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Appendix D. Using Welsh-English Dictionaries

Contents:

Revision 1.7 of this page, last updated on 2003/02/17.
(C)opyright 1995-2003 Mark H. Nodine

D.1. The Welsh Alphabet

The first step to being able to look words up in a Welsh-English dictionary is to know the Welsh alphabet. Here it is: [1]

Letter Welsh
spelling
English
spelling
A
B
C
CH
D
DD
E
F
FF
G
NG
H
I
J
L
LL
M
N
O
P
PH
R
RH
S
T
TH
U
W
Y
a+
bi+
e\c
e\ch
di+
e\dd
e+
e\f
e\ff
e\g
e\ng
a+ets
i+
je+
e\l
e\ll
e\m
e\n
o+
pi+
ffi+
e\r
rhi, rho
e\s
ti+
e\th
u+
w+
y
aah
bee
eck
/ex/ ech (gutteral "ch") [2]
dee
/eth2/ edd ("th" as in "the")
ay (as in "day" but without being a diphthong)
ev
eff
egg
eng [2]
high-tsh
ee
jay
el
/ell/ [2]
em
en
oh (without being a diphthong)
pee
phee
air (trilled)
air-hee [2]
ess
tee
eth ("th" as in "think")
/ee/ [2]
oo
uh

Notice that there are many cases where something that would be two letters in English is a single digraph in Welsh. This means, for example, that words beginning with "CH" are not alphabetized between any words that might begin with "CG" and words beginning with "CI"; they are alphabetized as a separate letter after all the "C"'s are done. To complicate matters further, "NG" is not always a single letter; sometimes it really does mean the letter "N" followed by a "G" (actually, it's pronounced more like the letter "NG" followed by a "G"), for example in the town "Ban.gor" (the period is not part of the spelling of the word, but is there to indicate that the "N" and "G" are separate letters). Likewise, "RH" is sometimes "R" followed by "H" as in "ar.holiad".

D.2. Why You Might Not Find Words in the Dictionary

It is helpful in looking words up in the dictionary that there are many "gotchas" that will frustrate the learner. Many of the words you will read do not appear in any dictionaries, for several reasons:

  1. They could be mutated forms. See Section A.6 for back-transforming mutations to give you a list of possible words to look up.

  2. Loan words from English tend not to be in dictionaries.

  3. Inflected and irregular forms of verbs (e.g., "tyrd") do not appear.

  4. Adjectives sometimes have feminine and plural forms, or change their final consonant when making the equative, comparative, or superlative.

  5. Spoken Welsh (and written transcription of spoken Welsh) sometimes drops the first syllable of words and otherwise alters words in a way that makes things difficult for learners. It took me a long time to figure out what "tawn" meant (it means "buaswn", which is also not in the dictionary; see point 3).

  6. Internal vowels often change if the stress changes in making a different form of the same word (e.g., making the plural).

  7. The letter "h" can appear and disappear internally with stress shifts. The letter "n" can also double or undouble (sometimes with the appearance of "h" as in "cannwyll -> canhwyllau") with stress shifts.

  8. Many times, the plural form of the noun is what is listed in the dictionary. This phenomenon occurs when the common form of the word is the plural (e.g. "pys" -- peas) and the singular is formed by adding "-en" or "-yn" to the plural form.
Even if the word is in the dictionary, it can be hard to find at times. The digraph "ng" is alphabetized after "g", for example; likewise with "ch" after "c" and so on, as mentioned in Section D.1.

D.3. How To Look Words Up in the Dictionary

So, here is a step-by-step way of looking up words in the dictionary. Of course, you stop at the first step that produces the answer.

  1. Look up the plain word as you find it.

  2. Check all the possible back-mutations of the word as listed in Section A.6. Check to see if putting a "g" before the word results in a word that is in the dictionary. If the word begins with an "h", check to see if dropping the "h" results in a word in the dictionary.

  3. Check to see if the word has one of the endings found in Section C.2; if so, your word has the form X.E, where E is the ending and X is what is left over after the ending has been removed. Try looking up words of the form X.E', where E' is an ending used to form a verb-noun (common values of E' are null, -(i)o, -i, -u; the complete list is the above plus -(a)el, -ach, -aeth, -ofain, -fan, -ain, -ad, -ed, -yd, -eg, -w+yn, -ain, -(i)an, -ial, -(h)a, -yll, -as, and sach) [Williams80] using all of the techniques from (1) and (2). Furthermore, if the last vowel in X is "e" and E is one of -ir, -id, -ais, -aist, -i, -wch, or -ych, try substituting "a" for the "e". For example, lleddaist has X = lledd, E = aist, and the form in the dictionary is lladd.

  4. Check to see if the word is a form of one of the irregular verbs found in Section C.3.

  5. While you're at it, the word may be an adjective or a preposition with an ending. You can check the endings appropriate for adjectives and prepositions in Section C.4 and Section C.5, respectively. Adjectives ending in "g", "d", or "b" (possibly with another consonant after them, such as "l" or "r") may have that consonant "hardened" to "c", "t", or "p", respectively, when adding an ending. For example, tecach is the comparative of teg and butred is the equative of budr. There may also be a vowel change of the final vowel (see (7) below) such as o<-aw or y<-w. For example, huotlach is the comparative of huawdl, showing both the hardening and the vowel change.
    You can find the irregular prepositions in Section C.6.

  6. If the word has the form s.X where X begins with a consonant like "b", "g", or "t", chances are, it is missing an initial vowel. Try looking up (in this order) ys.X, es.X, and as.X. For example, stafell can be found under ystafell, sgidiau can be found under esgidiau (actually under esgid, since it's a plural), and sglodion under asglodion (or asglodyn, depending on the dictionary). If you still don't find it, it's probably a loan word from English.

  7. Many times a word will undergo a change in the vowel of its next-to-last syllable or penult if it adds syllables to the end, such as making a plural (for nouns), conjugating (for verbs) or comparing (for adjectives). A fairly complete list of changes is: a<-ai, ai<-a, e<-a, ei<-a, ei<-ai, eu<-au, o<-aw, y<-w. See Examples of Vowel Shifts below.

  8. Additionally, some adjectives have feminine or more rarely plural forms that result in changing the last vowel. The most common changes are o<-w and e<-y for feminine forms. Since plural forms add syllables, see case (7) for the possible vowel shifts. Furthermore, feminine forms of adjectives almost always occur in a context that undergoes a soft mutation (exercise for advanced students: think of a context where the soft mutation won't occur). Thus, drom is the form you're most likely to see for trwm and lem for llym.

  9. If the penult begins with an "h", try dropping the last syllable and either dropping the "h" or replacing the "h" with the consonant that immediately precedes it. For example, cynhesach is the comparative of cynnes, cynhaliaf is a conjugated form of cynnal and anghenion is the plural of angen.

  10. Rack your brain to think if this word (or a back-mutated version of the same) could possibly be a loan word from English.

  11. Sometimes (especially on the WELSH-L list), people transliterate English words into Welsh as in "bei ddy we+" -- "by the way". So try pronouncing the Welsh letters and see if some English word pops out the other end.

  12. Send mail to WELSH-L asking for help.
Examples of Vowel Shifts
It is not uncommon to have two changes:

Footnotes D

[1]
Thanks to Robert Jones <BR00321%BINGVMB.bitnet@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU> for providing much of this information on-line. The Welsh spellings for the letters come from [Williams80].

[2]
See Lesson 1 for detailed information on pronouncing this letter.

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Mark.Nodine@mot.com -- Mark H Nodine,visitor
14 June 2003 at 23:33:45