Lesson 1. Pronunciation
Here is the setext version of this lesson.
[By Roger Vanderveen <email@example.com>, with editing by Mark
Nodine <Mark.Nodine@mot.com> and editing and sounds by Briony Williams
One thing that is important to remember is that the pronunciation of
Welsh varies widely between dialects. Therefore the student should
remember that the pronunciations (and even the words) are guidelines,
and regional varations are myriad.
Since the system of accents used in Welsh is not supported universally
by the computers comprising the Internet and connected networks, a set
of substitute characters has been devised by speakers of the Celtic
languages who participate in network discussions. These will be used
in this series of lessons. They are:
Thus, we have "ty+" for "house", "gweddi%o" for "to pray", "nesa/u"
for "to approach", etc.
The effects that these accents have upon vowels is described in
- The symbol chosen for the circumflex may appear to be
arbitrary, since almost all keyboards have a caret character; however
the experience on the net was that the code used to represent the
caret differed on different machines. These codes were specifically
chosen because they were consistent across all known machines.
A simple vowel, i.e., a vowel that is not a diphthong, may be either
long or short depending on its context and on whether or not there is
a circumflex accent. There is a difference of duration and also of
pronunciation between corresponding long and short vowels. Here are
the rules for when vowels are short, and when they are long:
Here is how the vowels are pronounced:
- long vowels
Simple vowels (monophthongs) in stressed syllables take the long
pronunciation when one and only one of the following consonants
appears in the same syllable as the vowel (e.g., when word-final): b, d,
g, (single) f, dd, some cases of l, n, m, and ng - and also when no
consonant at all follows the vowel.
- short vowels
If more than one consonant -- of any kind -- occurs after the simple
vowel in the same syllable, then the vowel is short. Simple vowels
in unstressed syllables are short, whatever the following consonant.
As in UK English "can" (short) or UK "father", USA "gone" (long).
Examples: "nghap" (short) and "gwlad" (long).
As in "let" (short) or Yorkshire/Scottish accent "late" (long) -
i.e., like "late" but with no "eee" sound at the end of the vowel.
Examples: "phen" (short) and "hen" (long).
As in "pit" (short) or "lean" (long). Examples: "mhin" (short)
and "llid" (long).
As in UK "lot" (short) or Yorkshire/Scottish accent "coat" (long) -
i.e., like "coat" but with no "ooo" sound at the end of the vowel.
Examples: "siop" (short) and "ffos" (long).
A matter of discussion; in the south, it is completely equivalent to
"i" (long or short), even in diphthongs; in the north, it's halfway
between the vowels in "lick" and "look" (short) or "leap" and "loop"
(long) with the lips not rounded but slack. The
sound also seems to have a similar sound to the Russian yeri, but not
centered so far back in the throat.
Examples: "sut" (short) and "thus" (long).
As in "put" (short) or "soon" (long). Actually, "w" can represent
either a vowel or a consonant in Welsh spelling. Examples: "twp"
(short) and "rhwd" (long).
Has two sounds:
- like the vowel written "u", with the same geographical variants;
can be long or short. This sound is referred to as clear y.
- the unstressed obscure vowel in the first syllable of "aside"
(though in Welsh it can be stressed). It is always short.
Examples: "llyfr" (clear, short), "gwy+dd" (clear, long),
- "y" almost always takes sound 1 in word-final syllables, except for a
few "small" words like y, yr, yn, yng, ym, fy, dy (sound 2). "y"
takes sound 2 in non-final syllables, and in the above exceptions.
All of the vowel sounds in Welsh are pure vowels. One of the
most difficult things for English speakers to overcome in pronouncing
Welsh is the tendency in English to "diphthongize" vowels. For
example, if you listen to yourself very closely when you pronounce the
word "toe" (long o sound), you will find yourself putting an "oo"
sound at the end. The trick is to clip the sound off before you get
to the "oo" part. The same thing problem occurs with long a as in
"bay": it tends toward having an "ee" at the end.
As in English, it is often the case in Welsh that two vowels combine
to form a diphthong.
- ae, ai, au
These combinations sound like the Welsh long "a" quickly followed by
long "i"; thus, they sound like the vowel in "bike", although the
North Wales pronunciation of "ae" and "au" have the colo(u)ring listed
above under the vowel "u". In the North, "ae", "ai", and "au" tend to
become "a+". Examples: "caer", "main", "haul".
- ei, eu, ey
These combinations are similar to "ae" et al. except that instead of
starting from the Welsh "a", they start from a shwa sound (the "e" in
"mother"). We don't have an exact counterpart in English. Again, the
North Wales pronunciation of "eu" and "ey" is colo(u)red by their
pronunciation of "u". In speech, (both North and South) the
possessives "ei" (his, her) and "eu" (their) tend to become long "i".
Examples: "peidio", "nheulu".
Like the "ow" in "now". Example: "faw".
We don't really have this sound in English. It is approximated by the
English "e" in "get" followed quickly by the "oo" in "food", with the
emphasis on the "e". Example: "tew".
- iw, uw
Similar to the the "ew" sound in the English word "hew", except the
emphasis is on the first part of the diphthong rather than the second.
Examples: "lliw", "uwch".
This is just like the "o" in "home", including the diphthongization
towards "oo". Example: "brown".
- oe, oi, oy
Like "oy" in "boy". Examples: "noeth", "osgoi".
There are actually two versions of this diphthong: a rising version
(stress on the "y"; the "w" is consonantal) and a falling one
(stress on the "w"; the "y" is consonantal). Examples: "gw+ydd"
(goose) is pronounced GOOH-eethe (falling); "gwy+dd" (trees) is
pronounced GWEETHE (rising).
- As in English. Example: "bychan".
- Always as in "cow" (even before e, i and y). Example: "caer".
- As in Scottish "loch" (guttural "kh"-type sound).
- As in English. Example: "dwyn".
- Like "th" in English "the", never as in "think".
- Like English "v". Example: "faw".
- Like English "f". Example: "ffos".
- As in English. Example: "gw+ydd".
- As in English. Example: "haul".
- As in English (this is not a native Welsh sound).
- As in English. Example: "nheulu".
- Put your tongue in the position for "l" and blow out.
- As in English. Example: "main".
- Like it looks; not as hard as it sounds, since it almost always
occurs after a vowel. Split it between two syllables if you like.
- As in English. Example: "main".
- Sort of like "mh"; split it into ng-h. Example: "nghap".
- Similar to "mh". Example: "nheulu".
- As in English. Example: "peidio".
- As in English "phone"; it represents the same sound as "ff".
- Trilled with the tongue-tip. Example: "caer".
- Like "r", followed by an aspiration of breath (h).
- As in English, though "si" is pronounced as in English "sh", and
is found before "a", "e" and "o" only - e.g., "siop" (shop). Exception: the
"s" in "sw" is pronounced like the English "z" in South Wales.
Examples: "sut", "siop".
- As in English. Example: "twp".
- Like "th" in English "thug", never as in "this".
- Like "ch" in English "chip". (This is not a native Welsh sound.)
Like "wy", "gw" is pronounced differently in different words. In
"gwlad" (land), "gw" is little more than a "g" with lips rounded, so
the word remains one syllable. But in "gw+ydd" (goose), it sounds more
like "goo-eethe". Sometimes the accent gives a clue: if there is a
circumflex over the "w", pronounce it like "oo".
- wl, wn, wr
The consonant "w" can combine with "l", "n", or "r" to form a hybrid
consonant. Examples: "gwlad", "gwneud", and "gwraig".
- -fr, -fn, -gr, -tr, -bl, etc. at end of word
Often in speech, some vowel is inserted between the two letters of
these combinations, making an extra syllable where there really isn't
one. An example is "llyfr" (book) which becomes "llyfyr". The
inserted vowel mirrors the one in the previous syllable (or the second
part of it, if a diphthong). e.g., "cefn" becomes "cefen", "aml"
becomes "amal", "ofn" is "ofon". 
Also, the final consonant is sometimes dropped, so "ffenestr"
(window) becomes "ffenest" and "posibl" (possible) becomes "posib".
The consonants that are often dropped are "f" (pronounced as /v/), and
"l" and "r" when after other consonants.
- -f at end of word
The letter "f" is considered a weak consonant in Welsh, and is often
dropped when it is the final letter of a word. For example, "haf"
(summer) is usually prounounced "ha".
The rule in Welsh is that the accent, or stress, goes on the penult
(the next-to-last syllable). There are a few exceptions to this
general rule, to be noted in the lessons. A regular exception to this
rule is that words ending in "-hau" are accented on the last syllable.
Because of this rule, stress often shifts when a word adds an ending.
For instance, "AFal", (apple), with stress on the first syllable, has
a plural "afALau", (apples), with stress on the second syllable.
One slight trickiness is knowing when two adjacent vowels actually
form separate syllables. For example, the letters "i" and "w" are
often consonants rather than vowels. A common case is the ending
"-io", as in "peidio" (to cease). The letter "i" is a consonant in
this ending unless there is a diaeresis over is (as in "si%o"). The
treatment of "ia", "iau, "ie" in a final syllable is identical; e.g.,
"tincian" (to tinkle) and "smotiau" (spots) are both two-syllable
Stress is sometimes a tricky thing to hear in Welsh, since the last
syllable, especially in the last word of a clause or sentence, is
uttered with a rising tone. So it sometimes sounds like the last
syllable is stressed, to the ears of an English speaker. Hearing the
accent correctly comes with practice, and it is a good idea to use
tapes if you have no access to a native speaker. Example: "tystio".
For further details, see Section E.1.
As mentioned in Section 1.2, there are four different kinds of
accents that can occur in Welsh. An accent can only occur over a
vowel, and in theory any accent can occur over any vowel. All of the
accents are relatively rare. The following descriptions are in
increasing order of rarity of occurrence.
- A circumflex
- Causes a vowel to be long where it would otherwise be
short. Example: "ti+m" (team).
- An acute accent
- Causes the stress to occur on a syllable where it
would normally not occur (usually the ultima, or last syllable).
Example: "ambare/l" (umbrella).
- A diaeresis
- Causes the vowel to be pronounced separately when it
would otherwise be part of a diphthong. Example: gweiddi%o (pray); in
this case the vowel also assumes the accent, since it becomes the penult.
- A grave accent
- Causes the vowel to be short where it would
otherwise be long. Example: "sio\l" (skull).
There are a number of words of which the learner should be wary, since
they look like English words, but are pronounced very differently--and
often mean very different things. (Incidentally, there are only a few
words that I have found that are spelled the same in English and
Welsh, are pronounced the same, and have the same meaning: "anthem",
"helm", and "mat".) Not all of these words are common, but watch out
for them anyway.
- afraid (unnecessary) - "f" has "v" sound; "ai" is long "i" sound
- angel (angel) - the "ng" differs
- allan (out) - use the Welsh "ll"
- bob (every) - the "o" is long
- bore (morning) - has two syllables
- clod (praise) - the "o" is long
- does (there isn't) - the vowel rhymes with "foist"
- faint (how much, how many) - "f" has "v" sound; "ai" is "aye"
- gem (gem) - "g" as in "get"
- haul (sun) - "au" pronounced like long "i" in English
- hen (old) - "hane"
- hurt (hurt) - use the Welsh "u"
- thus (frankincense) - "th" as in "think"; the "u" differs also
- well (better) - use the Welsh "ll"
- These vowels that appear are known as epenthetic vowels.
See Section E.2 for further details.
Mark.Nodine@mot.com -- Mark H Nodine,visitor
14 June 2003 at 23:33:20