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An English speaker’s guide to pronouncing Welsh

by Marrick on September 23, 2011

Cymraeg: the language of the Land of Brothers (Cymru)

 

Welsh is easier to pronounce than an English reader might imagine. There’s an excellent explanation of how to cope with Welsh pronunciation on Linguata’s site: http://www.linguata.com/welsh/welsh-pronunciation.html

In short, here are some useful tips:

1) Stress falls on the last syllable by one. There are a few exceptions – like the word for Welsh itself “Cymraeg” where the stress is on the first syllable.

2) Consonants: there are no letters k, x or z in Welsh and the Z sound is not used at all.

3) There are a number of digraphs (double letters that have a single letter sound). Of these only ng and si are treated as double letters, the others are regarded as being a single letter. The digraphs are:

  •  Ch
  •  Dd
  •  Ff
  •  Ng
  •  Ll
  •  Ph
  •  Si
  • Th

4)There only two Welsh consonants which are doubled and these are: N and R

5) Most Welsh consonants sound like their English counterparts, with a few exceptions: These are:

  • C is always pronounced like it is in CAT, and never as in NICE. So the Welsh word for DOG = CI is pronounced “KEY”
  • DD is always pronounced like TH in THE
  • F is pronounced as a V as in VERY
  • FF is pronounced as F in FARM
  • G is always like the G in GET not PAGE
  • NG is like the NG in SONG mostly, although occasionally as in FINGER – there are exceptions like BANGOR with is pronounced BANG-GOR
  • S is usually like the S in SISTER – a strong sibilant, as opposed to the S in THOSE. If the S is before ia, ie, io and iw it is pronounced as SH as in SUGAR
  • TH is pronounced as the TH in THIN, not as in THOSE

There are some consonants which do not have an English equivalent:

  • R is rolled or trilled RRRR as in Harry – it’s never pronounced like the R in CORNER. So the Welsh word to stay (AROS) is pronounced as “ARR-ros”
  • RH is a breathy versions of R with your tongue in the top of your mouth
  • CH is one English speakers seem to have problems with, but think of a Scottish LOCH, not an English LOCK and you’ll get there
  • The big one… LL – this is unique to Wales. The easy way to pronounce it is to put your tongue in the last position of the letter L (EL), hold it there and emit a sharp breath. Job done. One tip – try to emit your breath out of the right side of your mouth; you’ll sound more “Welsh”.

6) Vowels: single vowels in Welsh have a pure sound – much closer to continental vowels than their English counterparts.

  • A broad generalisation is that vowels in the many common monosyllabic words are short before consonant clusters, e.g. ffordd (road), bwrdd (table), pump (five, pronounced pimp), before (unvoiced) consonants c p t, and before m and ng; long before the voiced consonants g, b, d, f, dd and before ch, th, ff, and s. They are also long in open-ended monosyllables such as da (good), (house) and de (south). Here are an important group of vowels:
  • A – Can be as in MAP, or long as in TARDY
  • E – as in LET
  • I – can be as in DIM, but can take on the EE sound of DEEP
  • O – can be the same as COT, or somewhere between COAT and CAUGHT (pob = every, is an example of this).
  • U – in South Wales this is similar to the EE version of I, in North Wales they also use it as EE, but it’s pronounced in the back of the throat.
  • W is a bit like a Lancastrian saying COOK or COOL
  • Y usually sounds like the I in HINT, or the E in HERE. There is an another pronunciation, which is like U in FUR, or the ER in PAPER.

 

7) Some vowels (I and W) can double up as consonants in some words. An example of this is the I in ARIAN (money) and IAITH (language) which sound like the Y in YARD. In the word GWYN (white), the W is pronounced like the W in WATER, so you would pronounce the word as GWIN.

Thanks to Graham Rooth at Linguata for all the tips above.

Some useful Welsh Phrases.

Cymru = Wales

Cymry = Welsh [the people]

Cymraeg = Welsh [the language]

Lloegr = England

Sais = an Englishman

Saeson = English [the people]

Saesneg = English [the language]

Saesneg (adj.) = English-language, English-speaking

Saesnig = English [from England]

Cymru am byth! = Wales for ever!

Y Ddraig Goch ddyry gychwyn = The Red Dragon will show the way

Bore da = Good morning

Prynhawn da = Good afternoon

Noswaith dda = Good evening

Nos da = Goodnight

Helô or Hylô = Hello

Sut mae? (Northern Welsh) = How are you?

Shw mae? (Southern Welsh) = How are you?

Croeso = Welcome

Hwyl = Bye

Hwyl am rwan/nawr = Bye for now (North/South)

Dal ati!, Daliwch ati! = Keep at it!, Don’t give up!

Nadolig Llawen = Merry Christmas

Blwyddwyn Newydd Dda = Happy New Year

Penblwydd Hapus = Happy Birthday

Cyfarchion y Tymor = Season’s greetings

Pob lwc = Good luck

Dymuniadau da, Dymuniadau gorau, Pob dymuniad da = Best wishes

Llongyfarchiadau = Congratulations

Cofion cynnes = Yours (salutation at the end of a letter)

Cariad = Love, Darling

Dw i’n dy garu di = I love you

Hen Wlad fy Nhadau = Land of My Fathers (also the anthem)

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