Welsh is a Celtic language spoken in Wales
(Cymru) by about 720,000 people, and in the Welsh colony
(yr Wladfa) in Patagonia, Argentina (yr Ariannin)
by several hundred people. There are also Welsh speakers in England
(Lloegr), Scotland (yr Alban), Canada, the USA
(yr Unol Daleithiau), Australia (Awstralia) and New
Zealand (Seland Newydd).
Number of speakers (Nifer o siaradwyr)
At the beginning of the 20th century about half of the population
of Wales spoke Welsh as an everyday language. Towards the end of the
century, the proportion of Welsh speakers had fallen to about 20%.
According to the 2001 census 582,368 people can speak Welsh, 659,301
people can either speak, read or write Welsh, and 797,717 people, 28%
of the population, claimed to have some knowledge of the language.
Welsh at a glance
Native name: Cymraeg [kʰəmraːɨg] / Y Gymraeg [ə gəmraːɨg]
Linguistic affliation: Indo-European, Celtic, Insular Celtic, Brittonic, Western
Number of speakers: c. 720,000
Spoken in: mainly in Wales, and also in Chubut Province in Argentina, England, Scotland, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand
First written: 8th century AD
Writing system: Latin script
Status: official language in Wales; recognised minority language in the UK and Argentina
According to a survey carried out by S4C, the Welsh language TV channel,
the number of Welsh speakers in Wales is around 750,000, and about 1.5
million people can 'understand' Welsh. In addition there are an estimated
133,000 Welsh-speakers living in England, about 50,000 of them in the
Greater London area.
Welsh is conventionally considered a distinct language from the 6th century AD, by which
time Welsh speakers, who previously had occupied most of Britain, had been pushed into what is now Wales, north west and south west England and southern Scotland by the Anglo-Saxons. The varieties of Brythonic spoken in different parts of Britain, and by Brythonic-speaking migrants to Brittany, began to develop into separate languages: Welsh in Wales, Cornish in Cornwall, Breton in Brittany and Cumbric in Cumbria.
The earliest known examples of Welsh literature are the poems of Taliesin,
which feature Urien of Rheged, a 6th century king in what is now southern
Scotland, and Aneirin's Y Gododdin, a description of a battle
between Celts and Northumbrians which occurred in about 600 AD, nobody
knows for sure when these works were composed or when they were first
written down, however the oldest surviving manuscript featuring Y Gododdin
dates from the second half of the 12th century. The earliest
known example of written Welsh in a gravestone inscription in Tywyn church
dating from the 8th century.
Primitive / Archaic Welsh (Cymraeg Cyntefig)
From the mid sixth century to the mid 8th century Welsh was known as Primitive or Archaic Welsh. It is known from place names in Latin texts, and from place names borrowed into English.
Old Welsh (Hen Gymraeg)
The Welsh spoken between the mid 8th century and the mid 12th century is known as Old Welsh. It appears in writing in a number of manuscripts and as glosses on Latin texts.
Middle Welsh (Cymraeg Canol)
The Welsh spoken between the mid 12th century and the mid 14th century is known as Middle Welsh. There are numerous texts in this form of Welsh, including poetry, prose, legal texts, religious texts, and medical and scientific works. Middle Welsh is reasonably
intelligible to modern Welsh speakers.
Modern Welsh (Cymraeg Fodern)
The Welsh used from the early 15th century until the end of the 16th century is known as Early Modern Welsh. It is the language of the poetry of Dafydd ap Gwilym, one of the leading Welsh poets of the Middle Ages.
William Morgan's Welsh translation of the Bible is considered the first work in Late Modern Welsh, and served as a model for literary Welsh. Since then Welsh has continued to change and there have been increasing influences from English.
Current status (Statws cyfoes)
Today there are radio stations and a TV channel, that broadcast entirely or
mainly in Welsh. There are also weekly and monthly newspapers and magazines.
About 500 books in Welsh are published annually, and there is a thriving Welsh
language music scene. There are a number of Welsh language theatre groups,
and regular eisteddfodau or cultural festivals are held throughout Wales.
All school pupils in Wales study Welsh as a first or second language for 12 years,
from the age of 5 to 16. The first school to use Welsh as the medium of instruction was
set up in Aberystwyth in 1939. There are currently over 440 primary schools and over 50
secondary schools in Wales that teach entirely or mainly throught the medium of Welsh.
There is also a Welsh-medium school in London. Some courses at Welsh universities and
colleges are taught through Welsh, and there are numerous Welsh courses for adults
Relationship to other languages (Perthynas i ieithoedd eraill)
The only word in these examples that is similar in all the languages: ainm (Irish), ainm (Scottish Gaelic), ennym (Manx), anv (Breton), hanow (Cornish) and enw (Welsh).
The word for what - Cén (Irish), De (Scottish Gaelic), Cre (Manx), Petra (Breton), Pyth (Cornish) and Beth (Welsh) - illustrates one of the sound differences between the branches of the Celtic languages. In the Gaelic languages, apart from Scottish Gaelic, it starts with C, which is why they are called Q-Celtic languages (this sound is sometimes written with a Q in Manx), while in the Brythonic languges it starts with p or b, which is why they are known as P-Celtic. Both sounds developed from the Proto-Celtic [kʷ].
There are more similarities within each branch of these languages than between the branches (Gaelic and Brythonic), and the Gaelic languages are closer to one another than are the Brythonic languages.
Where letters have two pronunciations, the first is used in North Wales and
the second in South Wales
Long vowels are usually marked with a circumflex accent (to bach)
though some are not.
Short vowels are sometimes marked with a grave accent in places where
they would normally be long.
y = [ə] in non-final syllables and particles, such as y, yn, yr, etc,
elsewhere y = [ɨ/̬ɪ], e.g. ynys
['ənɨ̬s / 'ənɪs]
au = [a] or [e] when used as a plural ending,
e.g. treigladau [trəi'glada / trəi'glade]
si = [ʃ] when followed by a vowel, e.g. siarad ['ʃarad]
j [ʤ] is sometimes used in words borrowed from English, such as
garej and jeli
Welsh has a system of mutations which affects the initial letters of
words. This feature is common to all Celtic languages and can make it difficult
to find words in dictionaries. The nasal mutation (treiglad trwynol) and
aspirate mutation (treiglad llaes) present few difficulties, but there are
over 20 different occasions when soft mutation (treiglad meddal) occurs.
Examples of mutations (Enghreifftiau o dreigladau)
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)