Welsh language

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Welsh (Cymraeg)

Spoken in

Wales ( United Kingdom ), Chubut Valley ( Argentina )
speaker over 750,000:

Wales 611,000, England 133,000, Chubut Valley 25,000, Canada 3,160, USA 2,655, New Zealand 1,155, Australia 1,060

Official status
Official language in WalesFlag of Wales (1959 – present) .svg Wales
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2 ( B ) wel ( T ) cym
ISO 639-3


Spokesman for Welsh in Wales after the 2011 census

Welsh (also Kymrisch; own name Cymraeg , [ kəmˈrɑːɨɡ ], listen ? / I ) or - with article - y Gymraeg [ ə ɡəmˈrɑːɨɡ ]; is a Celtic language and, together with Breton and Cornish, forms the British subgroup of the Celtic languages; it is therefore a so-called p-Celtic language . Welsh is spoken by around 750,000 people in Wales . It thus has the most native speakers among the Celtic languages. In Wales, it is the official language and school language alongside English . There are two main dialects , a northern and a southern. Audio file / audio sample


Welsh is still very much alive as it is still learned as a mother tongue by many children and spoken by all walks of life . In some parts of the country, especially in the north, Welsh speakers are still in the majority today, with a share of up to 70%. Over the past ten years, the percentage of speakers has remained constant, whereas previously it decreased slowly but steadily. The absolute number of speakers has recently increased again. Since Wales has had its own parliament , the Senedd Cymru or Welsh Parliament, measures to promote Welsh have been intensified. In addition, Welsh is the pride and identity-forming element of many Welsh people, even if they no longer speak it themselves.

According to the 2011 census, around 19% of Welsh people speak the language (2001: 20.5%). Some 8% of the population have limited knowledge of Welsh (e.g. reading only). The prospects for maintaining the language are quite good; Welsh is still predominantly spoken in rural areas. The youth organization Urdd Gobaith Cymru plays an important role in this .

Outside Wales, Welsh is spoken in the Chubut Valley in the Argentine province of Chubut in Patagonia .

On December 7, 2010, the National Assembly for Wales adopted a bill to make Welsh the official language of Wales alongside English. Since 2000, students in Wales have been required to study Welsh either as a first language or as a foreign language. Welsh is the first language of instruction in 20% of schools in Wales.

The language code according to ISO 639-1 is cy, according to ISO 639-2 (B) wel and according to ISO 639-2 (T) cym .


The position of the formants in a
Bangor Welsh speaker
Spokesman for Welsh after the 2011 census
A sign advertising learning Welsh

The Welsh alphabet contains the following letters:

abc ch d dd ef ff g ng hijl ll mnop ph r rh st th uwy

ch, dd, ff, ng, ll, ph, rh and th count as single letters and are also treated as such when they are arranged in dictionaries.

k, q, v, x and z do not appear in Welsh words; j appears only in English loanwords.

  • a: a (short or long). IPA [⁠ a ⁠] , [ ɑː ].
  • ae: like a German egg . IPA [ ai ] Sometimes like German äj .
  • b: b . IPA [⁠ b ⁠] At the end of the word often p , as in English.
  • c: k . IPA [⁠ k ⁠]
  • ch: like German ch in a ch (never like in i ch ). IPA [⁠ χ ⁠]
  • d: d . IPA [⁠ d ⁠] At the end of the word often t , as in English.
  • dd: voiced th as in English th is. IPA [⁠ ð ⁠] At the end of the word often voiceless th .
  • e: e, ä (short or long). IPA [ ], [⁠ ɛ ⁠]
  • f: like w in German. IPA [⁠ v ⁠]
  • ff: like f in German. IPA [⁠ f ⁠]
  • g: g . IPA [⁠ ɡ ⁠] At the end of the word often k , as in English.
  • ng: almost always like ng in di ng [⁠ ŋ ⁠] , only in exceptional cases such as n + g [ ŋɡ ].
  • ngh: ng with an audible h . IPA [ ŋ̍ ]
  • h: h . IPA [⁠ h ⁠]
  • i: like i (short or long) or in front of vowels (incl. w !) like German j . IPA [ i ], [⁠ ɪ ⁠] , [⁠ j ⁠]
  • j: like English j . IPA [⁠ d͡ʒ ⁠]
  • l: l . IPA [⁠ l ⁠]
  • ll: voiceless fricative l . (Arises when an l and an h are pronounced at the same time; often heard by English speakers as thl or khl . Similar to the German ch in Becher , but the tip of the tongue touches the back of the incisors) IPA [⁠ ɬ ⁠]
  • m: m . IPA [⁠ m ⁠]
  • mh: m with the following h . IPA [ ]
  • n: n . IPA [⁠ n ⁠]
  • nh: n with the following h . IPA [ ]
  • o: o (short or long). IPA [ ], [⁠ ɔ ⁠]
  • oe: a bit like the german eu . IPA [ ɔɨ ]
  • ow: like ow in the English "blow". Very rare. IPA [ ]
  • p: p . IPA [⁠ p ⁠]
  • ph: like f in German. IPA [⁠ f ⁠]
  • r: strongly rolled voiced r as in Spanish. IPA [⁠ r ⁠]
  • rh: strongly rolled, voiceless r with simultaneously pronounced, clearly audible h . IPA [ ]
  • s: voiceless s . IPA [⁠ s ⁠]
  • si: sch . IPA [⁠ ʃ ⁠]
  • t: t . IPA [⁠ t ⁠]
  • th: voiceless th as in English th ing. IPA [⁠ θ ⁠]
  • u: In South Wales like i ; in North Wales more or less like y in pyramid (short or long; = IPA [ i ]).
  • w: like German u (short or long) or before vowels like English w . IPA [ U ], [⁠ ʊ ⁠] , [⁠ w ⁠]
  • wy: ​​either like ui or like english wi in wit or like (british) english who in followers . IPA [ ʊɨ ]
  • y: (1) In monosyllabic words and in the last syllable of polysyllabic words such as Welsh u (see above). (2) Otherwise as unstressed German e in please . - Cymry = 'Welsh' (plural) is roughly like kömri, but without the rounded lips of the ö ([ ˈkəmɾɪ ]).

Vowels can be short or long:

  • are short
    • all unstressed vowels as well
    • Emphasized vowels in front of consonant groups ( ch, dd, ff, ll, th are, however, each individual consonant!) and in front of p, t, c, m, ng and vowels that are marked with a grave accent ( à, è etc .; there is very rarely in some foreign words).
  • Stressed vowels before b, ch, d, dd, f, ff, g, s, th, simple n, simple r and vowels that are marked with a circumflex ( â, ê, î, ô, ŵ, ŷ ) are long .

The emphasis is, with few exceptions, on the penultimate syllable: Brenin = 'king', brenhínes =, Queen ', breninésau =, Queens'. One of the exceptions is Cymráeg = 'kymrisch', because ae or oe counts as two syllables.


Initial changes

A special feature of the Welsh language (as well as the other insular Celtic languages ) are the Anlautmutationen (Engl. Initial mutations, Cymric. Treigladau ). Under certain conditions, the initial consonant of a word is replaced by another in a regular manner.

Changes in the initial sound can be triggered by the preceding word ( article , possessive pronoun , prepositions ) or by the syntactic position or function of the word in the sentence itself ( subject , object , adverbial use).

There are several types of initial changes: lenation (soft mutation, treiglad meddal), nasalization (nasal mutation, treiglad trwynol) and aspiration (aspirate or spirant mutation, treiglad llaes) . (The names are phonetically imprecise, but have become common.)

So z. B. the possessive pronoun of the 2nd person singular dy ('your') lenierung; the 1st person singular fy ('my') nasalization; and that of the 3rd singular feminine ei ('her') aspiration. The following table illustrates the effects of the various initial changes ( kV = no change, i.e. the basic form is used):

Basic form Lening Nasalization Aspiration
p en - 'head' dy b en fy mh en ei ph en
t ad - 'father' dy d ad fy nh ad ei th ad
c i - 'dog' dy g i fy ngh i ei ch i
b rawd - 'brother' dy f rawd fy m rawd [kV]
d ant - 'tooth' dy dd ant fy n ant [kV]
g wallt - 'hair' dy wallt [1] fy ng Braving [kV]
m am - 'mother' dy f am [kV] [kV]
ll aw - 'hand' dy l aw [kV] [kV]
rh an - 'part' dy r on [kV] [kV]
a rian [2] - 'money' [kV] [kV] ei h arian
  • [1] g is completely erased on lening.
  • [2] This rule applies to all words with a vowel initial sound.

Feminine nouns are also particularly “susceptible” to leniency. For example, if the specific article or number un (an) is placed in front, the noun and related adjectives are lenited. The example of cath (feminine, German: 'cat') shows:

  • cath wen - '(a) white cat' (any)
  • y gath wen - 'the white cat'
  • un gath wen - 'one white cat' (not two)

In contrast to ci (masculine, German: 'dog'):

  • ci gwyn - '(a) white dog'
  • y ci gwyn - 'the white dog'
  • un ci gwyn - 'a white dog'


Welsh differentiates between masculine and feminine nouns, but gender differences are generally only marked in the singular. One effect of gender is that a feminine noun is lenited (in the singular) if the article is in front of it (see above under "initial mutation"): cath - '(a) cat', but y gath - 'the cat'. However, the article itself does not show different forms of gender. If the noun is in the plural, the lenation does not take place: cath - '(a) cat', cathod - 'cats' (pl.) - y cathod 'the cats'.

The plural can be formed in different ways:

  • by adding a plural suffix: afal 'apple' - Pl. afalau;
  • by umlaut: Cymro 'Welsh' - Pl. Cymry;
  • by suffix and umlaut or vowel change: nant 'Schlucht' - Pl. nentydd .
  • A number of nouns derive the singular from the plural by means of a suffix (so-called singulatives ):
    • sêr 'star' - Sg. seren 'star'.
    • adar 'birds' - Sg.aderyn 'bird'.


A small number of adjectives have separate feminine forms:

  • trwm 'heavy' - fem. trom
  • gwyn 'white' - fem. gwen

Generally, however, the same form is used after masculine and feminine nouns. Many of the separate feminine forms have also since fallen out of use.

Regardless of this, an adjective shows lenition when it comes next to a feminine noun, for example y gath fach - 'the little cat' (zu bach = 'small').

In terms of forms of increase, Welsh has, in addition to the comparative and the superlative , an equative ("so ... like"):

positive Equative comparative superlative
day (cyn) deced tecach tecaf
beautiful so beautiful more beautiful most beautiful-


A special feature of Welsh (and other island Celtic languages) are the conjugated prepositions. The conjugated form only appears if a personal pronoun appears as a supplement to the preposition (i.e. the words i, ni, ti etc. in the following table):

ar - 'on'
Sg. Pl.
1 arna i - 'on me' arnon ni - 'on us'
2 arnat ti - 'on you' arnoch chi - 'on you'
3 arno fe - 'on him'
arni hi - 'on her'
arnyn nhw - 'on them'

Word order

Sentence structure

Welsh is a classic example of a VSO language; H. the normal, unmarked word order in Welsh is verb - subject - object . More precisely, it means that there is a finite verb form at the beginning of a sentence, but infinitives usually not, the latter can then be found inside the sentence between subject and object. Examples:

• Finite main verb at the beginning of a sentence

Rhoddodd yr athro lyfr i'r to bach.
Gave of the Teacher [a book the Boys.
'The teacher gave the boy a book.'

• Auxiliary verb at the beginning of a sentence: For example, the perfect perfect in Welsh is an auxiliary verb construction. The perfect tense is expressed by placing an auxiliary verb with the meaning "to be" at the beginning of the sentence, followed by a particle wedi (literally: "after") and the infinite form of the main verb inside the sentence:

Mae Dafydd wedi cymryd modur Rhiannon.
Is Dafydd (Perfect) to take automobile Rhiannon.
'Dafydd took Rhiannon's car'

Word order in the noun phrase

Adjectives usually follow the noun they describe:

y ddraig goch
of the Dragon red
'The red dragon'

One of the few exceptions is e.g. B. hen, old. It is used before the noun and triggers its lenation:

yr hen ddyn
of the old man
,the old man'

See also


  • Robert Borsley, Maggie Tallerman, David Willis: The Syntax of Welsh (= Cambridge Syntax Guides). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (UK) 2007
  • Cennard Davies: The Welsh Language. The story of Britain's oldest living language. Y Lolfa, Talybont / Ceredigion 2006, ISBN 0-86243-866-7 .
  • Britta Schulze-Thulin : Welsh. Word by word. 3. Edition. Reise Know-How Verlag Rump, Bielefeld 2013, ISBN 978-3-89416-895-7 .
  • Britta Schulze-Thulin: Textbook of the Welsh language. Helmut Buske Verlag, Hamburg 2006, ISBN 3-87548-403-7 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Kymrisch  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Welsh  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Statistical bulletin: 2011 Census: Key Statistics for Wales, March 2011. Office for National Statistics, 2011, accessed on May 4, 2014 .
  2. ^ 'Historic' assembly vote for new Welsh language law. BBC News, December 7, 2010, accessed May 4, 2014 .
  3. Local UK languages ​​'taking off'. BBC News, December 7, 2010, accessed May 4, 2014 .
  4. Borsley et al. (2007), p. 23
  5. Example from Borsley et al. 2007, p. 29