Breton / Welsh: mutual intelligibility

Outsider

Senior Member
Portuguese (Portugal)
I would very much like to know to what extent Breton and Welsh can be mutually intelligible, especially from native speakers of each of these languages.
Thank you very much.
 
  • gwrthgymdeithasol

    Senior Member
    English, Wales
    That's a good question that's not easily answered. Welsh and Breton speakers generally find it quite difficult to understand each other, as the phonological systems have some big differences -- Breton being heavily influenced by French (especially with its system of nasals) and Welsh by English (diphthongisation being common in many parts of Wales, for example). Having said that, many consonant sounds in particular are virtually identical, and the grammars and vocabularies are on the whole quite similar -- although the orthographies are sometimes strikingly different (a Welsh speaker would not know where to start with a word like 'bleuñv' or 'ouzoc'h').

    On the whole, it's probably 50-50: a Welsh speaker would not understand a word of "fellout a ra din ma teuio" (I want him to come; in Welsh: "dw i eisiau iddo fe ddod"), but would probably understand with little difficulty "ev ar gwin-mãn" (drink this wine; in Welsh: "yf y gwin 'ma").

    Hope that helps :)
     
    Well, Breton is spoken in the more or less north of France. Welsh is spoken in Wales, as you can imagine. Not really neighbouring regions, and separated by the English-speaking parts of Britain. Cornish and Devonian are dead although my Grandma used to know a bit of the former. I tried to dig out some Old Devonian when at UNI and, of course, like any dead and thus preserved tongue it appeared to possess more distinct features of the Celtic roots than the modern spoken Breton and Welsh each on their own.
     

    gwrthgymdeithasol

    Senior Member
    English, Wales
    Cornish and Devonian are dead although my Grandma used to know a bit of the former.
    Cornish may not be in good health, but it isn't dead either. I lived in Cornwall in the 1980s (one of my children was born there) when the language revival was just taking off, and it's come a relatively long way since then. Societies, dictionaries, grammars and media exist -- all indications of non-death :)
     

    Sionees

    Member
    Welsh - Wales
    Agreed that much basic vocab, syntax and grammar is the same amongst the Brittonics (P Celts) more so than with their cousins the Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx speakers (Goidelic or Q Celts.) As mentioned on another thread the P Celts have the same National Anthems too only the words have been supplied in the appropriate language (from the original Cymraeg).

    However, please note the false friends in Welsh and Breton regarding gwin coch (also in another thread). Make sure you get a good quality of (red) wine wherever you are :D
     

    ilaria77

    Member
    Italian
    However, please note the false friends in Welsh and Breton regarding gwin coch (also in another thread). Make sure you get a good quality of (red) wine wherever you are :D
    Might be wrong but shouldn't it be gwin goch?
    Just curious...
     

    Sionees

    Member
    Welsh - Wales
    Gwin coch is indeed Welsh for red wine (both words being derivatives from Latin, which, you being Italian would identify mmedately).

    However, gwin coc'h in Breton amounts to shit wine. (Is one allowed to swear on these fora? In pursuit of linguistic science of course...)

    Bretons retain the old P Celtic word ruz for red.

    Hence my allusion to making sure which P Celt you are addressing when you ask for your sangria ;-)
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Perhaps Ilaria77 was wondering whether coch should undergo a mutation (treiglad) in that phrase...
     

    Sionees

    Member
    Welsh - Wales
    Thanks outsider and sorry illyria if this was the point you wanted clarified.

    No, it cannot be gwin goch (in Welsh) because gwin is a masculine singular noun. Adjectives (other than those beginning with <ll> and <rh>) which come after feminine singular nouns and other adjectives providing they begin with mutable consonants (<c>, <p>, <t>, <g>, <b>, <d> and <m>) will softly mutate/lenite/suffer from Treiglad Meddal. (There is no neuter in Welsh.)

    Soft Mutation can then be a useful guide to grammatical gender.

    Thus, and a stupid example, but merely to illustrate the point and using our choice of adjective:

    dyn coch > (a) red man
    merch goch > (a)redwoman
    dynion coch > redmen
    merched coch > red women

    And, yes, I know we have plural forms of some adjectives (dynion/merched cochion = red men/women), but in reality these are disappearing from the spoken language and indeed from the more classical and literary language too. As are the feminine forms... :-(
     

    ilaria77

    Member
    Italian
    I understand now, thank you very much for your comments.
    I studied a little bit of Welsh with the help of some tapes, but I don't really have anyone to practice with, or discuss these things with.

    I am glad I have found this forum!!!
     

    Sionees

    Member
    Welsh - Wales
    Croeso/Welcome :) and sorry for getting your name wrong

    Perhaps one day you will be able to post on Cymraeg only sites...

    Are you by any chance familiar with your compatriot, Fausto (his real name) who is also a great devotee of all things Welsh and comes to the National Eisteddfod every year?

    Don't forget you have two advantages (at least) in being Italian:
    1 There are many Welsh words derived from Latin (gwin and coch are two)
    2 We share the same colours on our national flag

    Buongiorno Italia de Giovanni lo gallese
     

    ilaria77

    Member
    Italian
    Dioch, Giovanni!
    No, I don't know Fausto. Is he fluent in Welsh?

    I know, Italian and Welsh share lots of words, like for example Castell (Castello), trist (triste), etc...

    I also watch S4C every now and then. :)

    Can you explain the difference between Northern and Southern Welsh?
    I have heard in North Wales people say mowr instead of mawr, or rwan instead of nawr.
    What's the influence there?

    Dioch 'n fawr once again!
     
    Croeso/Welcome :) and sorry for getting your name wrong

    Perhaps one day you will be able to post on Cymraeg only sites...

    Are you by any chance familiar with your compatriot, Fausto (his real name) who is also a great devotee of all things Welsh and comes to the National Eisteddfod every year?

    Don't forget you have two advantages (at least) in being Italian:
    1 There are many Welsh words derived from Latin (gwin and coch are two)
    2 We share the same colours on our national flag

    Buongiorno Italia de Giovanni lo gallese
    You both also share, with the Russians, very open throated vowel production, which is ideal for singing.
     

    Sionees

    Member
    Welsh - Wales
    No, Fausto is not completely fluent in Welsh but he does speak it very well and with a delightful 'Italian' accent. Remember too there a good many Italians settled in Wales; they have integrated well and often very proud to adopt both personae - Italian AND Welsh. They are also well-respected for their excellent ice cream!

    Differences between North and South Wales dialects (the broadest difference) are too lengthy to mention here. But let us say that it exists on a phonemical level: <i>, <u> and <y> in the appropriate places have the 'same' sound in the South, whereas they <i> is different to <u> and <y> in the same contexts. Other pronunciations e.g. <-au> (= [a] NWW and SEW; [e] NEW, SWW) also exist, and as you have found mawr tends to be pronounced as mowr (not IPA) by us northeners. Similarly, troed is often [tro:d] for many southeners.

    Vocab. can be different: rwan = nawr 'now'; iau = afu 'liver'; agoriad = allwedd 'key'; llefrith = llaeth 'milk' etc. etc. with the 1st of each pair NW.

    Gender varies too: tafarn (< taberna)'pub' fem. in N; masc. in S. (Important when counting and for mutations.)

    Syntax: Mae X gen i (N) = Mae 'da fi X (S) 'I have' (NO lexical verb for to have however - cf other Celtic langs. and Russian, otherwise unique in Indo-European langs.)

    So, it's a bit like the Brit Eng vs American Eng approach. I feel more comfortable in my native northern variety and this is what I work in professionally (most of the time) - but I do understand southeners. What's more from the autumn, I should be in a position of teaching Southern Welsh via the Internet for the Open University. Please enrol :)

    Ciao la bella Italia,

    Giovanni
     
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    ilaria77

    Member
    Italian
    Thanks again!!
    (Oh and I have just remembered another difference "Shw mae" and "Sut mae"... funny how words just come back the minute you start using the language again)
     

    Sionees

    Member
    Welsh - Wales
    Sorry to disappoint Kevin - I sing like a crow with a sore throat.

    But I can belt out the National Anthem with the best of them, not least when I am on stage with the rest of the Gorsedd during the National Eisteddfod ;-)
     
    Sorry to disappoint Kevin - I sing like a crow with a sore throat.

    But I can belt out the National Anthem with the best of them, not least when I am on stage with the rest of the Gorsedd during the National Eisteddfod ;-)
    I have no Welsh ancestry and know hardly anything of the language, but it's always spine-chilling to hear the Welsh supporters sing their anthem at International events. No other country's supporters compare in voice quality, intonation, harmony and "heart". And the Welsh vowels do help, you know!

    As to variations between north and south, is it anything to do with the fact that Welsh is still the mother tongue of many in the north, whereas it is more of a learned language in the south?
     

    Sionees

    Member
    Welsh - Wales
    Kevin, a quick answer to your Q is "no". I will (or perhaps a compatriot will) provide you with a fuller answer later. I have to translate 14 500 words from Eng > Welsh for Thurs morning (UK time) for Her Britannic Majesty's Royal Navy so apologies for leaving you in suspenders (old joke.)

    Auf wiedershen forum, I will 'see' you later.
     

    Ellis91

    Member
    Welsh & English
    I'm a native Welsh speaker and I can't really understand any Breton at all. The phonologies are very different with Breton being heavily influenced by French (I always think it sounds like French with a twang!). There are a good few words which are similar in both languages, especially nouns, but even these are spelt in completely different ways so Welsh and Breton are in no way mutually intelligible.

    I'd liken the difference between Breton and Welsh with the difference between Danish and German. So a Welsh speaker may recognise the odd word here and there (even if they're spelt differently) but a text as a whole wouldn't be intelligible. So obviously spoken Breton isn't at all intelligible to a Welsh speaker.
     
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    Cilquiestsuens

    Senior Member
    French
    Allow me to revive this thread which I think didn't do much justice to its title.

    I totally disagree that Breton spoken by native speakers sound like French. You must have had no contact with native speakers to say that... Breton is quite different and its strong accent is distincitve.

    I agree that non-native speakers' (in the bretonnant movement or the emsav, if you like) accent is heavily influenced by French... But not traditional speakers in the least...

    Breton is a Celtic language, which heavily borrowed vocabulary from Medieval French (20% of its vocabulary is from Medieval French) but retained a completely Celtic (a non-French influenced grammar: I'll give some examples hereunder)... And that is the main difference with Welsh, which has retained more Celtic words but which grammar was much more influenced by English.

    This is explained by the societies in which the languages were spoken. The Welsh were defeated by the English and had to adopt (as a people) their religion, their dances, etc... while the Bretons were defeated by the French (1488) but only their nobility became culturally French. The French didn't bring any change to the Breton Society (which was Catholic, like them)… Remember that préfet who was posted in Brittany in 1831 and wrote that Brittany is not France anymore and should be placed under Colonial Rule. Not only the language was different, but also the ways of the people. Brittany was distinguished by a huge number of peasants having their own small plots of land and the high-level of solidarity between them. A whole village would harvest together everybody’s fields one after the other, and that collective harvesting was quite rare in France, and totally absent from the other part of Brittany, the French-speaking one.

    Till before the first world war, the whole countryside of Brittany was 99% Breton-Speaking. Very, very few people knew French. My great-grandparents didn’t even know how to say Yes-No in French. And this was the case of the huge majority of the people there. This explains why the original features of the grammar have been so well preserved and started declining after the first world-war. Now let’s talk about these features.

    1) The Breton verb.

    The Breton sentence is built around the verb. The order of words is totally spontaneous and free, although the verb always come second in the sentence (Note it can come first and second at the same time also!). The first part of the sentence is the one which comes first to the mind of the speaker and which is emphasized. Look at how many ways you have to say. I go (or I am going) to Jakez’s house:

    Emaon o vont da di Jakez
    (Being I am – Going – to – house – Jakez)
    Here the stress is put on the fact that you’re in the middle of doing that action.

    Me zo o vont da di Jakez
    (I am – going –to –house – Jakez)
    Here the stress is on the subject : me (I)

    Mond a ran da di Jakez
    (Going I do to house Jakez)
    Insisting on the verbal action with the infinitive form / verbal noun at the beginning of the sentence followed by the verb (to do) conjugated. A very common construction.

    Bez’ ez an da di Jakez
    (Be I go to house Jakez)
    Placing the infinitive from of To Be at the beginning of the sentence place the stress on the whole sentence.

    Da di Jakez emaon o vont
    (To house Jakez I am going)
    Putting the stress on the destination + continuous present

    Me a ya da di Jakez
    (I go to house Jakez)
    Putting the stress on the subject + habitual present.

    2) The Collective nouns and the Plurals

    Breton has an amazing rich system of plurals, which is somehow closer to Arabic than French. To start with, it has plenty of collective nouns. And it makes a free use of suffixes. Examples:

    Gwez = The tree (as a concept, an idea, this is a collective noun)
    Pesked = The fish (same as above)
    Gwezenn = One tree.
    Gwezennoù = A few trees.
    Peskedenn = A fish
    Peskedennoù = A few fish (you could even hear : peskedennaouenn meaning one fish out of the school of fish)

    It differentiate between internal plural (= a great many) and regular suffixed plural (= normal plural) human plural ; non-human plural. And as in Arabic, it has a double plural… Examples.
    Sant = a saint
    Sent = Saints
    Santed = A few saints
    Santoù = A few saints (statues or images, having the non-human ending -où)
    Peskedoù = Plenty of fish (double plural)

    Etc… etc… this is just a quick overview of this matter which has much more complexity.


    Bretons, on account of the different grammar of their language, have had plenty of difficulty speaking French. Here are the most common and funny mistakes you could hear and you still can hear, more rarely now as the language is dying slowly on the countryside.

    J’ai envoyé le livre avec moi
    (I have sent the book with me)
    Meaning : I have brought the book
    (original = kaset em eus al levr ganin)

    J’ai été deux jours au lit avec le médecin
    (I have been two days in bed with the doctor !) J
    Meaning = The doctor prescribed me to rest two days in bed or rather: because of the doctor!
    (original = me zo bet daou zeiz er gwele gant an doktor)

    Hope someone can make a comparison with Welsh on the basis of this post….
     
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    Ellis91

    Member
    Welsh & English
    Cilquiestsuens - I'm sorry I said Breton sounds like French - it must have been the sample that I heard that might have been by a non-native speaker.

    You mention that Welsh has been influenced grammatically by English - in what way? I can't really think of any grammatical feature in Welsh that may have come from English. :confused:

    Breton plurals seem to be constructed in a similar way to Welsh, i.e by stem changes, suffixes, or both - boy/boys: bachgen/bechgyn, house/houses: tŷ/tai, dog/dogs: ci/cŵn, etc.

    I've heard that Breton is unique amongst Celtic language for having constructed a progressive aspect - that's something we don't have in Welsh.
     

    elirlandes

    Senior Member
    Ireland English
    What an interesting thread... apologies for butting in with another Celtic language comment, but...

    Differences between North and South Wales dialects
    agoriad = allwedd
    'key';
    ...it looks pretty clear to me that the word for key in the dialect of Northern Wales [agoriad] is related to the Irish/Gaelic word for key [eochair - pronounced "uh-kher"]
     

    Cilquiestsuens

    Senior Member
    French
    Cilquiestsuens - I'm sorry I said Breton sounds like French - it must have been the sample that I heard that might have been by a non-native speaker.

    You mention that Welsh has been influenced grammatically by English - in what way? I can't really think of any grammatical feature in Welsh that may have come from English. :confused:

    Breton plurals seem to be constructed in a similar way to Welsh, i.e by stem changes, suffixes, or both - boy/boys: bachgen/bechgyn, house/houses: tŷ/tai, dog/dogs: ci/cŵn, etc.

    I've heard that Breton is unique amongst Celtic language for having constructed a progressive aspect - that's something we don't have in Welsh.
    No problems. Breton phonology is so distinctive.... I was planning on writing something about it.... But the above post was already long enough!

    I don't know much about the origin of nasals in Breton but I know they evolved in a quite different way from French = (they came from a vowel followed by a final ff or v / w consonant).

    If you want to listen to real Breton, try to listen to Yann-Fanch Kemener's songs. You will have a taste of the extremely rich phonology of the language.

    I don't know Welsh; but what I told you (Welsh has better preserved Celtic vocabulary and Breton, Celtic grammar), was explained to me by a friend of mine (himself an Irish scholar from Ireland). He told me that Welsh in the end of the MIddle-ages, simplified its grammar and retained the forms / structure which were closer to English.

    That's how much I know and I hope it's not too inaccurate.

    As for the continuous aspect you mention, I think this is a recent feature which can't be attributed to French influence (this feature doesn't exist in French), but to an internal evolution.

    What's amazing is that you have the same evolution, around the same time (a few centuries ago) in English. It is not the only feature that is common to Breton and English...
     
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    bernez ar barz

    New Member
    french
    Hello !

    I am breton, and I understand perfectly breton language. Unfortunately, I don't speak very well, because when I was a child my parents and my teachers didn't talk to me in breton; in those times, that was not convenient to speak and learn breton; the french state dissuaded from doing it.

    But, being able to read breton, I can also guess the meaning of a welsh text, or at least many words. Of course, I'm not able to understand spoken welsh at all.
    But this evidence is a good proof of the tight links existing between the two languages.
     

    WestFevalia

    Senior Member
    French - France
    I've heard that Breton is unique amongst Celtic language for having constructed a progressive aspect - that's something we don't have in Welsh.
    Don't you? A friend of mine lent me English and Celtic in contact by Professors Filppula, Klemola and Paulasto (Finnish specialists of Celtic languages!) They say English might have inherited the be+V-ing construction from early contact with Celtic people after the Anglo-Saxon conquest. One of their main arguments is that you don't find the progressive form in other Germanic languages, whereas you do in Celtic languages.
     

    Trévignon

    New Member
    Breton, French
    Hi toud an dud (everybody).

    The prefet we are talking about is Henri Romieu, let's have a look to : Auguste Romieu — Wikipédia
    • « La Basse-Bretagne, je ne cesserai de le dire, est une contrée à part, qui n'est plus la France. Exceptez-en les villes, le reste devrait être soumis à une sorte de régime colonial. Je n'avance rien d'exagéré. »
    • « Créons, pour l'amélioration de la race bretonne, quelques-unes de ces primes que nous réservons aux chevaux ; faisons que le clergé nous seconde en n'accordant la première communion qu'aux seuls enfants qui parleront français. »
    Let's also mention writer Jules Michelet : Bretagne colonie française

    And last but not least, this one, the famous Prosper Mérimée : 1835. Prosper Mérimée découvre la Bretagne

    « Croyez-moi, Monsieur, le catalan qui me faisait tant enrager n’est qu’un jeu d’enfant auprès du bas breton. C’est une langue que celle-là. On peut la parler fort bien, je crois, avec un baillon dans la bouche , car il n’y a que les entrailles qui paraissent se contracter quand on cause en bas breton. Il y a surtout l’h et le c’h qui laissent loin derrière la jota espagnole. Les gens qui parlent cette belle langue sont bons diables, mais horriblement sales(...) On voit dans les villages les enfants et les cochons se roulant pêle-mêle sur le fumier, et la pâtée que mangent les premiers serait probablement refusée par les cochons du Canigou. » (Prosper Mérimée, lettre à Jaubert de Passa, 1835) .

    The most disgusting people would not be perhaps the subject of these writings but rather the writers themselves....
     
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