My Breton studies are progressing and so far I’ve learnt a bit more everyday. Last week I worked through the first five lessons of my textbook (Le Breton, par Assimil) and today I got to the seventh lesson, which summerises what you’re learnt in the previous six lessons. The lessons are all short and don’t overload you with new information, as is often the case with other courses I’ve used. In courses with longer lessons you can go through each lesson over several days, but I prefer the shorter Assimil lessons.

The more Breton I learn, the more similarities I find with Welsh. For example, there are only five irregular verbs in Breton, as there are in Welsh, and Breton word order is similar to Welsh – you put the most important piece of information at the beginning of the sentence.

These sentences all mean the same thing, “The weather is fine in Ploulann today”, but with different emphasis in each:

– Brav eo an amzer e Ploulann hiziv = Braf ydy’r tywydd yn Ploulann heddiw = The weather is fine

– An amzer a zo brav e Ploulann hiziv = Mae’r tywydd yn braf yn Ploulann heddiw = The weather is fine …

– E Ploulann eo brav an amzer hiziv = Yn Ploulann mae’r tywydd yn braf heddiw = The weather is fine in Ploulann

– Hiziv eo brav an amzer e Ploulann = Heddiw mae’r tywydd yn braf yn Ploulann = The weather is fine in Ploulann today.

As the textbook is in French I’m also learning some new French words like:

– la tournure = turn of phrase, form, e.g. la tournure de qch = the way sth is developing; la tournure des événements = the turn of events; la tournure d’esprit = frame of mind

I’ve started working on the script for a Breton animation entitled “Pelec’h emañ Erwan?” (Where is Erwan?) – a thrilling adventure in search of the ever elusive Erwan.

3 thoughts on “Brezhoneg

  1. Re the 1st sentence: Breton ‘eo’ (which, I assume, corresponds to ‘is’ in English) is more like the form ‘yw’ (more often heard in S. Wales) than ‘ydy’ (the form I have been taught to use in Mid Wales).

    A Welsh-speaking friend was recently telling me about the Welsh dialect of Pembrokeshire (as opposed to the English dialect of Pembrokeshire, which is another area of study altogether), in which some of the pronunciation is closer to Breton. Examples he gave were: Oer => Wer, Oedd => Wed (note two changes here) etc. I don’t know Breton, save for a handful of words, but I know about the absence of the ‘dd’ and ‘th’ sounds and when I’ve heard it spoken, there seems to be a lot of “wa” – perhaps corresponding to ‘oe’ in Welsh? (coed = coat/coad, no?)

    An interesting thing I discovered whilst talking (in French) to a Breton speaker last year is that, like French, Breton uses the same word (amzer) for ‘weather’ and ‘time’ – which, to the English speaker, are two unrelated concepts. (The same is true for Irish, which uses the cognate ‘aimsir’ for both senses). Welsh, on the other hand, like English, has two separate words, ‘amser’ (=time) and ‘tywydd’ (=weather), although neither appears cognate with either English word. Using one word for both senses is not confined to Breton and French, though; it is true of all the major Romance lanugages and the two extant Baltic languages. (My language experience is too limited to comment further.)

  2. David, yes you are right, the Breton ‘eo’ is the exact cognate of Welsh yw (there is also an exact Cornish equivalent).The ‘ydy’ forms used variously in Wales have had what was historically a separate pre-verbal particle “yd” permanently joined onto the front (so Middle Welsh yd yw > ydy. The same has happened with other persons of the verb – for example, “I am” [Middle Welsh “wyf”]: yd wyf > ydwyf > ydw i, cut down to ‘dw i’, etc. [the forms with R- have had *yet another* particle shoved on the front].
    Thus, colloquial forms such as “w i” are not sloppy or lazy, they simply did not have the particle permanently prefixed onto them.

    And just for good measure, south Wales “taw” (‘that’) is originally another 3 singular form of bod, this time cognate with Irish tá ‘is’. In the rest of Wales there is “mai”, which is really just a different spelling of mae, used in the same kind of constructions.

    I didn’t really know about those Pembrokeshire pronunciations; in much of (N) Pembrokeshire and heading up to Ceredigion, it is more usual to simplify a diphthong into a long vowel, thus ‘oer’ pronunced something like /ɔ:r/.

    The weather terms are interesting. Although it may look from comparative evidence that amser originally meant ‘weather’ as well as ‘time’, the development of this sense for Irish/Sc. Gaelic aimsir seems to be late (and in Sc. Gaelic ‘time’ is still the primary sense); there is no indication of the sense in early Welsh; and Cornish (inasmuch as that helps) does not use the word for ‘weather’ (though, nor does it use a word cognate with tywydd). I think these are independent innovations in Goidelic and Breton, the latter quite possibly influenced by French usage, which as you say is standard in Romance and comes from a vulgar Latin meaning of tempus. In all world languages that have it, a semantic shift ‘time’ > ‘weather’ is pretty understandable.

  3. Hey, Im thinking of traveling around Western Britttany and wonder if someone could help with my question. Where or what communities am I most likely to hear Breton? Thanks

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