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Welsh Language

Cyfarchion! That’s ‘greetings’ in Welsh. This is just a brief traveller’s introduction to the language. It isn’t intended as an academic treatise on the Welsh language. Unless you are a language student, that would be boring.

The Welsh language is a branch of Celtic, which was an Indo-European language. It’s related distantly to Irish and Gaelic as spoken in Scotland. Its sister languages—Manx, Cornish and Cumbrian—have disappeared. Today it’s most closely related to the Breton language spoken in Britanny. Welsh is not an easy language to spell, to read, or to say, at least for ordinary people like me who have no affinity for other languages.

The Welsh alphabet has 28 letters, ch, ff, ng, ll, rh, ph, th but no j,k, q, v, x or z. The vowels are a, e, i, o, u, w, and y. In Welsh a c is always pronounced like the English k, an f like a v. The most difficult pronunciation is the ll, which is pronounced something like ch with an l after it. I find, when I ask about a place when travelling, if I get strange looks, I know I’m not saying it right, so then I point to the written word and learn the correct way to say it. Welsh isn’t alone in puzzling pronunciations for those who don’t speak the language. Some English words are just as strange. For instance ‘Belvoir’ (the name of a stately home in England) is pronounced ‘beaver’.

It’s interesting to learn something of the Welsh language as you will encounter it in signage and place names and will hear it spoken in some parts of Wales, generally rural areas and mainly in north and west Wales—Anglesey, the mountains, the Lleyn peninsula. Both the radio and TV in Wales offer Welsh speaking stations.

Sometimes it can be confusing when you are travelling because one map or guidebook will have a Welsh spelling, another an English spelling, for the same place. Here are some place names you’ll encounter on maps and reading about the natural features of Wales.

bryn: hill.
moel: bare hill.
tywod: sand.
caregog: rocky.
llwybr cyhoeddus: public footpath.
ffordd: road.
afon: river.
llyn: lake.
coed: wood.
mynydd: mountain.
maes: field.
dyffryn: valley.
mynydd: mountain.
aber: estuary.
dwr: water.
borth: harbour or port.
capel: chapel.
pentre: church.
tref: town.
pentref: village.
dinas: hillfort.
castell: castle.
cefn: ridge.
plas: manor house.
pwll: pond.
rhos: moorland.

I leave you with this Welsh phrase: Uchaf ar gof a gerir orau which means ‘ What is best loved is remembered best’.

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