Welsh language

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WELSH ENGLISH The English language as used in Wales. The term is recent and controversial. English is, however, the majority language of Wales and, as in other parts of the English-speaking world, a concise term such as Welsh English (analogous to, among many others, Canadian English and South African English) appears unavoidable, however politically contentious. It is increasingly applied by sociolinguists to a continuum of usage that includes three groups of overlapping varieties of English: those influenced by the WELSH language; those influenced by dialects in adjacent counties of England; and those influenced by the standard language as taught in the schools and used in the media. The influence of Welsh is strongest in the northern counties (sometimes referred to as Welsh Wales), where Welsh/English bilingualism is most commonly found; it is weaker in mid-Wales, and weakest in the south, but even in such southern cities as Cardiff and Swansea the influence of Welsh is present.


It is not certain when speakers of an English dialect arrived in Wales, but it seems probable that Mercian settlers were in the Wye valley by the 8c. In the winter of 1108–9, Henry I established a group of Flemish settlers in Pembrokeshire and it is likely that there were English-speakers among that group. Other English settlements grew up in the 12–13c. Since most trade was in the hands of the English, the earliest regular Welsh users of English were almost certainly traders.


Accent varies according to region, ethnicity, and education. RP is spoken mainly by English expatriates and its influence is strongest in the south-east. The following generalizations refer to native Welsh people: (1) Speakers of Welsh are often described as having a lilting or singsong intonation in their English, an effect created by three tendencies: a rise—fall tone at the end of statements (where RP has a fall); long vowels only in stressed syllables, the vowels in the second syllables of such words as ˈincrease and ˈexpert being short; reduced vowels avoided in polysyllabic words, speakers preferring, for example, /tɪkɛt/ for ticket and /kɔnɛkʃɔn/ for connection. (2) Welsh English is usually non-rhotic, but people who regularly speak Welsh are likely to have a postvocalic r (in such words as worker). (3) The accents of South Wales are generally aitchless. In North Wales, word-initial /h/ is not usually dropped, partly because it occurs in Welsh. (4) There is a tendency towards the monophthongs /e/ and /o/ and away from the diphthongs /eɪ/ and /əshtu;/ in such words as late and hope. (5) The vowel /a/ is often used for both gas and glass. (6) Schwa is often preferred to /ʌ/ in such words as but and cut. (7) Diphthongs are often turned into two syllables with /biə/ for beer becoming /bijə/ and /puə/ for poor becoming /puwə/. (8) There is a preference for /u/ over /ju/ in such words as actually /aktuali/ and speculate /spɛkulet/. (9) The inventory of consonants is augmented from Welsh by the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative ɬ (spelt ll as in Llangollen), the voiceless alveolar roll /r̥/ (spelt rh as in Rhyl), and the voiceless velar fricative /x/ (spelt ch as in Pentyrch). (10) In many parts of the south, /l/ tends to be light and clear in such words as light and fall; in the north, it tends to be dark in both. (11) The voiced plosives /b, d, g/ are often aspirated in initial position, as with /bhad/ for bad, often heard by non-Welsh people as ‘pad’. The voiceless plosives /p, t, k/ are often aspirated in all positions, as with /phɪph/ for pip. Consonants between vowels are often lengthened, as in /mɪsːɪn/ for missing, and /apːiː/ for happy. (12) The -ing participle is often realized as /ɪn/, as in /dansɪn/ for dancing. (13) There is a tendency, especially in the north, to substitute /s/ and /ʃ/ for /z/ and /ʒ/, so that is becomes ‘iss’ and division ‘divishon’. (14) The -y ending in words such as happy and lovely is realized by /ɪː/: ‘appee’, ‘lovelee’.


(1) Working-class users of English in Wales tend to use the following constructions, also found elsewhere in the UK: multiple negation (I ‘aven't done nothin’ to nobody, see?); them as a demonstrative adjective (them things); as as a relative pronoun (the one as played for Cardiff); non-standard verb forms (She catched it, The coat was all tore); 'isself for himself and theirselves for themselves ('E done it 'isself and they saw it for theirselves); the adverbial use of an adjective (We did it willin': that is, willingly); the addition of -like at the end of phrases and sentences ('E looked real 'appy-like); and the use of the -s verb ending with all subjects in the present (I goes to school an' they goes to work). (2) Non-standard forms reflecting an influence from Welsh include: do/did + verb, to indicate a regularly performed action (He do go to the rugby all the time; He did go regular-like); foregrounding for emphasis (Goin' down the mine 'e is He is going down the mine; Money they're not short of They aren't short of money); there and not how in exclamations (There's lovely you are!); untransformed embedded sentences, especially after verbs of saying and thinking (I'm not sure is 'e in I'm not sure if he's in); the over-generalization of the question tag isn't it? (We're goin' out now, isn't it?); occasional yes replacing a positive question tag (You're a teacher, yes?); will and not will be (I'm not quite ready, but I will soon); and too for either (I don't like it.—I don't like it too). (3) Look you (you see) is often regarded as a shibboleth of Welsh English in such sentences as Tried hard, look you, but earned nothin'. See is also often used: We were worried about 'im, see. The non-use of the subject pronoun is also characteristic of Welsh-influenced English: Saw 'im, bach. Saw 'im yesterday.


(1) Words drawn from Welsh generally relate to culture and behaviour: carreg a stone, clennig a gift of money, eisteddfod (plural eisteddfodau) a cultural festival, glaster a drink of milk and water, iechyd da (‘yachy da’) good health (a salutation or toast, from iechyd health, da good); the use of bach and del as terms of affection: Like a drink, bach? Come near the fire, del. (2) Words that are shared by Welsh English and dialects of England include: askel a newt, dap to bounce, lumper a young person, pilm dust, sally willow, steam a bread-bin. (3) General English words with local extensions of meaning include: delight a keen interest, as in She's gettin' a delight in boys; lose to miss, as in 'Urry or we'll lose the train; tidy good, attractive, as in Tidy 'ouse you've got, bach. (4) The form boyo, from boy, is common as both a term of address and reference, and is sometimes negative: Listen, boyo, I've somethin' to tell you; That boyo is not to be trusted.

Social issues

Experiments reported in 1975 suggest that speakers of Welsh English are positively viewed in the principality. There is, however, considerable tension with regard to the use of the Welsh language, especially in schools and the media, and this can affect attitudes to English. Many consider that education should be bilingual, so that all Welsh people have access to Welsh as their ‘national’ language; others, however, including some parents originally from England, feel that bilingualism in schools puts an unnecessary strain on children, and do not necessarily regard Welsh as part of their patrimony. See BRITISH ENGLISH.


The place-names of Wales represent mixed linguistic origins over some 2,000 years: Welsh, Norse, Norman French, and English, together with the Anglicization of Welsh names and hybrids of Welsh and English.

1. Welsh

The majority of place-names in Wales are from the Celtic language Welsh at various points in its history. Ten words commonly occurring in place-names are: (1) aber (‘river mouth’), as in Abergavenny (‘mouth of the Gefenni’) and Aberystwyth (‘mouth of the winding river’, the Ystwyth); (2) caer (‘fort’), as in Caernarvon (‘fort in Arfon’) and Caerphilly (‘Ffili's fort’); (3) cwm (‘valley’), as in Cwmbran (‘valley of the river Bran’) and Cwmfelin (‘valley of the mill’); (4) din (‘fort’), as in Dinas Powys (‘fort of Powys’) and Dinefwr (‘fort of the yew’); (5) llan (‘church’), as in Llandaff (‘church on the river Taff’) and Llanfair (‘Mary's church’); (6) llyn (‘lake’), as in Llyn Vawr (‘big lake’) and Llyn Glas (‘green lake’); (7) nant (‘stream’), as in Nantgaredig (‘gentle stream’) and Nantyglo (‘stream of the coal’); (8) pen (‘head, end’), as in Penarth (‘head of the promontory’) and Penrhyndeudraeth (‘headland of the two beaches’); (9) rhos (‘moor’), as in Rhosgoch (‘red moor’) and Rhosllanerchrugog (‘moor of the heather glade’); (10) tref (‘farm, homestead, town’), as in Tregarth (‘ride farm’) and Tremadoc (‘Madoc's farm’). The forms pont (‘bridge’) as in Pontnewydd (‘new port’) and porth (‘port’), as in Porthcawl (‘harbour of the sea kale’), entered Welsh from French and come originally from Latin.

2. Norse

Scandinavian raids in the 9–10c account for a number of largely Anglicized names around the coast, such as Fishguard (‘fish yard’), Milford Haven (‘harbour of the sandy inlet’), and Swansea (‘Sveinn's sea’), as well as names ending in -(e)y (‘island’), as in Anglesey (‘Ongull's island’), Bardsey (‘Bardr's island’), and Caldy (‘cold island’).

3. Norman French

The Normans invaded Wales in the 11c and have left such names as Beaumaris (‘beautiful marsh’), Grosmont (‘big hill’), Malpas (‘bad passage’), and Montgomery (the castle of Roger of Montgomery).

4. English

The long-term interest of the English in Wales, the porous border between the two lands, and the English conquest in the 13c led to three types of place-name: (1) Old English names, as with Chepstow (‘market place’), Holyhead (‘holy headland’, on Anglesey), Knighton (‘knight's settlement’), and Wrexham (Wryhtel's pasture'); (2) Modern English names, such as Newport and Welshpool; (3) Anglicized Welsh names, such as Cardiff (adapting Caerdydd), Carmarthen (adapting Caerfyrrdin), Denbigh (adapting Dinbych), and Lampeter (adapting Llanbedr, ‘Peter's church’). Because English has been spoken in the Gower Peninsula and south Pembrokeshire since the 12c, the area is known as ‘Little England in Wales’; English names in the area include Cheriton (‘church settlement’), Middleton (‘middle settlement’), and Newton (‘new settlement’).

Double names

Many places, especially towns, which are known throughout the United Kingdom by their non-Welsh names, have unrelated and much less widely known Welsh names, such as Abergaun (‘mouth of the river’) for Fishguard, Abertawe (‘mouth of the river Tawe’) for Swansea, Caergybi (‘Cybi's fort’) for Holyhead, Trefaldwyn (‘Baldwin's homestead’) for Montgomery, and Yr Wyddfa (‘the cairn place’) for Snowdon (from Old English: ‘snow-covered hill’), the highest mountain in Wales.

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Welsh language. The oldest language spoken in Britain, with an unbroken history from Brythonic origins as part of the Celtic family of Indo-European languages from which most European languages derive. Its development was powerfully affected by external linguistic influences: Latin of Rome and the Christian Middle Ages; Irish, a Goidelic form of Celtic; Norse to a minor extent; and especially English following the Germanic invasions of Britain, and French after the Norman Conquest. Germanic and English advances westward led to the separate development of Brythonic Celtic in Wales, Cumbria, and Cornwall: only Welsh survives; Cumbric died out in the 11th cent. and Cornish in the 18th. At the same time, Welsh, the language of that part of Britain which the invaders called foreign (Wealas), acquired its characteristics of initial mutations, a complex word order, and an accent on the penultimate syllable. Those who used this language called themselves Cymry (fellow-countrymen).

Welsh appeared as a recognizable language before ad 600; up to the mid-12th cent., when French and English influences became strong, Old Welsh has left few traces apart from inscriptions, manuscript glosses, and Welsh poetry in saga or prophetic vein and usually recorded in manuscripts of the 13th and 14th cents., e.g. The Book of Aneurin and The Book of Taliesin, and perhaps too the prose tales known as the Mabinogi. Middle Welsh from the mid-12th cent. to the early 15th was rich in prose and popular verse, whose writers were patronized by Welsh princes and then (after 1283) by gentry of Welsh and immigrant lineage. Several dialects also emerged: according to Gerald of Wales (d. 1223), Welsh ‘is more delicate and richer in north Wales’, but ‘the language of Ceredigion in south Wales … is the most refined’. The same influences that enriched the language set the scene for its decline, for trends in government and society, immigration and town foundation, popularized Latin, French, and especially English in the later Middle Ages. The Act of Union (1536) sought to replace Welsh with English in official contexts; although this was not fully practicable, it discouraged its use and patronage, and the gentry gradually ceased to speak Welsh, adopting English surnames instead of Welsh patronymics.

Salvation came with printing and the Reformation, especially with the translation of the Scriptures and the Prayer Book into Welsh (1567, 1588). The dignity of William Morgan's Bible (1588) set a standard for literary Welsh thereafter. Educational, antiquarian, publishing, and religious movements in the 17th and 18th cents. ensured its survival as a spoken and written tongue; indeed, the 18th cent. saw a renaissance in Welsh culture. Even after half a century of industrialization, in 1801 80 per cent of Wales was Welsh-speaking; the borderland and southern littoral had not been so for centuries. Industrialization was not at first an enemy to Welsh, for many migrants to the southern valleys were Welsh-speaking, and in 1851 there were more Welsh-speakers than in 1801; but as a proportion of the expanding population they were a declining number (from 80 to 67 per cent between 1801 and 1851). The popularity of English among the upper classes, the demands of British education, the cosmopolitan industrial and commercial centres, immigration, and mass media and communications undermined Wales's linguistic character and portrayed the language as old-fashioned. By 1901, 50 per cent of Wales's population spoke Welsh; thereafter the decline was relentless, the figure standing at 19 per cent in 1981 (about 500,000 people), mostly in the rural west and north-west. In North America, too, where Welsh was implanted by emigrants in the late 19th cent., social and religious changes produced decline.

Yet since the 18th cent., Welsh literary culture has shown some creativity: an interest in Welsh history and tradition (including the eisteddfod), a vigorous Welsh press, active nonconformity, the growth of national sentiment, and the foundation of national institutions (notably a library, museum, and university) in the late 19th and early 20th cents. More recently, opinion has focused intently on the question of the language's survival. It has been buttressed by academic study and a literary renaissance, acceptance at all levels of education, as well as by pressure groups, even perhaps violent protests. Official milestones are the report on The Legal Status of the Welsh Language (1965), the Welsh Language Act (1967) which enshrined the principle of equal validity with English, a Welsh TV channel (1982), and the Welsh Language Board (1993) to oversee its use and fate. It remains to be seen whether this nurturing will enhance its vitality and stem its overall decline.

Ralph Alan Griffiths

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Welsh (Cymraeg) Language of Wales. It is spoken natively by less than 19% of the Welsh population, chiefly in the rural north and west of the country. It belongs to the Brittonic sub-branch of the Celtic family of Indo-European languages, and is closely related to Breton and Cornish. It survives more strongly than most other Celtic languages.

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