Word of the day – treiglad

Today’s word, treiglad (pl. treigladau) is the Welsh word for mutation, the process of changing the initial consonants of words – something we were practising in class today. This is a characteristic of all the Celtic languages and takes quite a bit of getting used to.

The most common mutation in Welsh is the soft mutation or treiglad meddal, which changes t to d, p to b, c to g, and so on. It’s quite hard to keep track of all the occasions when this mutation is needed, but I think I’m getting better at it. I haven’t tried to memorise all the rules because there are so many of them. Instead I notice where mutations are used in the Welsh texts I read and when I hear Welsh spoken. This gives me a good feel for when to use them.

If you practise reading and listening to a language as much as possible, you get a lot of exposure to grammatical patterns like mutations. This helps you to develop instincts for the grammar and seems to me to be the best way to learn it. I think this method works better than trying to memorise all the grammatical rules first. Once you have developed a feel for how a language works, then learning the rules might be helpful and certainly will be easier.

This entry was posted in Language, Language learning, Welsh, Words and phrases.

16 Responses to Word of the day – treiglad

  1. Joe DeRose says:

    Simon, congratulations on this Welsh experience. It sounds like an amazing opportunity. As for myself, I find it very difficult to learn a language simply by listening and reading. Actually, long lists of rules really help me. Even if I can’t remember them all, at least my familiarity with the formalized structure helps me not get distracted when a certain conjugation, declination, word order, or whatnot is used. I suspect most people share your preference, but lists of rules and tables really work for me.

    If you’ll indulge me, I noticed something interesting in the “Glaw” post of a few days ago. You wrote, “We were practising questions and answers in class today” and then you put the Welsh below, “O’n ni’n ymarfer cwestiynau ac atebion yn y dosbarth heddiw, ac ddoe hefyd.” I don’t know a single word of Welsh (except “Cymru”) but it appears that the word “cwestiynau” is a cognate for “questions.” This seems like such a basic linguistic concept, that it strikes me as odd that the Welsh would need to borrow from the English (or French, as the case may be) — or I wondered if Welsh traditionally omitted this concept (perhaps because of the unusual way of expressing affirmation or negation), or if the cognate simply supplanted an older Welsh word. (Or perhaps I’m mistaken entirely in my guess as to the meaning of this word.)

    In the context of your statement that Welsh doesn’t have a specific set of words for “yes” and “no,” this observation led me down a train of thought that it might be fun for you to steer us on when you’re back in normal mode: unusual linguistic omissions in languages. I’m aware of a few examples to illustrate my point: (1) I don’t know if it’s true, but Bill Bryson reports in In a Sunburned Country (US title)/Down Under (UK title) that Australian aboriginal languages had no word for “yesterday” or “tomorrow.” (2) In American Sign Language, the words for “weather” and for the months of the year are very recent additions to the langauge. (3) In English we have no word for “citizen of the United States,” even though such a word exists in other languages (e.g., “estadunidenso” in Spanish; “statunitenso” in Italian).

    Anyway, congratulations on the progress you’re making in your class.

    — Joe / Atlanta / USA

  2. Treigliadau – hmm, pob lwc Simon!

    My guess is that, verbally at least, the nasal mutation C = Ngh) is dying out.

    Hardly any native Welsh speakers know the rules, it’s something they pick on on hearing the language and I don’t even think most Welsh-speakers would know the names of the various mutations.

    Interestingly, instictively, Welsh speakers have mutated two ‘foreign’ letters in Welsh creating a new mutation. The letters ‘ch’ as in ‘chips’ in English and ‘j’ (jam) are two letters which weren’t native to Welsh until a few centuries ago. However, Welsh-speakers will instinctively say ‘Ga’ i fag o jips’ (may I have a bag of chips, but with chips mutated to jips – and also mutating ‘bag’ too). I don’t know what mutation this is, if it even has a name!

    To answer Joe’s cwestion, sorry, question, I guess it’s a matter a nuance. There is the word ‘holi’, which I presume was the word used before question came on the scene. People now use both, though I guess, for me at least, ‘holi’ sounds a little less direct and more polite than question, more like ‘enquire’ I suppose.

  3. Stuart says:

    S’mae Simon

    Is this the course you are on at the mo?


    How’s it going? WOuld you recommend it?


  4. Tony Allan says:

    Joe, I wouldn’t believe everything I read by Bill Bryson in relation to how people speak in Australia. Much as I love his travel books, and his fondness for the quirks of the English language, there was stuff in his book “Mother Tongue” that he claimed was Australian English that was nothing of the sort.

    As for the Aboriginal languages…there are several hundred of these, many spoken by just a handful of people. They do have totally different concepts of time to European languages. I’m sure there are many that don’t have words for “yesterday” and “tomorrow”, but I doubt that you could make a blanket statement. Certainly, the Aboriginal languages have a vast range of words for different seasons, and some Aboriginal groups recognise far more seasons that the four we know. I think there are at least six seasons in the languages of the people of Kakadu, in tropical northern Australia. And for areas in central and southern Australia, where there is far more variation in temperature through the year, they probably recognise even more seasons.

    As for Welsh..I first heard it spoken at breakfast at a B and B in Carmarthen in Wales, by the family serving me breakfast. I was stunned at how beautiful it sounded. But, like Gaelic, the relationship between the spelling and the actual sounds was, for an English speaker, bizarre. I am very grateful that, from reading this blog, I have learned ask for a bag of chips in Welsh. It’s the easiest Welsh sentence I’ve seen, and, given the delights of Welsh cuisine, a very useful one.

  5. Stuart says:

    Hi Tony

    I agree, Gaelic (Scottish variety more so) spelling looks so bizarre and byzantine compared to English, but Welsh is actually straight forward (once you learn relatively few rules) and is certainly more phonemic than English spelling is. God knows how many foreigners have struggled with the -ough spelling in English over the years, whereas Welsh’s only real difficulty is the pronunciation of the letter ‘y’, which varies depending on the position in the word it’s in.

  6. Paul says:

    Simon – surely you mean k to g, not c to k ?!

    I’m afraid the word “pedant” is the same in Welsh and English …


  7. Simon says:

    Paul – it should be c to g. K isn’t used in Welsh.

    S’mae Stuart – that is the course I’m on and my tutor is in the photo at the bottom of that page – the second from the left in the front row.

    The course is going well. It’s quite intensive with 4 hours of classes per day, plus quite a bit of homework. The tutors are excellent, and they arrange a number of extra curricular activities, such as the quiz we had yesterday. You can also use some of the university facilities, such as the computers and the library. If you’re serious about wanting to learn or improve you Welsh, this is a good course to go on and I do recommend it.

  8. James says:

    There is something quite fun about an intensive course. I am trying to sort out a 2 week thing in Guatamala in Feb next year: at least 4 hours a day 1-2-1 tuition and living with a spanish speaking family (though that is less of a “wow” for me as I live in an entirely hispanophone environment and speak and write a lot more spanish than english). The idea is to try and break through from a strong CEFR C1 to C2 🙂


  9. Polly says:

    @James: What is the rule about adjective noun order in Spanish? I thought the adjective followed the noun, but often I see and hear it in the same order as English: adjective noun.
    Am I missing something? Is U.S. Spanish getting Anglicized or something?

  10. Joe DeRose says:


    My understanding of the adjective-noun relationship in Spanish is this: Under ordinary circumstances, the adjective follows the noun (“casa blanca” = “white house”). But if the adjective describes an inherent quality of the noun, it may come before it (“blanca nieva” = “white snow”). Note that this holds only when the inherent quality is not being compared or cast into doubt: “Me gusta cuando las colinas son cubiertas de blanca nieva” (“I like it when the hills are covered in white snow”) – not “¡Por fin, tenemos nieva blanca, después de tres semanas de nieva gris!” (“Finally, we have white snow, after three weeks of gray snow!”).

    — Joe / Atlanta / USA

  11. James says:

    rule…. hmm. It can go before or after depending on meaning and emphasis

    los cisnes blancos : white swans

    los blancos cisnes: the WHITE swans (and not the other ones)

    I´m not sure i can recite you a rule, it´s one of those “i just do it” things (though i still don´t know all the irregularities). Noun adjective *normally* has a more neutral feel to it. There are some adjectives that change meaning depending on place (the same happens in French)

    el pobre hombre – the unforturate man
    el hombre pobre – the man who does not have much money.

    US Spanish (and MExican Spanish in Mexico to a lesser extent) IS being Spanglishized, but that is not an example of it.

    So “chequera tu mail” for “revisar tus correos” (electrónicos), though that said you do hear the first one here and there is much less influence of English here (at least recent influence)

    In LA we borrow the English word for computer, computador(a), in the Peninsular they borrowed the French word, ordenadora (ordinateur)

  12. Polly says:

    Thanks to you both, James and Joe for the feedback. I will be on the lookout for context from now on with those “rules” in mind. What I thought was an irregularity just happens way too often!

    When in High School, all I remember them saying was that it was “reversed from English.”

  13. James says:

    simply reversed from English it is not, young padawan. . Sometimes well.


    the reversed thing is very common for common or garden descriptions. You have put me in the mood to go and read the relevant secion of B and B, though after i finish my lecture for Thursday (it´s the last week of term and me estoy quemado)


  14. Stuart says:

    Thanks Simon

    Perhaps a course for me to do next year then.

    Out of interest, how do people on the course react to an Englishman learning Welsh? Do they think it’s odd that you’d be learning a “minority” language?

  15. Simon says:

    Stuart – there are a number of English men and women on the course. Some of us have family connections to Wales, live here and/or have been to university here. One of the first things many people want to know is why we are learning Welsh, but nobody has said that they think it’s odd for an Englishman to be learning Welsh.

    Welsh-speaking Welsh people tend to be quite encouraging, and most of the ones I’ve met are willing to speak to learners in Welsh.

  16. Paul says:

    Re my mistake above: curses. Hoisted by my own pedantry.

%d bloggers like this: