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Welsh ( or , pronounced ) is a member of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages spoken natively in Walesmarker, in England by some along the Welsh border and in the Welsh immigrant colony in the Chubut Valleymarker in Argentine Patagonia.

There are speakers of Welsh throughout the world, most notably in the rest of Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The most recent census figures (2001) presented in "Main Statistics about Welsh" by the Welsh Language Board, indicate 582,400 (20.8% of the population of Wales in households or communal establishments) were able to speak Welsh and 457,946 (16.3%) can speak, read and write it. These 2001 figures mark a substantial - 9% - decline when compared with the figures of 508,100 (18.7%) for 1991. Increasing use of the English language had led to a decline in the numbers of Welsh speakers. Since the introduction of the Welsh Language Act 1993, giving Welsh equal status with English in the public sector in Wales, this has been slowed.

The results of the "2004 Welsh Language Use Survey" indicate that there are 611,000 Welsh speakers in Wales (21.7% of the population living in households, a lower figure of 19.7% is given in the same paper). Of those 611,000 Welsh speakers 62% claim to speak Welsh daily; that figure roses to 88% amongst those who consider themselves fluent in Welsh.

A greeting in Welsh is one of 55 other languages included on the Voyager Golden Record chosen to be representative of Earth in NASA's Voyager program launched in 1977. The greetings are unique to each language, with the Welsh greeting being "Iechyd da i chwi yn awr ac yn oesoedd" which translates into English as "Good health to you now and forever".

See Welsh English, sometimes known as "Wenglish", for the English language as spoken in Wales. Officially, the English and Welsh languages have equal status in Wales.


Welsh as a distinct language emerged in the 6th century from British, the common ancestor of Welsh, Breton, Cornish, and the extinct language or dialect known as Cumbric.

Like most languages, there are identifiable periods within the history of Welsh, although the boundaries between these are often indistinct.


Bilingual road markings in Wales

The 2004 Welsh Language Use Survey shows 21.7% of the population of Wales are Welsh speakers. This is an increase from 20.5% in the 2001 census, and from 18.5% in 1991. The 2001 census also shows that about 25% of Welsh residents were born outside Wales. The number of Welsh speakers in the rest of Britain has not yet been compiled for statistical purposes. In 1993, S4C, the Welsh-language TV channel, published the results of a survey into the numbers of people who speak or understand Welsh, and this estimated that there were some 133,000 Welsh-speakers living in England, about 50,000 of them in the Greater London area and border towns and villages in the Welsh Marches such as Oswestrymarker.

Historically, large numbers of Welsh people spoke only Welsh, but monoglot Welsh speakers are now virtually non-existent, at least above school age. Almost without exception, Welsh speakers in Wales also speak English (while in Chubut Province, Argentina, almost all speakers can speak Spanish; cf. Welsh settlement in Argentina). However, some Welsh speakers are more comfortable expressing themselves in Welsh than in English. A speaker's choice of language can vary according to the subject domain and the social context, even within a single discourse (known in linguistics as code-switching).

Although Welsh is a minority language, support for the language grew during the second half of the 20th century, along with the rise of organisations such as the nationalist political party Plaid Cymru from 1925 and the Welsh Language Society, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg from 1962.

Welsh as a first language is largely concentrated in the north and west of Wales, principally Gwyneddmarker, Conwy, Denbighshire, Angleseymarker, Carmarthenshiremarker, north Pembrokeshiremarker, Ceredigion, parts of west Glamorganmarker, north-west and extreme south-west Powysmarker, although first-language and other fluent speakers can be found throughout Wales.

Welsh is a living language, used in conversation by hundreds of thousands and seen throughout Wales. The Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 provide that the Welsh and English languages should be treated equally in the public sector, so far as is reasonable and practicable. Public bodies are required to prepare for approval a Welsh Language Scheme, which indicates their commitment to the equality of treatment principle. This is sent out in draft form for public consultation for a 3 month period, whereupon comments on it may be incorporated into a final version. It requires the final approval of the Welsh Language Board ( ). Thereafter, the public body is charged with implementing and fulfilling its obligations under the Welsh Language Scheme. The list of other public bodies which have to prepare Schemes could be added to by initially the Secretary of State for Wales, from 1993–1997, by way of Statutory Instrument. Subsequent to the forming of the National Assembly for Wales in 1997, the Government Minister responsible for the Welsh language can and has passed Statutory Instruments naming public bodies who have to prepare Schemes. Neither 1993 Act nor secondary legislation made under it cover the private sector, although some organisations, notably banks and some railway companies, provide some of their literature through the medium of Welsh.

Local councils and the National Assembly for Wales use Welsh as a quasi-official language, issuing their literature and publicity in Welsh versions (e.g. letters to parents from schools, library information, and council information) and most road signs in Wales are in English and Welsh, including the Welsh placenames. However, some references to destinations in England are still given in English only, even where there are long-established Welsh names (e.g. London - "Llundain"; The [English] Midlands - "Canolbarth Lloegr").

Since 2000, the teaching of Welsh has been compulsory in all schools in Wales up to age 16, and that has had a major effect in stabilising and to some extent reversing the decline in the language. It means, for example, that even the children of non-Welsh-speaking English migrants to Wales grow up with knowledge of or complete fluency of the language.

Although most road signs throughout Wales are bilingual, the wording on money is in English only (This is apart from the legend on Welsh pound coins dated 1985 and 1990, which are legal tender in all parts of the UK: Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, which means, "True am I to my country"), and derives from the Welsh National Anthem. The new British coinage from 2008 will not bear any Welsh language at all, despite being designed by a resident of North Wales and being minted at the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, South Wales. Although many shops employ bilingual signage, Welsh still rarely appears on product packaging or instructions.

The UK government has ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in respect of Welsh.

The language has greatly increased its prominence since the creation of the television channel S4C in November 1982, which broadcasts 70% of Channel 4's programming along with a majority of Welsh-language shows during peak viewing hours. Additionally, there is an all-Welsh-language digital station available throughout Europe on satellite called S4C Digidol, in existence since 1998. The main evening television news provided by the BBC in Welsh is available for download. There is also a Welsh-language radio station, BBC Radio Cymru, which was launched in 1977.

There is, however, no daily newspaper in Welsh, the only Welsh-language national newspaper Y Cymro ("The Welshman") being published once a week. A daily newspaper called Y Byd ("The World") was scheduled to be launched on 3 March 2008 but has been scrapped, owing to poor sales of subscriptions and the Welsh Assembly Government deeming the publication as not meeting the criteria necessary for the kind of public funding it needed to be rescued.

Since December 2001 the British Government has planned to ensure that all immigrants know English. It remains to be seen if Welsh will be considered a separate case. At present, a knowledge of Welsh, English or Scottish Gaelic is sufficient for naturalisation purposes and it is believed that this policy will be continued in any proposed changes to the law.


Welsh vocabulary draws mainly from original Brythonic words ( "egg", "stone"), with some loans from Latin ( "window" Latin , "wine" Latin ) and English ( "sure" Middle English , fideo "video").


Welsh is written in a version of the Latin alphabet traditionally consisting of 28 letters, of which eight are digraph treated as single letters for collation:

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

The letter "j" is used in many everyday words borrowed from English, like jam, jôc "joke" and garej "garage". The letters "k", "q", "v", "x", and "z" are used in some technical terms, like kilogram, volt, xeroser and zero, but in all cases can be, and often are, replaced by Welsh letters: cilogram, folt, seroser and sero. The letter "k" was in common use until the sixteenth century, but was dropped at the time of the publication of the New Testament in Welsh, as William Salesbury explained: "C for K, because the printers have not so many as the Welsh requireth". This change was not popular at the time.

In contrast to English practice, "A", "E", "I", "O", "U", "W" & "Y" are all considered vowel letters in Welsh.

The most common diacritic is the circumflex, which disambiguates long vowels, most often in the case of homographs, where the vowel is short in one word and long in the other: e.g. man 'place' vs mân 'fine, small'.



The phonology of Welsh is characterised by a number of sounds that do not occur in English and are typologically rare in European languages, specifically voiceless sonorants such as the voiceless lateral fricative , voiceless nasal consonants , , and , and voiceless rhotic . Stress usually falls on the penultimate syllable in polysyllabic words, while the word-final unstressed syllable receives a higher pitch than the stressed syllable.


Welsh morphology has much in common with that of the other modern Insular Celtic languages, such as the use of initial consonant mutations, and the use of so-called "conjugated prepositions" (prepositions that fuse with the personal pronouns that are their object). Welsh nouns belong to one of two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine, but are not inflected for case. Welsh has a variety of different endings to indicate the plural, and two endings to indicate the singular of some nouns. In spoken Welsh, verb inflection is indicated primarily by the use of auxiliary verbs, rather than by the inflection of the main verb. In literary Welsh, on the other hand, inflection of the main verb is usual.

Other features of Welsh grammar

Possessives as direct objects of verbal nouns

The Welsh for "I like Rhodri" is ("I am in liking [of] Rhodri"), where Rhodri is in a possessive relationship to hoffi. With personal pronouns, the possessive form of the personal pronoun is used, as in "I like him" : – literally, "I am in his liking" – "I like you" is ("I am your liking").

Pronoun doubling

In colloquial Welsh, possessive pronouns, whether used in the conventional way to mean "my", "your", etc., or to indicate the direct object of a verbal noun, are commonly reinforced by the use of the corresponding personal pronoun after the noun or verbal noun: "his house" (literally "his house of him"), "I like you" ("I am [engaged in the action of] your liking of you"), etc. It should be noted that this 'reinforcement' adds no emphasis to the colloquial register. While the possessive pronoun alone may be used (as is especially common in more formal registers as shown above), it is incorrect - and grammatically incomplete - to use only the personal pronoun.

Affirmative markers

or is often placed before inflected verbs to show that they are declarative. Mi is mainly restricted to colloquial Northern Welsh, with fe predominating in the South and in the formal or literary register. Such marking of the declarative is perhaps less common in higher registers. However, in the present and imperfect of the verb (to be), is required in formal registers; in other registers is often entirely omitted, and is often realised in contracted form as .

Significant use of auxiliary verbs

Non-literary Welsh inclines very strongly towards the use of auxiliaries with its verbs. In the present tense, all verbs are used with the auxiliary (to be), so is literally "I am going", but also means simply "I go". In the past and future tenses, there are inflected forms of all verbs (which are invariably used in the written language), but it is more common nowadays in speech to use the verbal noun ( , loosely equal to the infinitive in English) together with the inflected form of (to do), so "I went" can be or and "I will go" can be or . There is also a future form using the auxiliary , giving (perhaps best translated as "I will be going") and an imperfect tense (a continuous/habitual past tense) also using , with meaning "I used to go/I was going".

Counting system

The traditional counting system used by the Welsh language is vigesimal, which is to say it is based on twenties, as in standard French numbers 70 (soixante-dix, literally "sixty-ten") through 99 (quatre-vingt-dix-neuf, literally "four twenty nineteen"). Welsh numbers from 11 through 14 are "x on ten", 16 through 19 are "x on fifteen" (though 18 is more usually "two nines"); numbers from 21 through 39 are "1–19 on twenty", 40 is "two twenties", 60 is "three twenties", etc.

There is also a decimal counting system, which appears to be commonly used in Patagonian Welsh, where numbers are "x ten y", e.g. thirty-five in decimal is (three ten five) while in vigesimal it is (fifteen – itself "five-ten" – on twenty).

While there is only one word for "one" ( ), it triggers the soft mutation (treiglad meddal) of feminine nouns, other than those beginning with "ll" and "rh". There are separate masculine and feminine forms of the numbers "two" ( and ), "three" ( and ) and "four" ( and ), which must agree with the grammatical gender of the objects being counted.


Dialectal differences are very pronounced in the spoken and, to a lesser extent, the written language. A convenient, if slightly simplistic, classification is into North Walian and South Walian forms (or and based on the word for North, , and the south Wales word for 'over there'). The differences between dialects encompass vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar, although particularly in the last regard they are in fact fairly minor.

An example of the difference between North and South Walian usage would be the question "Do you want a cup (of tea)?" In the north this would typically be while in the south the question would be more likely (though in the South one would not be surprised to hear among other possibilities permitted by Welsh as by most living languages). An example of a pronunciation difference between Northern and Southern Welsh is the tendency in southern dialects to palatalise the letter "s", e.g. (month), would tend to be pronounced in the north, and in the south. This normally occurs next to a high front vowel like /i/, although exceptions include the pronunciation of "how" as in the south (compared with northern ).

Much more fine-grained classifications exist beyond north and south: the book , about Welsh dialects was accompanied by a cassette containing recordings of fourteen different speakers demonstrating aspects of different dialects. The book refers to the earlier Linguistic Geography of Wales as describing six different regions which could be identified as having words specific to those regions. Another dialect is Patagonian Welsh, which has developed since the start of the Welsh settlement in Argentina in 1865; it includes Spanish loanwords and terms for local features, but a survey in the 1970s showed that the language in Patagonia is consistent throughout the lower Chubut valley and in the Andes.


Modern Welsh can be considered to fall broadly into two main styles—Colloquial Welsh (Cymraeg llafar) and Literary Welsh (Cymraeg llenyddol). The grammar described on this page is that of Colloquial Welsh, which is used in most speech and informal writing. Literary Welsh is closer to the form of Welsh standardised by the 1588 translation of the Bible and is found in official documents and other formal registers, including much literature. As a standardised form, literary Welsh shows little if any of the dialectal variation found in colloquial Welsh. Some differences include:

Literary Welsh Colloquial Welsh
Can omit subject pronouns (pro-drop) Subject pronouns rarely omitted
More extensive use of simple verb forms More extensive use of periphrastic verb forms
No distinction between simple present and future
(e.g. af "I go"/"I shall go")
Simple form most often expresses only future
(e.g. af i "I'll go")
Subjunctive verb forms Subjunctive in fixed idioms ending and pronoun –nt hwy ending and pronoun –n nhw

Amongst the characteristics of the literary, as against the spoken, language are a higher dependence on inflected verb forms, a shift in the usage of some of the tenses, a reduction in the explicit use of pronouns (since the information is usually conveyed in the verb/preposition inflections) and a greatly reduced tendency to substitute English loanwords for native Welsh words. In addition, more archaic pronouns and forms of mutation may be observed in Literary Welsh.

Examples of sentences in literary and colloquial Welsh

English Literary Welsh Colloquial Welsh
I get up early every day. Codaf yn gynnar bob dydd. Dwi'n codi'n gynnar bob dydd. (North) / Rwy'n codi'n gynnar bob dydd. (South)
I'll get up early tomorrow. Codaf yn gynnar yfory. Coda i'n gynnar fory/Na i godi'n gynnar fory
He had not stood there long. Ni safasai yno yn hir. Doedd o ddim wedi sefyll yno'n hir.(North) (D)odd e ddim wedi sefyll yno'n hir. (South)
They'll sleep only when there's a need. Ni chysgant ond pan fo angen. Fyddan nhw ddim ond yn cysgu pan fydd angen.

In fact, the differences between dialects of modern spoken Welsh pale into insignificance compared to the difference between some forms of the spoken language and the most formal constructions of the literary. The latter is considerably more conservative and is the language used in Welsh translations of the Bible, amongst other things (although the – New Welsh Bible – is significantly less formal than the traditional 1588 Bible). Gareth King, author of a popular Welsh grammar, observes that "The difference between these two is much greater than between the virtually identical colloquial and literary forms of English". A grammar of Literary Welsh can be found in A Grammar of Welsh (1980) by Stephen J. Williams, or more completely in Gramadeg y Gymraeg (1998) by Peter Wynn Thomas (no comprehensive grammar of Welsh exists in English).

Most Welsh writing, especially that found on the Internet or in magazines, is closer to colloquial usage, though it is often argued that this preference results in questionable orthographical and grammatical choices. This is also becoming more common in artistic literature, where the parallel with the well-known works of Irvine Welsh or Niall Griffiths may be helpful to understand the effect, and the controversy.

Ultimately, the labels Colloquial and Literary may be no more (or less) than convenient approximations: the spoken (i.e. colloquial) language naturally permits the use of formal as well as informal registers, and written (i.e. literary) conventions are likewise flexible in use of registers.

Welsh in education

The decade around 1840 was a period of great social upheaval in Wales, manifested in the Chartist movement, which culminated in 20,000 people marching on Newportmarker in 1839 resulting in a riot when 20 people were killed by soldiers defending the Westgate Hotel, and the Rebecca Riots when tollbooth on turnpikes were systematically destroyed.

This unrest brought the state of education in Wales to the attention of the English establishment, as social reformers of the time considered education as a means of dealing with social ills. The Times newspaper was prominent among those who considered that the lack of education of the Welsh people was the root cause of most of the problems.

In July 1846, three commissioners, R. R. W. Lingen, Jellynger C. Symons and H. R. Vaughan Johnson, were appointed to inquire into the state of education in Wales; the Commissioners were all Anglicans, and presumed to be unsympathetic to the non-conformist majority in Wales.

The Commissioners presented their report to the Government on 1 July 1847 in three large blue-bound volumes. This report quickly became known as (The Treachery of the Blue Books)[5969] as, apart from documenting the state of education in Wales, the Commissioners were also free with their comments disparaging the language, non-conformity, and the morals of the Welsh people in general. An immediate effect of the report was for a belief to take root in the minds of ordinary people that the only way for Welsh people to get on in the world was through the medium of English, and an inferiority complex developed about the Welsh language whose effects have not yet been completely eradicated. The historian Professor Kenneth O. Morgan referred to the significance of the report and its consequences as "the Glencoemarker and the Amritsar of Welsh history".

In the later 19th century virtually all teaching in the schools of Wales was in English, even in areas where the pupils barely understood English. Some schools used the Welsh Not, a piece of wood, often bearing the letters "WN", which was hung around the neck of any pupil caught speaking Welsh. The pupil could pass it on to any schoolmate heard speaking Welsh, with the pupil wearing it at the end of the day being given a beating. Many tried in vain to get rid of this bigotry. One of the most famous Welsh born pioneers of higher education in Wales was Sir Hugh Owen. He made great progress in the cause of education, and more especially the University College of Wales (Aberystwyth), of which he was chief founder. He has been credited for with The Welsh Intermediate Education Act of 1889 after which several new Welsh Schools were built, the first of which was built in 1894 and named Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen.

Towards the beginning of the 20th century this policy slowly began to change, partly owing to the efforts of Owen Morgan Edwards when he became chief inspector of schools for Wales in 1907.

The Aberystwythmarker Welsh School ( ) was founded in 1939 by Sir Ifan ap Owen Edwards, the son of O.M. Edwards as the first Welsh Primary School. The headteacher was Norah Isaac. is still a very successful school and now there are Welsh language primary schools all over the country. Ysgol Glan Clwydmarker was established in Rhylmarker in 1955 as the first Welsh language school to teach to a secondary level.

Welsh is now widely used in education, with 20% of all pupils in Wales being taught at Welsh-medium schools.[5970] All Welsh universities teach some courses in Welsh (most notably Bangor Universitymarker and Aberystwyth Universitymarker), but are primarily English language. Under the National Curriculum, schoolchildren in Wales must study Welsh up to the age of 16 and many choose to continue with it in their A levels and college years. All Local Education Authorities in Wales have schools providing bilingual or Welsh-medium education. The remainder study Welsh as a second language in English-medium schools. Specialist teachers of Welsh called support the teaching of Welsh in the National Curriculum. Welsh is also taught in adult education classes. The Welsh Assembly Government has recently set up six centres of excellence in the teaching of Welsh for Adults, with centres in North Wales (, Mid Wales, South West, Glamorgan, Gwent and Cardiff. The ability to speak Welsh or to have Welsh as a qualification is essential or desirable for certain career choices in Wales, such as teaching or customer service. More information can be found at Welsh for

Welsh in information technology

The Internet

Welsh has a presence on the Internet, ranging from formal lists of terminology in a variety of fields to Welsh language interfaces for parts of Microsoft Windows XP and Vista, a variety of Linux distributions, and some online services to blogs kept in Welsh. The Facebook Social Networking site is also available in Welsh.

Mobile Phones

At the National Eisteddfod of Wales 2009, there was an announcement from the Welsh Language Board that the mobile phone company Samsung have teamed up with the network provider Orange to provide the first mobile phone in the Welsh language. The interface and the T9 dictionary on the Samsung S5600 will both be in the Welsh language. The Welsh Samsung S5600 has been available since the 1st of September 2009 on the Orange network, with plans to introduce it on to other networks.

Welsh in warfare

Secure communications are often difficult to achieve in wartime. Cryptography can be used to protect messages, but codes can be broken. Therefore, little-known languages are sometimes encoded, so that even if the code is broken, the message is still in a language few people know. For example, Navajo code talkers were used by the United States military during World War II. Similarly, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, a Welsh regiment serving in Bosniamarker, used Welsh for emergency communications that needed to be secure.

Use of Welsh at the European Union

In November 2008, the Welsh language was used at a meeting of the European Union’s Council of Ministers for the first time. The Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones addressed his audience in Welsh as his words were translated into the EU’s 23 official languages. The official use of the language followed years of campaigning. Jones said "In the UK we have one of the world’s major languages, English, as the mother tongue of many. But there is a diversity of languages within our islands. I am proud to be speaking to you in one of the oldest of these, Welsh, the language of Wales." He described the breakthrough as "more than [merely] symbolic" saying "Welsh might be one of the oldest languages to be used in the UK, but it remains one of the most vibrant. Our literature, our arts, our festivals, our great tradition of song all find expression through our language. And this is a powerful demonstration of how our culture, the very essence of who we are, is expressed through language."

See also


  2. Main Statistics about Welsh from the Welsh Language Board
  3. Welsh Language Board.
  4. Summary of 1993 S4C survey
  5. Davies, Janet, The Welsh Language, University of Wales Press, Bath, 1993, p. 34
  6. Welsh language provision at S4C Analogue
  7. At the BBC website (Real Media).
  8. Daily Welsh newspaper abandoned, BBC News Online, 15 February 2008
  9. Thomas, Peter Wynn (1996) Gramadeg y Gymraeg. Cardiff: University of Wales Press: 757.
  10. English and Welsh, an essay by J. R. R. Tolkien
  11. Thomas, B. and Thomas, P. W. , published by Gwasg Taf, ISBN 0-948469-14-5. Out of print
  12. Thomas, A. R. 1973 Linguistic Geography of Wales
  13. King, G. Modern Welsh: A Comprehensive Grammar, published by Routledge, ISBN 0-415-09269-8 p3
  14. John Davies, Hanes Cymru (1993) (also in English translation as A History of Wales, Penguin, 1994, ISBN 0-1401-4581-8)
  15. Welsh medium or bilingual provision, Welsh Language Board
  16. The Welsh National Database of Standardised Terminology was released in March 2006.
  17. Selections of Welsh-language blogs are listed on the sites Y Rhithfro and Blogiadur.
  18. BBC


  • J.W. Aitchison and H. Carter. Language,Economy and Society. The changing fortunes of the Welsh Language in the Twentieth Century. Cardiff. University of Wales Press. 2000.
  • J.W. Aitchison and H. Carter. Spreading the Word. The Welsh Language 2001. Y Lolfa. 2004

External links

Statistical data

About the language


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