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The Welsh language

The Welsh language

III Региональный конгресс молодежи и школьников

“Молодые исследователи севера”

Секция Лингвистика (английский язык)

The Welsh language


Ковальчук М. С. МПЛ, 10 класс

Научный руководитель:

Загородняя Л. М.

(учитель английского языка)

г. Мурманск, 1999

Тhe Welsh language

Ковальчук М. С. МПЛ, 10 класс

г. Мурманск

The Welsh language, like most of the languages of Europe, and many

of those of Asia, has evolved from what linguists term Indo-European.

Indo-European was spoken about 6000 years ago (4000 BC) by a

seminomadic people who lived in the steppe region of Southern Russia.

Speakers of the languages migrated eastwards and westwards; they had

reached the Danube valley by 3500 BC and India by 2000 BC. The

dialects of Indo-European became much differentiated, chiefly because

of migration, and evolved into separate languages. So great was the

variety among them that it was not until 1786 that the idea was put

forward that a Family of Indo-European languages actually exists. In

the twentieth century Indo-European languages are spoken in a wide arc

from Bengal to Portugal, as well as in countries as distant as New

Zealand and Canada, to which they have been carried by more recent

emigrants. The Indo-European Family is generally considered to consist

of nine different brunches, which in turn gave rise to daughter

languages. Welsh evolved from the Celtic brunch, as did its sister

languages - Breton, Cornish, Cumbric, Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx.

Сornish was a language of people who lived in Britain in the

Cornwall inlet and died out towards the end of the eighteenth century.

Dorothy Pentreath, who died in 1777, is usually considered to be the

last native speaker of Cornish. Manx was spread on the Isle of Man in

the Irish Sea, survived until well into the second half of the present

sentury and the last native speaker died at the age of 97 in 1974.

Other languages are still alive and a lot of people talks on them. But

nevertheless all this languages developed from the Celtic language and

the people who used this language were the Celts.

The Celts is a group of people who were classified as such by

communities who belonged to a separate cultural (and literate)

tradition. Celtic area is considered to be the north of Alps and

beyond the Mediterranean. It was observers from mediterranean lands of

Greece and Rome who called their neighbours Celts. But today

scientists ask the question who the Celts really are. The problem of

defining what is meant by the terms "Celt" and "Celtic" centres around

the relationship, if any, between material culture, ethnicity and

language. Judging by archaeology, documentary sources and linguistic

material the scientists came to the conclusion that by the last few

centuries BC, Celtic territory stretched from Ireland to eastern

Europe and beyond, to Galatia (see map). The Celts were technically

advanced. They knew how to work with iron, and could make better

weapons than the people who used bronze.

Early linguistic evidence for the Celts is extremely rare because

northern Europe was non-literate during most of the first millennium

BC. When writing was adopted in the Celtic world in the late first

millennium it appeared almost entirely in Greek and Latin. Early

Celtic evidence consists of inscriptions, coin legends and the names

of people and places contained within classical documents.

Now I would like to tell about the Brittonic brunch of Celtic

languages, which was spread over the territory of Britain. Because of

our knowledge of the Celts is slight, we do not even know for certain

how Britain became Celtic. Some scholars think that the Celts invaded

Britain, another - that they came peacefully, as a result of the

lively trade with Europe about 750 BC on wards. But we know for

certain that the language introduced into Britain was similar to that

spoken in Gaul (the territory of Celts in Central Europe); indeed, the

Celtic speech of Gaul and Britain at the dawn of the historic era can

be considered as one language, frequently, referred to as Gallo-

Britonic. Three successor languages of Brittonic evolved: Cumbric in

southern Scotland and north-west England, Welsh in Wales and Сornish

in south-west Britain. The speakers of all three of them were known by

their Anglo-Saxon neighbours as Wealas, or Welsh. The word is usually

considered to mean foreigner, but it can also mean people who have

been Romanized. To describe themselves, the Welsh and the Cumbric

speakers adopted the name Cymry and called their language Cymraeg.

Cymry comes from the Brittonic combrogi (fellow countryman) and its

adoption marks a deepening sense of identity.

It is very interesting to show common and different things between

the words of these languages. You can sea these comparison in

following table.

Cognate Celtic words

|welsh |breton |Irish |gaelic |

|ty (house) |ti |teach |tight |

|ci (dog) |ki |cu |cu |

|du (black) |du |dubh |dubh |

|cadair (chair) |kador |kathaoir |cathair |

|gwin (wine) |gwin |fion |fion |

You see that almost all words are similar to each other, that’s why

they were united in one brunch.

The transition from Brittonic to Welsh took place somewhere between

400 and 700 AD. The major problem in tracing this transition in

paucity of evidence. Not a sentence of Brittonic has survived. The

language was almost certainly written down, but the writing materials

used more probably perishable, the more highly esteemed Latin being

used for permanent inscriptions. Brittonic, like Latin, was a

synthetic language; that is, much of its meaning was conveyed by a

charge in the endings of words, as in Latin puella (girl), puellae (to

the girl), puellarum (of the girls). In an analytic language, like

Welsh, the relation of one word to another is conveyed by the use of

prepositions or by the placing of the word in the sentence. It is

difficult to date the change from synthetic to analytic, from

Brittonic to Welsh, with any certainty. It is generally accepted that

it had occurred by about 600 AD but it may have taken place in the

spoken language much earlier. The most obvious sign of the change was

the loss of the final syllables of nouns; when bardos (poet), aratron

(plough) and abona (river) had become bardd, aradr and afon, Brittonic

had become Welsh.

There are four periods in the history of the Welsh language: early,

old, middle and new. Early Welsh, a phase in the history of the

language, extending from its beginning to about 850, only survives in

a few inscriptions and marginal notes or glosses. The most interesting

of the inscriptions is that on a memorial in the Paris church of Tywyn

in Мeirionnydd. It was carved in about 810 and consist of the words

cingen celen tricet nitanam (the body of Cingen dwells beneath).

Although the inscription incomprehensible to the Welsh speaker of the

present day, the words celen, tricet, and tan (in nitanam) are related

to the modern forms celein (corpse), trigo (dwells) and dan (beneath).

In that time took place the influence of Latin and Irish. The Romans

invaded Britain in 43 AD and their power had collapsed by 410 AD and

Britannia ceased to be the part of the Empire. Of course during all

that period Latin was influxing Welsh because it was the language of

law and administration.

Words of Latin origin in Welsh


|pont (bridge) |pons |

|eglwys (church) |ecclesia |

|lleeng (legion) |legio |

|ystafell (room) |stabellum |

|trawst (joist) |transtrum |

|bresych (cabbage) |brassica |

Ireland never experienced Roman occupation but its settlers created

colonies in western Britain before the collapse of the Empire. They

were numerous in north-west Wales. That’s why there are a lot of Irish

place-names; for example Dinllaen, Gwynedd, and a lot of words of

Irish origin appeared in Welsh: cadach(rag), cnwc (hillock), talcen

(forehead), codwm (fall).

Old Welsh, the succeeding phase in the history of the language,

extends from about 850 to 1100. Again the evidence is slight of the

material that has indubitably survived unchanged from that period,

there is little beyond marginal notes and a few brief texts and poems.

Approximately in 930 a few settlements or Norse appeared in Britain. I

don't think that the norsemen influenced greatly on the Welsh

language, because only one Welsh word - iarll, from iarl (earl) - is

indisputably a Norse borrowing, but they influenced English (ugly,

rotten and husband - borrowings from Scandinavian language) and Scots


Thus, by the end of the eleventh century, Welsh was a rich, supple,

and versatile language. It had an oral literary tradition which was

one of the longest in Europe. It had an enviable coherence, for the

literary language was the same in old parts of Wales. It was spoken

throughout the land to the west of Offa's Dyke and in some communities

to the east of it. It was deeply rooted in the territory of the people

who spoke it. They had used it to name their churches and their

settlements, their rivers and their hills. Following the Battle of

Hastings in 1066, it came face to face with the French of the Normans.

The victory of William of Normandy led to the expropriation of the

land of England by the knew king and his followers.

French words become assimilated into Welsh (cwarel (windowpane),

palffrai (palfrey), ffiol (viol), barwn (baron), gwarant (warrant))

and Welsh literature come to be influenced by French forms and

conventions. A few places in Wales, such as Beaupry, Beaumaris, Grace

Dieu and Hay (la Haie Taillee) were given French names and Norman

French personal names - Richard, Robert and William, for example -

eventually won popularity among the Welsh.

As a result of population movements English has been the spoken

language of some communities in Wales for at least 800 years. That’s

why in Welsh appeared words from it: capan (cap), sidan (silk), berfa

(wheelbarrow), bwrdd (table), llidiart (gate). But despite the influx

of French and English speakers, Wales remained overwhelmingly Welsh-

speaking throughout the Middle Ayes and beyond. In most of the marcher

lordships - Brecоn and Abergovenny, for example - the vast majority of

the population was monoglot Welsh, and in lordships such as Кnockin

and Сlun and Huntingdon and Clifford the Welsh speaker population was


Indicative of the growth of English influence was the adoption of

fixed surnames, after the English pattern, instead of Welsh

patronymics. Thus Richard ap Meurig ap Lleurig apliywelyn of Bodorgan

up Gwilym of Brecon become Richard Meyrick, and John ap Rhys Gwilym of

Brecon become John Price. Most of the new surnames were based upon the

father's Christian name - Jones (John), Davies (David), Powell (ap

Hywel), but some were based on a nick-name - Lloyd (Llwyd - grey),

Voyle (Moel - bald), an occupation - bought (Gof - blacksmith). The

changes had occurred among the gentry by the mid-sixteenth century and

virtually completed among all classes by the late seventeenth century,

but as late as the mid-nineteenth century there are examples of a son

taking his Father's Christian name as his surname.

From the seventeenth century, in the era of industrialisation in

Welsh language changes took place. The growth of industry allowed

Wales to sustain far more people than had been possible under the old

agricultural economy. Some of them came from beyond the borders of

Wales. In 1851, the Welsh population included 115000 people born in

England and 20000 born in Ireland. Of course they took their languages

with them, which little by little mixed with Welsh. But most of areas

were Welsh-speaking and, in colonising their own country the Welsh

brought their language from the countryside to the towns. That’s why

alone among the Celtic languages, Welsh has had a considerable degree

of success in becoming an urban tongue. By 1851, large numbers of

Welsh speakers lived in mass urban communities in which the language

could be used in a new range of activities. Also in the late

eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was widely practised in

Wales the coining of new words, which has been greatly stimulated by

the needs of modern society. Cyfrifiaduron (computers) with their

maddal medd (software) and caledwedd (hardware) are one of the many

fields in which a new Welsh terminology has been invented. Coinages

such as darllediad (broadcast), tonfedd (wave length) and orian brig

(peak hours) trip naturally off the tongues of broadcasters. Sports

commentaries lead to a wide range of neologisms, with those for rugby

(the work of Eric Davies) being particularly apt and idiomatic. Words

old and new have been collected in the most ambitions lexicographical

project yet undertaken in Wales.

Analysing all the information about Welsh-speakers I made a table

which I called "Development of Welsh-speaking population in Wales".

Development of Welsh-speaking population in Wales.

|years |welsh-speaking population |% of total population |

|1891 |910280 |54,4 |

|1901 |929824 |49,9 |

|1911 |977366 |43,5 |

|1921 |922092 |37,1 |

|1931 |909261 |36,8 |

|1951 |714686 |28,9 |

|1961 |656002 |26,0 |

|1971 |542425 |20,9 |

|1981 |508207 |18,9 |

|1991 |510920 |18,7 |

As you see from the table, the Welsh-speaking population of Wales

reduces greatly on 1931-51. The main reason of it is the Second World

War. And it also reduced greatly from 1961 till 1971. I don't know

exactly, but it seems to me the main reason from it is the problems in

the industry (mostly in coal-mining) and migration.

Also, the population of Welsh-speaking people was decreasing from

1921 to 1971, and was increasing from the beginning of the Welsh

language to 1911 and from 1981 till our days. At once the question

arises: "What happened in 1981?" There are a lot of factors which

influenced the growing of Welsh-speaking population from the 1981.

They are: development of education in Welsh, appearance of the

periodical press and books in Welsh, creation of radio and TV stations

in Welsh, appearance of "institutions" which protect the Welsh, and

the growing of national identity. Of course all this factors were

present in the 1950s and 1970s, but in 1990s they were in its heyday.

It is very interesting to say that many pupils who learn Welsh think

that Welsh is not a difficult language to learn and that it is easier

to learn than English. Unlike English, it has the inestimable

advantage of being largely phonetic; that is, the words are pronounced

as they are written, with non of the confusion which arises in English

over such words as cough, bough, through, though and thorough. While

English has several letters (g, h and k, for example) which are often

not pronounced at all, every letter in Welsh is pronounced.

The Welsh alphabet consists of twenty simple letters and eight

digraphs (two letters combining to produce a different sound, as with

ch and th), an unusual feature to include in an alphabet. Welsh has no

j, k, q, l, x or z. Most of the simple letters present no

difficulties, but it should be noted that c is always pronounced to

correspond with the English k, f with v and s with ss.

The Welsh alphabet:

a b c ch d dd e f ff g ng h i l ll m n o p ph r rh s t th u w y

Pronunciation of digraphs:

|ch as in loch |ll ch followed by l |

|dd as in that |ph as in pharmacy |

|ff as in fair |rh as in Rhein |

|ng as in singing |th as in thin |

In almost all Welsh words, the stress falls on the last syllable,

but one: gorymdaith; athro; ammnydifуad. In those cases where the

stress falls on the last syllable, it is usually the result of a

contraction in the word: Cymraeg was originally Cym-ra-eg, and paratoi

pa-ra-to-i. Some words borrowed from English also retain the original

accentuation: apel; polisi; paragraff.

The noun has two genders, masculine and a feminine. The "it" of

English doesn't exist.

As an French everything is either "he" or "she". Some adjectives

have masculine and feminine forms. Thus gwyn (white) is (g)wen when

following a feminine forms. Some adjectives also have singular and

plural forms. Dyn tew is a fat man, dynion tewnion fat men. Where

plurals are concerned, Welsh recognises that some things come in

pairs. Thus llaw (hand) has the plural dwylaw (two hands). To anyone

used to English plurals, with almost universal addition of s, the

variety of Welsh plural forms can appear wilfully multifarious. There

are seven ways of forming the plural.

Plural forms in Welsh:

adding a termination: afal (apple) afalau

vowel change: bran (crow) brain

adding a termination with a vowel change: mab (son) meibion

dropping a singular ending: pluen (feather) plu

dropping a singular ending with a vowel change: hwyadden (duck)


substituting a plural for a singular ending: cwningen (rabbit)


substituting a plural ending for a singular with vowel change:

miaren (bramble) mieri

The numerals in Welsh also have distinctive features. Twenty is the

basic unit in counting: ugain (twenty), deugain (two twenties -

forty), trigain (three twenties - sixty), pedwar ugain (four twenties

- eighty), followed by cant (a hundred) and sometimes by chwe ugain

(six twenties - a hundred and twenty). The teens offer interesting

complications: fourteen is pedwar ar ddeg (four plus ten), and

eighteen is deunaw (two nines).

In English, the order of the words in sentence is subject, verb,

object, indirect object. (The girl gave a book to her friend) In Welsh

it is verb, subject, object, indirect object:

Rhoddodd y ferch lyfr i'w chyfaill

Gave the girl a book to her friend

This order can be varied for the sake of emphasis or to ask a


Ceffyl a welodd y plentyn?

Horse saw the child (Was it a

horse the child saw?)

The adjective is almost always placed after the noun. When it is

not, the meaning may be different. Ci unig means a lonely dog, but

unig gi means the only dog; hen gyfaill means a friend of long

standing, but cyfaill hen means an aged friend.

The genitive expressed in English by an apostrophe s, is expressed

in Welsh by putting what is owned immediately before the owner: ci

Lowri - Lowri's dog; ty y dyn - the man's house.

It is very interesting to say that written Welsh and spoken Welsh

are very different. For a example, it is continued use in written

Welsh of the ending nt in the third person plural of the verb, as in

daethant (they came), which in speech becomes daethan. Another example

is hwy, which in speech becomes nhw.

“I sing” in standard written Welsh is canaf, but the usual spoken

form is yr wyf i canu (I am singing). This use of the verb to be (yr

wyr) with the verb noun (canu) may have been inherited by the incoming

Celts from the pre-Celtic population. The construction has been copied

in English to give the form “I am singing”, a construction not found

in other Germanic languages.

Although Welsh has no indefinite article. Thus, the dog is y ci, but

a dog is simply ci. This a feature Welsh shares with the other Celtic

language, as is the conjugation of prepositions and the absence of

over purpose words for years and no.

Although Welsh has absorbed words from other languages, Latin,

French and particularly English among them, its basic vocabulary is

still largely of Celtic origin. This is also true of more technical

words. Thus, while English words such as national, political,

industrial and philosophical have equivalents in French, German, and

other European languages which are very similar, Welsh uses its own

indigenous words – cenedlaethol, gwleidyddol, diwydiannol and

athronyddol. Indeed, it has a very considerable ability to coin words

from its resources, although the sloppy speech of many Welsh-speakers,

overloaded as it is with unnecessary English borrowings, can give the

contrary impression.

The Welsh language has survived at all. Since the act of union in

1536 when it was virtually banned, it has been subjected to direct and

indirect bombardment which should have demolished it once and for all.

It has been neglected and discouraged for over four hundred years yet

it is still very much alive. Today it is tolerated by many, rejected

by many. It is used by a large number of people as a natural means of


Now the scholars discussed the problem of the position of the Wales

language. It could be claimed that its position is precisely in the

centre, a point emphasised by Tom Nail in his analysis of the non-

state nationalities of Europe. Although the Welsh-speakers are by no

means among the larger groups, Welsh has a far higher status than

several of the more widely spoken languages. Although the density

factor if fairly low, Welsh-speakers live in a country, the other

inhabitants of which recognise their kinship with the language, a

bonus of immerse importance. The centrality of Welsh is interesting in

itself. It may also be important, for if Welsh can solve its problems,

other languages can hope to do so too


1. Davies Janet, The Welsh language, Cardiff, 1993.

1. Green Mirinda, The Celtic World, London, 1996.

2. Williams Stephen, A Welsh grammar, Cardiff, 1995.

3. McDowall David, An illustrated history of Britain, London, 1995

4. Khimunina T.N., Customs, traditions and Festivals of Great Britain,

Moscow, 1984.

5. Zaitseva S. D., Early Britain, Moscow, 1975.

6. Discover Welsh, London, 1997.

7. Clementiyev A.G., English literature, Moscow, 1968.


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