Tag Archives: Cymraeg

For the Love of Language

LlyfrauIaithWriters are language lovers. Words and phrases are our tools, our tubes of paint and brushes, our clay and chisels. After my first visit to Cymru(Wales), I had a new dilemma and a new story to tell. The dilemma is the language I had heard in this Celtic country and the story is the history of its oppression and triumph.

As I mentioned in my post about emigrating to Cymru, I could not be one of those who move to a country and demand that the people, culture and language change to accommodate me. I moved to Cymru to become a participant in the success of the Cymry to withstand the onslaught of the dominant language and culture of the island that four distinct cultures share. In my post, Potted Brythonic, I outlined the linguistic history of the British Isles and the early strength of the Brythonic Celtic language, Cymraeg(Welsh), from Llydaw(Brittany) and Kernyw(Cornwall) to Yr Alban(Scotland).

All through the first year I lived in the capital city, I met folks who hated, loathed and despised the native language of their own country. This attitude confounded me.

Some of these people were not Welsh and had no real love of the country they lived in—they were English immigrants who truly believed that Wales did not exist except in a fantasy world of a few old codgers intent on keeping a dead language alive.

A few of the non-Welsh-speaking Welsh also wanted to see the language disappear—more out of a sense of longing for access to a culture and way of life they had been denied. If they couldn’t have it, no one else should either. Both of these attitudes are prevalent throughout the world, no matter where or who. We are a naturally envious lot and often want what we are least likely to get without great effort.

I am not a natural linguist, nor especially good with languages, my own or foreign. A great help was my love of language as an instrument and as an art form in itself. I had studied enough Spanish and French in school, as well as the structure and form of English to be aware of the interconnection between all Indo-European languages which have a Latin component.

Since Cymru was once a Roman colony, many of its official institutions (schools, the law, church, government etc.) have a Latin-based name. This is true of all European countries that were colonized by the Romans, hence the term Romance Language for every tongue spoken in Europe from Romanian to Italian, French, Spanish and Welsh.

Tintern Abbey Ruins

Abaty Tintern

Although the Brythonic Celtic languages are less recognizable as Romance languages, their official institutions and some common words such as ffenest/fenêtre/finestra/fenestra=window and pont/pont/ponte/pons=bridge, show this connection to their common Latin root. A word such as eglwys doesn’t seem to equate, however its Latin root, ecclesia clearly shows the link to iglesia and église.

But, as you can see from my half-shelf of books (above) on many languages, both Welsh and English are absent. A misguided assumption of familiarity? Nid ddylai rhywun fod mor sicr o’i allu. (One should not be so sure of one’s ability.)

But what is writing without knowledge and the seeking of it?

I am still a learner.




Filed under Cymraeg/Welsh Language, Cymreig/Welsh, Y Cymry/Welsh People

Geirau Cymraeg/A Glossary of Welsh

To aid all readers of my Pendyffryn: The Conquerors series and my first novel, Traitor’s Daughter, I include a Glossary of Welsh Words (Geiriau Cymraeg) that are used in each of the books (six in all to date). The Glossary is the final section of the book (both digital and print) but I thought having the Glossary accessible someplace else would be of help. Therefore, I’m including it here and also on my website, lilydewaruile.com, so these words are readily available at any time.

The Glossary also includes a pronunciation guide. Readers are surprised when they see words like pendefig or hafodydd, how easy they are to pronounce. Some words, such as Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch, are difficult even for me, but these words are not in my books!

Here then, is the entire Glossary section from my latest paperback edition of Revival: Book IV: Pendyffryn: The Conquerors. Not all of the words are in all of the books and some words in other books in the series have additional words, but this will help readers get a quick start on learning the wonders of the Welsh language!

Glossary of Gymraeg (Welsh Words)

In most instances, the following words are used so their meaning is explained within the context of the story. I have taken a few liberties with the plural, adjective and possessive forms of some words. Welsh follows the Latin & other Romance languages noun/adjective (as in vin rougevino rosso /gwin coch) rather than the Teutonic adjective/noun (red wine) but to do that in a book written in English would be a step too far. I wanted to use some Welsh to give some flavour of the language Caryl and her friends speak. As in Invasion, Book 1 of this series, Christophe Maides is conversant in the Celtic language, having a greater facility for linguistics than his close friend, Jehan-Emíl deFreveille.

Welsh also employs a similar form of expressing ownership: the object is dominant and the owner is subordinate: her cloak is ei chlogyn hi. Caryl’s cloak is clogyn Caryl. For the purposes of this story, I have used the English possessive construction of adding ‘apostrophe s’. I simplified the mutations that occur in specific juxtapositions of words starting with certain letters, such as in ei chlogyn hiei designates (in this instance) female when followed by hi. If followed by ‘e’ then the mutation is male and is ei glogyn e. These mutations are the aspirate and soft mutations, respectively. There is also the nasal mutation which replaces the beginning consonant with an ‘ng’, ‘ngh’, ‘m’, ‘mh’, ‘n’, or ‘nh’ when the word is proceeded by ‘yn’ (and a number of other instances that I won’t mention!) as ‘c’ becomes ‘ngh’; ‘g’ becomes ‘ng’; ‘b’ becomes ‘m’; ‘p’ becomes ‘mh’; ‘t’ becomes ‘nh’. Caryl refers to her husband as fy ngŵr.

You can hear how these words are pronounced at http://translate.google.com/. The emphasis is always on the next to last syllable, as in most Romance languages. Below, I have used some English words to illustrate the sounds. ‘S’ is always an ‘es’ sound, never ‘z’. ‘R’ is always rolled. ‘CH’ is always aspirated as in ‘loch’, never as in ‘choo-choo’ or ‘k’ as in the Italian ‘che’. ‘DD’ is pronounced as the ‘th’ in ‘with’. ‘TH’ is the ‘th’ sound as in ‘pith’.

Many double letters (dd, ll, th, ph, ng, etc.) are considered a single letter in Welsh and follow their closest single letter (d, l, t, p g etc.) in the Welsh dictionary.

Welsh vowels are the same as in Italian, open and full—one of the reasons why Welsh is called the language of heaven. Welsh also has more vowels than English, not only “and sometimes Y and W”: AEIOUYW.

Arawn: the lord of the underworld (AHR-ow*n) *as in ‘ouch’

Baban: infant (BAH-bahn)

Beudy: Dairy, Milking Parlor (BAY-dee)

Blodyn: flower (BLOW-din) – also a term of endearment

Buarth: farmyard (BEE-ahrth)

Caer: fort (CEYEr)

Calan Gaeaf: beginning of winter/All Hallow’s Eve (CAH-lahn GEYE-ahv)

Calan Gwanwyn: beginning of spring (CAH-lahn GWAHN-win)

Cariad: love (cahr-EE-ahd)

Carthen: blanket (CAHRth-en)

Cawl: Meat (Lamb) Stew (COWl)

Cromlech: burial tomb (CROHM-leCH – CH as in loch)

Cymraes: Welshwoman (CUHM-rice)

Cymro: Welshman (CUHM-row)

Diawl: Devil (DEE-ahwl)

Duw annwyl: Dear God (DEE-you AHN-noo-eel)

Gelyn: enemy (GEL-en – G is always hard as in ‘gas’)

Gwraig: wife (GOOR-eyeg)

Gŵr: man/husband (GOOr)

Gwyl Dewi: St. David’s Day, March 1st (GOO-eel DOW-ee)

Hafod(ydd): small dwelling(s) (HAH-vod(iDD), DD is pronounced as in ‘with’)

Mam: Mother (MAHM)

Meddyg: medic (MEDD-ig, DD is pronounced as in ‘with’)

Menyw: woman (MEHN-you)

Merch: girl (MEHRch – CH as in loch)

Mwydyn: worm (MOOee-din)

Pendefig: prince/nobleman (pen-DEHV-ig)

Pennaeth: chieftain (PEN-eyeth)

Pryfyn: insect (PRUH-vin)

Saeson: Saxon (SIGH-son)

Titw: small bird/tit (TIT-oo)

Trwsus: trousers (TRUE-sis)

Tylwyth: family/clan (TUHL-ooeeth)

Uffern: hell (EE-fehrn)

Uwd: porridge (IEWD)

Ystad: estate (UHS-tahd)

Don’t be shy! Welsh is the language of heaven and of singing. In fact, singing in Welsh is the best way to learn the pronunciation. To get you started, here is a link to a wonderful folk song that I’ve sung in public at a St. David’s Day event while my lawyer played her harp! Morfa Rhuddlan means the Marsh of Red Land (literally). It is a lament for the deaths of Caradog and all his Welsh warriors in a battle with Offa in 796AD, the words were written by Ieuan Glan Geirionydd. A number of harpists have recorded the tune, but it is the words/poetry of the song that capture the true pathos of the history of Cymru (Wales).

If you have time, please listen to the other songs that Thomas L. Thomas sings, you will recognize some of the tunes which have become theme tunes for films and much more. If there is anything that can explain my love of Welsh, Wales and the Welsh people, it is the music they have created that speaks so eloquently to the heart.


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Filed under Cymraeg/Welsh Language, Cymreig/Welsh, Cymru/Wales, Hanes Cymru/Welsh History, Y Cymry/Welsh People

Naming Names

One of the first of many customs we notice when we visit Cymru(Wales) is that there are two names for most larger towns and cities (and the country itself): the original Cymraeg(Welsh) and an English approximation or replacement.  For example:  legend has it ‘Swansea’ is a Nordic word brought by the Viking invaders corrupted by usage from ‘Swan’s Eye’, possibly a proliferation of aquatic birds or, as likely, not a corruption at all but a description of a sea port with lots of swans flying around. The Cymraeg name of the city is Abertawe, meaning the estuary of the Tawe River.

Salvation: Book CoverFurther up the river, we find Pontardawe, meaning Bridge on/over Tawe (‘ar’ is a participle that causes a soft mutation but we will go into the language and its secrets at another time). In my novel, Salvation, Christophe Maides, a foreign invader, demonstrates his understanding of place names when he is guessing where Caryl might have been born.

Another example is the Dulais River. Pontarddulais, Aberdulais and Blaendulais will all put us in a geographic location along this river. If we know the name of the river, we will know where we are along its route when we come to Bryndulais.

We might also recognize Aberdeen – that well known city in the north of Scotland – Dee being the river and Aber signifying the estuary into which it flows. This is evidence the Brythonic Celtic language known now as Cymraeg(Welsh) was the predominant language throughout the four countries of the main island of Britain: Cymru, Yr Alban(Scotland), Kernyw(Cornwall) and Lloegr(England). The Celtic language of both (Kernyw)Cornwall and Llydaw(Brittany) are closely related to Cymraeg.

Until the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the Dark Ages and the final push in the 8th Century that drove a terminal wedge through the mid-section of Britain, Cymraeg was spoken in every region from Land’s End to Wick. The proximity of the most northerly region of Iwerddon(Ireland) facilitated a cross-flow of language and culture between Yr Alban (Alba in Scots Gaelic), and its Gaelic Celtic neighbor. In fact, there were ample opportunities for the Cymry(Welsh people) and the Gwyddelod(Irish people) to comingle in many ways.

Following the Anglo-Saxon invasion, many of the Cymry remained in Lloegr and assimilated the Saeson(English people) or were assimilated themselves but traces of their language abound still. With no access to their Brythonic Celtic cousins in Yr Alban, a void allowed the Gwyddelod to encroach further into Alba, eventually subsuming the native people and their language with a variation of the Gaelic Celtic language, taking as well Ynys Mannaw(Isle of Mann) with them.

As the Saeson moved westerly and northerly, they accumulated and assimilated as necessary, changing names of geographical locations or adopting an Anglified version, such as Llundain became London and Baddon became Bath. In Cymru, the capital city, Caerdydd (meaning Day Fort), became Cardiff – a meaningless simplification and unnecessary.

By far, the worst example of approximation is the small town of Llanilltud Fawr. Illtud was a saint in the early middle ages, during the period of Christian conversions (circa 400-600AD) throughout the British Isles. Llan means ‘church land’ and mawr means ‘great, powerful, big’. This particular town was named for the church of the saint’s name. (Mawr mutates to ‘fawr’ when it follows a feminine noun; Illtud was a woman – a great and powerful one at that.) This town in English has suffered the ignominy of being approximated to Llantwit Major.

I have never understood why that was allowed.

Hwyl am y tro,


PS: Cymru, Cymry, Cymraeg, Cymreig, Cymro, Cymraes are all the appellations for, in order,  the country, its people, their language, their culture, a man, a woman. The terms Wales and Welsh are those used by the Angles and Saxons to differentiate the Cymry from themselves and mean ‘foreigner, stranger.’ I don’t use these terms because they imply that the Cymry are strangers in their own land.

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Filed under Cymraeg/Welsh Language, Hanes Cymru/Welsh History, Y Cymry/Welsh People

On This Day: July 27, 1967

In 1967, the Welsh Language Act (Deddf yr Iaith Gymraeg) was passed, allowing the use of the Welsh language in courts of law and the provision of Welsh language versions of official documents.

After over 600 years of English language domination and the English government’s policy of annihilation of the language of the Welsh people, in a country boasting one of the five most significant lawmakers (Hywel Dda – 10thC) in the history of the world, the Welsh Language Act sparked a cultural rejuvenation.

When I arrived in Wales, there was still a great deal to do. In 1984, the Welsh statesman, Gwynfor Evans, threatened a starvation strike to force Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to make good on the English Parliament’s promise to establish a Welsh language television channel (S4C). Gwynfor Evans was the first Plaid Cymru candidate to hold a seat in the English Parliament, elected in 1966.

For more information about the Laws of Hywel Dda, see my post on the Marriage Laws of Celtic Britain, or read my novel, Traitor’s Daughter, in which the hero, Garmon Dolwyddlan, is a legal scholar as well as a warrior-commander, both of which come in handy to protect Heledd Bannawg.

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Filed under Cyfraith/Celtic Law, Cymraeg/Welsh Language, Cymreig/Welsh, Hanes Cymru/Welsh History

Wales, Welsh & the Welsh

Tintern Abbey RuinsCroeso! There will be something about all of the above in these entries.

First, Wales and Welsh are Anglo-Saxon words meaning foreign and foreigner. I won’t use them often. I will instead use Cymru (the country), Cymry (the people) and Cymraeg (the language).

My journey to Cymru began with its language, one of the strongest of the six surviving Celtic languages.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Filed under Cymraeg/Welsh Language, Cymru/Wales, Y Cymry/Welsh People