Re: Welsh "w" and "y"
|From:||Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, October 26, 2004, 12:06|
On Monday, October 25, 2004, at 09:30 , Carsten Becker wrote:
> My parents keep telling on and off when the topic is Welsh,
> that |w| can basically represent *any* sound.
...which is quite wrong. |w| has the same values as Latin |u|, namely: [u:
], [U] and [w]. Unlike Latin, the different pronunciations are good deal
more predictable in Welsh.
(Of course Latin is often re-spelled with both |u| and |v| to make it
> Pronounciation in Welsh orthography is AFAIK partly only
> predictable from the context,
Eh? You'll upset the Welsh with such statements ;)
The welsh are proud of the 'phonetic spelling' (I was told that many times
when I lived in Wales). Welsh spelling is in fact nearly phonemic - more
phonemic for example than German spelling.
> but I can't imagine that a
> letter can be used for any sound. In short: I wanted to
> know if this claim is true.
No it is not.
> Sensible would be that |w| is
> depending on what precedes or follows [w] or [v\], /u/ or
> maybe even /y/, but any sound ...?
|w| is the consonant [w] if it occurs before a vowel, with the sole
exception of the diphthong |wy| [Uj]. It also has the consonant
pronunciation in the initial combinations gwl- [gwl] as in _gwlad_ [gwla:d]
"land, country", gwn- [gwn] as in _gwneud_ [gwn@jd] "to make, to do" and
gwr- as in _gwraig_ [gwrajg] "wife, woman"; when such words undergo soft
mutation the |w| in the initial wl-, wn- and wr- retain the consonant
pronunciation, e.g. _wlad_ [wla:d], _wneud_ [wn@jd], _wraig_ [wrajg].
Otherwise |w| is the high back rounded vowel, either long [u:] or short [U]
IN WORDS OF ONE SYLLABLE:
(a) vowels are _short_ if:
1. They stand alone, i.e. the word is one letter only, e.g. _a_ "and", _i_
2. When they are followed by the consonants |c| /k/, |p|, |t|, |m| or |ng|
/N/ (exceptions are marked in writing with a circumflex accent).
3. When they are followed by two or more consonants.
4. When |a|, |e|, |o|, |y| or |w| (i.e. all vowels except |i| and |u|) are
followed by |n|, |l| or |r| (exceptions are marked with a circumflex
accent , apart from:
_hen_ [he:n] "old" and _dyn_ [di:n] or [d1:n] "man")
Note: |u| in north Wales is the high central unrounded vowel (a bit like
Russian bI) but in south Wales is pronounced exactly the same as |i|.
(b) vowels are long if:
1. They are marked with a circumflex ending.
2. They occur are in syllable final position of an initial consonant or
consonant cluster, e.g. _da_ [da:] "good", _te_ [t_he:] "tea".
3. They occur in syllables ending in |b| [b], |ch| [X], |d| [d], |dd| [D],
|f| [v], |ff| [f], |g| [g], |s| [s] or |th| [T]. There are a few
exceptions in words borrowed from English, for example _bag_ [bag] (with
the short sound of "Welsh English", not the south east British & US [&]).
4. Before the letters |l|, |n| and |r|, the vowels |i| and |u| are long.
There are a few exception in words borrowed from English, foe example
(b)IN WORDS OF MORE THAN ONE SYLLABLE
1. Unstressed vowels are short
1. In the stressed syllable, i.e. the next to last syllable, the vowels
follow the same rules as for one syllable words, except that the
lengthened vowels are medium length rather then long, for example the |e|
in _cegin_ /'ke:gIn/ "kitchen" is a little shorter and less tense than the
|e| in _ceg_ /ke:g/ "mouth", but not as short or lax as the |e| in _cen_
/kEn/ "film, layer".
Note that unvoiced plosives after the vowel are geminate in pronunciation,
tho not not in writing, for example:
_hapus_ ['happ_hI\s] or ['happ_hIs] "happy"
The only real problem occurs with gwy-. The may represent either |g| plus
the diphthong |wy| /uj/, or |gw| /gw/ plus the vowel |y| (see below). If
there is a circumflex on either the |w| or the |y| then we know which is
intended. But if there is no written accent, the pronunciation just ha to
be learnt with the word.
> And something that interests me personally, how can you tell
> that |y| is really what it represents by default (I guess
You guess wrongly. |y| has two pronunciations in Welsh which are
traditionally referred to as 'clear' and 'obscure'.
This is exactly the same as Welsh |u|, that is a high central unrounded
vowel in the north nnd exactly like |i| in the south. The clear sound may
be long or short according to the rules above. Clear |y| occurs if:
1. The letter occurs in the final syllable of a polysyllabic word.
2. The letter occurs in a one syllable word, except for the exceptions
'Obscure' |y| is [@].
1. This is the sound of |y| in all syllables (including the stressed,
penultimate syllable), except the final syllable.
2. In the following one syllable words (which are always unstressed):
y, yr "the"; yn, yng, ym "in"; yn [grammatical particle]; fy "my"; dy
3. In a few one syllable borrowings from English, for example _nyrs_
> Wales is "Cymru" in Welsh, which is AFAIK pronounced
> [kAmrA] or so -- at least I have been told so.
I regret someone has misinformed you. It is ['k_h@mrI] (south Walian) or
['k_h@mrI\] (north Walian); anglophones usually pronounce it their dialect
variant of /'kVmri/.
> How to pronounce that ominous "ll" I have not found out yet.
> Is it [L] or [L\] or was it really [K]?
It is *not* [L], [L\], nor any other approximant. It is the voiceless,
lateral *fricative*. If you try to say the English 'push' and 'pull' *at
the same time*, you get a fair approximation to the Welsh word _pwll_
Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight,
which is not so much a twilight of the gods
as of the reason." [JRRT, "English and Welsh" ]