decline in the language. It means, for example, that even the children of non-Welsh-speaking parents from elsewhere in the UK grow up with a knowledge of or complete fluency in the language.[citation needed]

Although most road signs throughout Wales are bilingual, the wording on currency is in English only. The one exception is the legend on Welsh pound coins dated 1985, 1990 and 1995 (which are legal tender in all parts of the UK): Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, which means "True am I to my country") and derives from the national anthem of Wales, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. The new British coinage from 2008 will not bear any Welsh language at all, despite being designed by a resident of North Wales and being minted at the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, South Wales. Although many shops employ bilingual signage, Welsh still rarely appears on product packaging or instructions.[citation needed]

The UK government has ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in respect of Welsh.[40]

Bilingual road sign near Wrexham Central station.

The language has greatly increased its prominence since the creation of the television channel S4C in November 1982, which until digital switchover in 2010 broadcast 70% of Channel 4's programming along with a majority of Welsh language shows[41] during peak viewing hours. The all-Welsh-language digital station S4C Digidol is available throughout Europe on satellite and online throughout the UK. Since the digital switchover was completed in South Wales on 31 March 2010, S4C Digidol became the main broadcasting channel and fully in Welsh. The main evening television news provided by the BBC in Welsh is available for download.[42] There is also a Welsh-language radio station, BBC Radio Cymru, which was launched in 1977.

There is, however, no daily newspaper in Welsh, the only Welsh-language national newspaper Y Cymro ("The Welshman") being published once a week. A daily newspaper called Y Byd ("The World") was scheduled to be launched on 3 March 2008, but was scrapped,[43] owing to poor sales of subscriptions[citation needed] and the Welsh Government deeming the publication not to meet the criteria necessary for the kind of public funding it needed to be rescued.[citation needed] There is, however a Welsh-language online news service which publishes online news stories in Welsh called Golwg360 [2].

Persons applying for naturalisation in the UK are required to have both an understanding of life in the UK and sufficient knowledge of either the Welsh language, English or Scottish Gaelic.[44]

Welsh in education

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File:Cyhoeddi grant i dotCYM gan Ieuan Wyn Jones, 2008.jpg
Children at a Welsh language school in Wales, 2008

The decade around 1840 was a period of great social upheaval in Wales, manifested in the Chartist movement. In 1839, 20,000 people marched on Newport, resulting in a riot when 20 people were killed by soldiers defending the Westgate Hotel, and the Rebecca Riots where tollbooths on turnpikes were systematically destroyed.

This unrest brought the state of education in Wales to the attention of the English establishment since social reformers of the time considered education as a means of dealing with social ills. The Times newspaper was prominent among those who considered that the lack of education of the Welsh people was the root cause of most of the problems.

In July 1846, three commissioners, R.R.W. Lingen, Jellynger C. Symons and H.R. Vaughan Johnson, were appointed to inquire into the state of education in Wales; the Commissioners were all Anglicans and were presumed[by whom?] to be unsympathetic to the non-conformist majority in Wales. The Commissioners presented their report to the Government on 1 July 1847 in three large blue-bound volumes. This report quickly became known as Brad y Llyfrau Gleision (The Treachery of the Blue Books)[45] since, apart from documenting the state of education in Wales, the Commissioners were also free with their comments disparaging the language, non-conformity, and the morals of the Welsh people in general. An immediate effect of the report was for a belief to take root in the minds of ordinary people that the only way for Welsh people to get on in the world was through the medium of English, and an inferiority complex developed about the Welsh language whose effects have not yet been completely eradicated. The historian Professor Kenneth O. Morgan referred to the significance of the report and its consequences as "the Glencoe and the Amritsar of Welsh history".[46]

Welsh language as the medium of instruction

In the later 19th century virtually all teaching in the schools of Wales was in English, even in areas where the pupils barely understood English. Some schools used the Welsh Not, a piece of wood, often bearing the letters "WN", which was hung around the neck of any pupil caught speaking Welsh. The pupil could pass it on to any schoolmate heard speaking Welsh, with the pupil wearing it at the end of the day being given a beating. One of the most famous Welsh-born pioneers of higher education in Wales was Sir Hugh Owen. He made great progress in the cause of education and more especially, the University College of Wales at Aberystwyth, of which he was chief founder. He has been credited[by whom?] with the Welsh Intermediate Education Act 1889, following which several new Welsh schools were built. The first was completed in 1894 and named Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen.

Towards the beginning of the 20th century this policy slowly began to change, partly owing to the efforts of Owen Morgan Edwards when he became chief inspector of schools for Wales in 1907.

The Aberystwyth Welsh School (Ysgol Gymraeg Aberystwyth) was founded in 1939 by Sir Ifan ap Owen Edwards, the son of O.M. Edwards, as the first Welsh Primary School. The headteacher was Norah Isaac. Ysgol Gymraeg is still a very successful school, and now there are Welsh language primary schools all over the country. Ysgol Glan Clwyd was established in Rhyl in 1955 as the first Welsh language school to teach at the secondary level.

Sign promoting the learning of Welsh

Welsh is now widely used in education, with 20% of all pupils in Wales being taught at Welsh-medium schools.[47] Under the National Curriculum, it is compulsory that all students should study Welsh up to the age of 16, either as a first language or a second language.[48] Some students choose to continue with their studies through the medium of Welsh for the completion of their A-levels as well as during their college years. All local education authorities in Wales have schools providing bilingual or Welsh-medium education.[49] The remainder study Welsh as a second language in English-medium schools. Specialist teachers of Welsh called Athrawon Bro support the teaching of Welsh in the National Curriculum. Welsh is also taught in adult education classes. The Welsh Government has recently set up six centres of excellence in the teaching of Welsh for Adults, with centres in North Wales (, Mid Wales, South West, Glamorgan, Gwent. and Cardiff.

The ability to speak Welsh or to have Welsh as a qualification is desirable for certain career choices in Wales, such as teaching or customer service.[50] All universities in Wales teach courses in Welsh. Aberystwyth, Cardiff, Bangor, and Swansea have all had chairs in Welsh since their virtual establishment, and all their schools of Welsh are successful centres for the study of the Welsh language and its literature, offering a BA in Welsh as well as post-graduate courses. Following a commitment made in the One Wales coalition government between Labour and Plaid Cymru, the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol (Welsh Language National College) was established. The purpose of the federal structured college, spread out between all the universities of Wales, is to provide and also advance Welsh medium courses and Welsh medium scholarship and research in Welsh universities. Over the next few years, it is expected that there will be at least 100 lecturers who teach through the medium of Welsh in subjects ranging from law, modern languages, social sciences, and also other sciences such as biological sciences. There is also a Welsh-medium academic journal called Gwerddon, which is a platform for academic research in Welsh and is published quarterly. There have been calls for more teaching of Welsh in English-medium schools.

Welsh in information technology

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As with many of the world's languages, the Welsh language has seen an increased use and presence on the internet, ranging from formal lists of terminology in a variety of fields[51] to Welsh language interfaces for Windows 7, Microsoft Windows XP, Vista, Microsoft Office, LibreOffice,, Mozilla Firefox and a variety of Linux distributions, and on-line services to blogs kept in Welsh.[52] A variety of websites are also available in Welsh: the social networking site Facebook has offered a Welsh version since 2009, and Wikipedia since July 2003.[53]

Mobile phone technology

In 2006 the Welsh Language Board launched a free software pack which enabled the use of SMS predictive text in Welsh.[54] At the National Eisteddfod of Wales 2009, a further announcement was made by the Welsh Language Board that the mobile phone company Samsung was to work with the network provider Orange to provide the first mobile phone in the Welsh language,[55] with the interface and the T9 dictionary on the Samsung S5600 available in the Welsh language. The model, available with the Welsh language interface, has been available since 1 September 2009, with plans to introduce it on other networks.[56]

On Android devices, user-created keyboards can be used.[57] iOS devices have fully supported the Welsh language since the release of iOS 8 in September 2014. Users can switch their device to Welsh to access apps that are available in Welsh. Date and time on iOS is also localized, as shown by the built-in Calendar application, as well as certain third party apps that have been localized.[58][59]

Welsh in warfare

Secure communications are often difficult to achieve in wartime. Cryptography can be used to protect messages, but codes can be broken. Therefore, lesser-known languages are sometimes encoded, so that even if the code is broken, the message is still in a language few people know. For example, Navajo code talkers were used by the United States military during World War II. Similarly, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, a Welsh regiment serving in Bosnia, used Welsh for emergency communications that needed to be secure.[60] Welsh was not used in the Falklands War because of the Welsh-speaking Argentine population in Patagonia.[citation needed]

Use of Welsh at the European Union

In November 2008, the Welsh language was used at a meeting of the European Union's Council of Ministers for the first time. The Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones addressed his audience in Welsh and his words were interpreted into the EU’s 23 official languages. The official use of the language followed years of campaigning. Jones said "In the UK we have one of the world’s major languages, English, as the mother tongue of many. But there is a diversity of languages within our islands. I am proud to be speaking to you in one of the oldest of these, Welsh, the language of Wales." He described the breakthrough as "more than [merely] symbolic" saying "Welsh might be one of the oldest languages to be used in the UK, but it remains one of the most vibrant. Our literature, our arts, our festivals, our great tradition of song all find expression through our language. And this is a powerful demonstration of how our culture, the very essence of who we are, is expressed through language."[61]


Welsh vocabulary draws mainly from original Brittonic words (wy "egg", carreg "stone"), with some loans from Latin (ffenestr "window" < Latin fenestra, gwin "wine" < Latin vinum), and English (silff "shelf", giat "gate").


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The phonology of Welsh is characterised by a number of sounds that do not occur in English and are typologically rare in European languages, specifically the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative [ɬ], voiceless nasal stops [m̥], [n̥], and [ŋ̊], and voiceless rhotic [r̥]. Stress usually falls on the penultimate syllable in polysyllabic words, while the word-final unstressed syllable receives a higher pitch than the stressed syllable.


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Welsh is written in a Latin alphabet traditionally consisting of 28 letters, of which eight are digraphs treated as single letters for collation:

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

In contrast to English practice, "w" and "y" are considered vowel letters in Welsh along with "a", "e", "i", "o" and "u".

The letter "j" is used in many everyday words borrowed from English, like jam, jôc "joke" and garej "garage". The letters "k", "q", "v", "x", and "z" are used in some technical terms, like kilogram, volt and zero, but in all cases can be, and often are, replaced by Welsh letters: cilogram, folt and sero.[62] The letter "k" was in common use until the sixteenth century, but was dropped at the time of the publication of the New Testament in Welsh, as William Salesbury explained: "C for K, because the printers have not so many as the Welsh requireth". This change was not popular at the time.[63]

The most common diacritic is the circumflex, which disambiguates long vowels, most often in the case of homographs, where the vowel is short in one word and long in the other: e.g. man "place" vs mân "fine", "small".



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Welsh morphology has much in common with that of the other modern Insular Celtic languages, such as the use of initial consonant mutations, and the use of so-called "conjugated prepositions" (prepositions that fuse with the personal pronouns that are their object). Welsh nouns belong to one of two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine, but are not inflected for case. Welsh has a variety of different endings to indicate the plural, and two endings to indicate the singular of some nouns. In spoken Welsh, verb inflection is indicated primarily by the use of auxiliary verbs, rather than by the inflection of the main verb. In literary Welsh, on the other hand, inflection of the main verb is usual.


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The canonical word order in Welsh is verb–subject–object.

Colloquial Welsh inclines very strongly towards the use of auxiliaries with its verbs. The present tense is constructed with bod ("to be") as an auxiliary verb, with the main verb appearing as a verbnoun (used in a way loosely equivalent to an infinitive) after the particle yn:

Mae Siân yn mynd i Lanelli
Siân is going to Llanelli.

Here mae is a third-person singular present indicative form of bod, and mynd is the verbnoun meaning "to go". The imperfect is constructed in a similar manner, as are the periphrastic forms of the future and conditional tenses.

In the preterite, future, and conditional tenses, there are inflected forms of all verbs (which are invariably used in the written language). However, it is more common nowadays in speech to use the verbnoun together with an inflected form of gwneud ("to do"), so "I went" can be Mi es i or Mi wnes i fynd. Mi is an example of a preverbal particle; such particles are common in Welsh.

Welsh lacks separate pronouns for constructing subordinate clauses; instead, special verb forms or relative pronouns which appear identical to some preverbal particles are used.

Other features of Welsh grammar

Possessives as direct objects of verbnouns

The Welsh for "I like Rhodri" is Dw i'n hoffi Rhodri (word for word, "am I [the] liking [of] Rhodri"), where Rhodri is in a possessive relationship with hoffi. With personal pronouns, the possessive form of the personal pronoun is used, as in "I like him": Dw i'n ei hoffi – literally, "am I his liking" – "I like you" is Dw i'n dy hoffi ("am I your liking").

Pronoun doubling

In colloquial Welsh, possessive pronouns—whether used to mean "my", "your", etc., or to indicate the direct object of a verbnoun—are commonly reinforced by the use of the corresponding personal pronoun after the noun or verbnoun: ei dŷ e "his house" (literally "his house of him"), Dw i'n dy hoffi di "I like you" ("I am [engaged in the action of] your liking of you"), etc. It should be noted that this "reinforcement" (or, simply, "redoubling") adds no emphasis in the colloquial register. While the possessive pronoun alone may be used (as is especially common in more formal registers, as shown above), it is considered incorrect to use only the personal pronoun; such usage is nevertheless sometimes heard in very colloquial speech, mainly among young speakers: Ble 'dyn ni'n mynd? Tŷ ti neu dŷ fi? ("Where are we going? Your house or my house?").

Counting system

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The traditional counting system used in the Welsh language is vigesimal, i.e. it is based on twenties, as in standard French numbers 70 (soixante-dix, literally "sixty-ten") to 99 (quatre-vingt-dix-neuf, literally "four score nineteen"). Welsh numbers from 11 to 14 are "x on ten" (e.g. un ar ddeg (11)), 16 to 19 are "x on fifteen" (e.g. un ar bymtheg (16)) (though 18 is deunaw, "two nines"); numbers from 21 to 39 are "1–19 on twenty", 40 is deugain "two twenties", 60 is trigain "three twenties", etc. This form continues to be used, especially by older people, and it is obligatory in certain circumstances (such as telling the time, and in ordinal numbers).[64]

There is also a decimal counting system, which has become relatively widely used, though less so in giving the time, ages, and dates (it features no ordinal numbers). This system is in especially common use in schools due to its simplicity, and in Patagonian Welsh. Whereas 39 in the vigesimal system is pedwar ar bymtheg ar hugain ("four on fifteen on twenty") or even deugain namyn un ("two score minus one"), in the decimal system it is tri deg naw ("three tens nine").

Although there is only one word for "one" (un), it triggers the soft mutation (treiglad meddal) of feminine nouns, other than those beginning with "ll" or "rh" (or "n", "s" etc). There are separate masculine and feminine forms of the numbers "two" (dau and dwy), "three" (tri and tair) and "four" (pedwar and pedair), which must agree with the grammatical gender of the objects being counted. The objects being counted appear in the singular, not plural form.


There is no standard or definitive form of the Welsh language. Although Northern and Southern Welsh are the two commonly supposed main dialects, in reality additional significant variations exist within areas. A perhaps more useful traditional classification is of four main dialects: Y Wyndodeg, the language of Gwynedd; Y Bowyseg, the language of Powys; Y Ddyfedeg, the language of Dyfed; and Y Wenhwyseg, the language of Gwent and Morgannwg.[65] Fine-grained classifications exist beyond those four: the book Cymraeg, Cymrâg, Cymrêg: Cyflwyno'r Tafodieithoedd ("Welsh, Welsh, Welsh: Introducing the Dialects")[66] about Welsh dialects was accompanied by a cassette containing recordings of fourteen different speakers demonstrating aspects of different area dialects. The book also refers to the earlier Linguistic Geography of Wales[67] as describing six different regions which could be identified as having words specific to those regions.

Another dialect is Patagonian Welsh, which has developed since the start of Y Wladfa (the Welsh settlement in Argentina) in 1865; it includes Spanish loanwords and terms for local features, but a survey in the 1970s showed that the language in Patagonia is consistent throughout the lower Chubut valley and in the Andes.

The differences in dialect are marked in pronunciation and vocabulary but also in minor points of grammar. For example: consider the question "Do you want a cuppa [a cup of tea]?" In Gwynedd this would typically be Dach chi isio panad? while in Glamorgan one would be more likely to hear Ych chi'n moyn dishgled? (though in other parts of the South one would not be surprised to hear Ych chi isie paned? as well, among other possibilities). An example of a pronunciation difference between Northern and Southern Welsh is the tendency in southern dialects to palatalise the letter "s", e.g. mis (month), would tend to be pronounced [miːs] in the north, and [miːʃ] in the south. This normally occurs next to a high front vowel like /i/, although exceptions include the pronunciation of sut "how" as [ʃʊd] in the south (compared with northern [sɨt]).

In the 1970s, there was an attempt to standardise the language by teaching 'Cymraeg Byw' ("Living Welsh")- a colloquially-based generic form of Welsh.[68] But the attempt largely failed because it did not encompass the regional differences used by native speakers of Welsh.


Modern Welsh can be considered to fall broadly into two main registers—Colloquial Welsh (Cymraeg llafar) and Literary Welsh (Cymraeg llenyddol). The grammar described on this page is that of Colloquial Welsh, which is used in most speech and informal writing. Literary Welsh is closer to the form of Welsh standardised by the 1588 translation of the Bible and is found in official documents and other formal registers, including much literature. As a standardised form, literary Welsh shows little if any of the dialectal variation found in colloquial Welsh. Some differences include:

Literary Welsh Colloquial Welsh
Can omit subject pronouns (pro-drop) Subject pronouns rarely omitted
More extensive use of simple verb forms More extensive use of periphrastic verb forms
No distinction between simple present and future
(e.g. af "I go"/"I shall go")
Simple form most often expresses only future
(e.g. af i "I'll go")
Subjunctive verb forms Subjunctive in fixed idioms only ending and pronoun –nt hwy ending and pronoun –n nhw

Amongst the characteristics of the literary, as against the spoken, language are a higher dependence on inflected verb forms, different usage of some of the tenses, less frequent use of pronouns (since the information is usually conveyed in the verb/preposition inflections) and a much lesser tendency to substitute English loanwords for native Welsh words. In addition, more archaic pronouns and forms of mutation may be observed in Literary Welsh.

Examples of sentences in literary and colloquial Welsh

English Literary Welsh Colloquial Welsh
I get up early every day. Codaf yn gynnar bob dydd. Dwi'n codi'n gynnar bob dydd. (North)
Rwy'n codi'n gynnar bob dydd. (South)
I'll get up early tomorrow. Codaf yn gynnar yfory. Mi goda i'n gynnar fory
Wna i godi'n gynnar fory
He had not stood there long. Ni safasai yno yn hir.[69] Doedd o ddim wedi sefyll yno'n hir. (North)
(D)ôdd e ddim wedi sefyll yna'n hir. (South)
They'll sleep only when there's a need. Ni chysgant ond pan fo angen. Fyddan nhw'n cysgu ddim ond pan fydd angen.

In fact, the differences between dialects of modern spoken Welsh pale into insignificance compared to the difference between some forms of the spoken language and the most formal constructions of the literary language. The latter is considerably more conservative and is the language used in Welsh translations of the Bible, amongst other things (although the 2004 Beibl Cymraeg Newydd – New Welsh Bible – is significantly less formal than the traditional 1588 Bible). Gareth King, author of a popular Welsh grammar, observes that "The difference between these two is much greater than between the virtually identical colloquial and literary forms of English".[70] A grammar of Literary Welsh can be found in A Grammar of Welsh (1980) by Stephen J. Williams[71] or more completely in Gramadeg y Gymraeg (1996) by Peter Wynn Thomas.[72] (No comprehensive grammar of formal literary Welsh exists in English.) An English language guide to Welsh colloquial forms and register and dialect differences is "Dweud Eich Dweud" (2001, 2013) by Ceri Williams.[73]

The labels colloquial and literary are in fact convenient approximations: literary constructions occur in formal writing and speech, while the majority of Welsh writing found on the Internet or in magazines is closer to colloquial usage. This has also become more common in artistic literature, as in English.

See also


  1. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  2. The Welsh Language Use Surveys of 2004-06 (PDF)
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  9. Nolan, Edward Henry. Great Britain As It Is (1859). p.47
  10. Jackson,John. Chronological Antiquities (1752). p.143
  11. D. Walter Thomas, Edward Hughes. The Cymric language (1879)
  12. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  13. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  14. Census 2001, Report on the Welsh language (PDF)
  15. The Welsh Language Surveys of 2004-06 (PDF)
  16. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  17. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  18. The Welsh message hurtling through space
  19. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  21. Koch, pp. 291–292.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 Koch, p. 1757.
  23. Simon Jenkins, 2008, Wales: churches, houses, castles, Allen Lane, London, p. 244
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  31. Transactions Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club, 1887, page 173
  32. Janet Davies, University of Wales Press, Bath (1993). The Welsh Language, page 34
  33. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  34. [1] Archived 1 June 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  35. 'Historic' assembly vote for new Welsh language law, BBC News Online, 7 December 2010
  36. Proposed Welsh Language (Wales) Measure Accessed: 13 February 2011]
  37. 37.0 37.1 Welsh Government | Welsh Measure received Royal Assent Accessed: 13 February 2011]
  38. Royal Assent for official status of Welsh language - Wales News - News - WalesOnline Accessed: 13 February 2011]
  39. BBC News - Language board chief Meri Huws is Welsh commissioner (accessed 5 October 2011)
  40. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  41. Welsh language provision at S4C Analogue
  42. BBC website (Real Media).
  43. Daily Welsh newspaper abandoned, BBC News Online, 15 February 2008
  44. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  45. 'Treacherous' Blue Books online
  46. John Davies, Hanes Cymru (1993) (also in English translation as A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, ISBN 0-14-014581-8)
  47. "Local UK languages 'taking off'", BBC News Online
  48. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  49. Welsh medium or bilingual provision, Welsh Language Board
  50. More information can be found at Welsh for
  51. The Welsh National Database of Standardised Terminology was released in March 2006.
  52. Selections of Welsh-language blogs are listed on the sites Hedyn and Blogiadur.
  53. Welsh Wikipedia on
  54. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  55. World's first Welsh language mobile phone launched (publish date: 25 August 2009)
  56. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
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  62. Thomas, Peter Wynn (1996) Gramadeg y Gymraeg. Cardiff: University of Wales Press: 757.
  63. English and Welsh, an essay by J. R. R. Tolkien
  64. King, G. Modern Welsh: A Comprehensive Grammar, published by Routledge, ISBN 0-415-09269-8 p. 114
  65. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  66. Thomas, B. and Thomas, P. W. Cymraeg, Cymrâg, Cymrêg: Cyflwyno'r Tafodieithoedd, published by Gwasg Taf, ISBN 0-948469-14-5. Out of print
  67. Thomas, A. R. 1973 Linguistic Geography of Wales
  68. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  69. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  70. King, G. Modern Welsh: A Comprehensive Grammar, published by Routledge, ISBN 0-415-09269-8 p3
  71. Williams, SJ (1980) "A Welsh Grammar", University of Wales Press, Cardiff, ISBN 0-7083-0735-3
  72. Thomas PW (1996), "Gramadeg y Gymraeg", Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, Caerdydd, ISBN 978-0-7083-1345-9
  73. Jones, C (2001, 2013), "Dweud Eich Dweud", Gwasg Gomer, Llandysul, ISBN 978-1-84851-748-6


  • J.W. Aitchison and H. Carter. Language, Economy and Society. The changing fortunes of the Welsh Language in the Twentieth Century. Cardiff. University of Wales Press. 2000.
  • J.W. Aitchison and H. Carter. Spreading the Word. The Welsh Language 2001. Y Lolfa. 2004

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