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PRONUNCIATION AND PATR/ONYMICS
The Welsh language derives from the language of the Celts who came to Britain during the first millennium BC. That Celt language survived the Roman occupation, adding words such as ffenestr (window), from the Latin fenestra, and by the middle of the sixth century AD it had evolved into Old Welsh. Thus it is one of the most ancient living languages in Europe, and is still spoken by a significant proportion of Welsh people.
The accent or stress in Welsh words and personal names falls regularly on the last syllable but one, as in Anarawd. In place names the stress sometimes falls on the last syllable, and where this occurs a hyphen is usually inserted, as in Rhyd-y-gors (ford of the marsh: here the penultimate syllable y means the, and would not be accented). In the examples of pronunciation shown below, the accented syllable is also underlined to provide an additional indication of pronunciation.
Welsh has no k, q, v, x or z, and j occurs only in borrowed words. The sound k is represented by c, v by f, x by cs, and the q and z sounds do not occur.
|b, d, h, l, m, n, p, ph, and t as in English.|
|c||always the k sound as in English can, never the s sound as in city.||
|ch||as in Scottish loch and German Bach, never as in English church.||Rhydderch|
|dd||always the th sound as in English the, never as in English theme.||Gruffudd|
|f||always the v sound as in English of and van, never as in off.||Fychan|
|ff||always the f sound as in English off, never the v sound.||Gruffudd|
|g||always hard as in English get, never soft as in gentle.||Gethin|
|ng||as in English sing, never as in
but in place names n and g can be separate sounds.
|ll||A letter not found in other European languages. Pronounced
by putting the tongue in the position for l and blowing/hissing.
|r||trilled in Welsh as in a Scottish accent and in Spanish and Italian.||ferch|
|rh||aspirated, as in English perhaps, but with trilled r.||Rhys|
|s||always as in English sit, never as in nose.||Rhys|
|th||always as in English theme, never as in the.||Gethin|
|i||at the beginning of a syllable, like English y as in yes.||Iorwerth|
|w||like short English oo sound as in water||Gwenllian|
|a||short as in English cat (never as
or long as in English bar.
|e||short as in English hen,
or long as in English pane (see above).
|i||short as in English pit (never as in like),||Idwal|
|or long as in English meet.||Gwenllian|
|o||short as in English not (never as
or long as in English robe (never as in groove).
|u||short, rather like the English i sound in pit (never as in hut),||Gruffudd|
|or long like a French u or as in English meet.||Deheubarth|
|w||short as in English book,
or long as in English groove.
|y||represents two distinct vowel
sounds, ‘obscure’ and ‘clear’:
‘obscure’, rather like the e in hover or the u in hut;
‘clear’, either short like the English i sound in pit,
or long as in English meet (never as in my).
A vowel is long at the end of a word and before certain letters such as s, w, ch, d and f except in clusters of consonants.
|y||is obscure in the first syllable, and clear in a later syllable.||Llywelyn|
|ae, ai, au|| like the English bike.
aw short a and short w.
|ei, eu||like the English eye.||Einion|
|ew||short e and short w.||Tewdwr|
|iw, uw, yw||like the English dew, but emphasis on the first letter.||Rhiwallon|
|oe, oi||like the English oil.||Foethus|
|ow||long o and short w.||Owain|
|yw||obscure y and short w.||Hywel|
|wy||short w and clear-short y,
except where y is long (see rules above).
The development of surnames in Wales reflects the history of a small country with its own social structure in which the kinship group was very important. Individuals were identified by the name of their father. The Welsh for son is mab, often written in old Welsh as map, cognate with the Irish mac, and a process of mutation and elision produced ab (usually before vowels) and ap (before consonants). Thus Madog the son of Rhys would be known as Madog ap Rhys. Women were also known by their father’s name, taking the form Gwenllian ferch (daughter of) Rhys, and they would not take up their husband’s patronymic on marriage. Such was the acceptance of this system that it lasted in many parts of Wales until the 18th and 19th centuries, and other European regions such as Scandinavia also had long-lasting patronymic systems.
M. Auronwy James, "Some Basic Welsh for Family Historians," in Welsh Family History, ed. John Rowlands and others (Association of Family History Societies of Wales, 1993).
Sheila Rowlands, "The Surnames of Wales," in Welsh Family History, ed. John Rowlands and others (Association of Family History Societies of Wales, 1993).
John and Sheila Rowlands, The Surnames of Wales (Federation of Family History Societies, 1996).
T. J. Morgan and Prys Morgan, Welsh Surnames (University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1985).
P. C. Bartrum, "Personal Names in Wales in the fifteenth century," NLWJ, 22, 4 (quoted by J. and S. Rowlands).