Welsh: ae/ai/au

Discussion in 'Other Languages' started by Gavril, Dec 17, 2012.

  1. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Noswaith dda,

    My understanding is that the diphthongs written -ai- ([ai]) and -au- ([aɨ]) have merged in some (southern?) Welsh dialects, so that tai "houses" and tau "yours" would both be pronounced [tai].

    As I recall, the diphthong written -ae- is pronounced the same in standard Welsh as the diphthong written -ai-, though historically the two were distinct. Are there any dialects in which these diphthongs are still kept separate, so that (e.g.) the noun llais "voice" would be pronounced differently than the adj. llaes "loose", or the numeral saith "7" would contrast with saeth "arrow"?

    Last edited: Dec 17, 2012
  2. Tegs

    Tegs Mód ar líne

    English (Ireland)
    Howdy! You're right that there's very little difference in south Wales between some of these sounds. For example, I would pronounce 'cae' (field) and 'cau' (close) exactly the same, but a north Wallian would pronounce each differently.

    Saith and saeth would also sound the same - you'd have to know from the context which was being referred to. But, I would pronounce 'llais' and 'llaes' slightly differently - the 'i' in the first is clipped, whereas the 'e' in the second is a bit longer and sounds like an e, not an i.

    As for tau, that word doesn't exist in Welsh. Hope that helps :)
  3. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Hmm, what about mae "is" vs. Mai "May"?

    It did exist in older Welsh (and perhaps in modern-day formal Welsh), but I get your point. :) I was having trouble finding minimal pairs with -ai- / -au- (as opposed to -ae- / -au-), so I used tai / tau even though I knew tau is not a very common word.

    I just found another set of words that shows the three-way contrast between ai / ae / au:

    haul "sun" / hael "generous" / hail "service (of food/drink)"

    Do you think that a northern Welsh speaker would pronounce the diphthongs in all three of these words differently? (Of course, it's possible that hael and hail are not used commonly enough to tell either way.)
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2013
  4. Cerinwen Member

    Welsh, English - British
    Hello. I'm a native Welsh speaker from north west Wales. In our dialect 'ae' and 'au' sound the same (most of the time). They end with the 'u' sound which the southern dialect no longer uses (or they may never have had it). They would pronounce this as the 'i' sound
    However the 'i' in 'tai' would not be said as 'u'. It would end with the 'i' sound. Same with the word 'llais'.

    Keep in mind that there will be exceptions.

    Tau does not mean 'yours' in Welsh. I've never heard of it (not in the southern dialcet either) so I'm not sure where you saw it. It doesn't not exists in modern formal Welsh either.

    'Mae' in north Welsh would be heard as 'Mau', but in the south you would hear it as 'Mai'.

    Haul, hael, and hail are all said differently (so hael doesn't sound like haul).

    A note for you -

    You will learn (or have already learnt) that Welsh is very difficult to learn from books. Even so- called 'Colloquial Welsh' books for learners contains a lot of useless nonsense that people never use in spoken Welsh. This causes great confusion amongst learners, and they feel totally lost when confronted with a real life conversation. Verbs are never, ever conjugated in spoken Welsh. In fact, I read that Welsh verb conjugation is an artificial construct that was created to standardise the language similar to latin languages when Welsh first needed to be written down. It was never meant to be part of the language, so this explains why the verb never changes in spoken Welsh, but everything before it does.

    There is a website that is gold dust for learners, although these forums won't allow me to post it here. Type in 'bbc welsh verb variations' into google, and it should be the first thing that comes up.

    Type in a Welsh verb, and it will show you variations (both in north and South dialects). You need 'informal periphrastic'. Even though it's meant to be informal, in some places it's still a little too formal, for example

    'Mi wnes i ddarllen' would always be said as 'Nesi i ddarllen'. (I read)

    'Roeddet ti'n darllen' would be said as 'Roedd a chdi'n darllen' (You were reading) Not many would say 'roeddet' and if they did they'd probably come from mid-Wales and still sounds a little too formal.

    I would say around 30% - 60% of words are abreviated, depending on the sentence, and unfortunately, Welsh learner books don't often cover this subject as much as they should. For example (written on paper, and then the real life example next to it).

    Oeddwn i ddim eisiau - O ni 'misho (I didn't want)
    Oes gennyt gar? - 'Sgenna chdi gar? - Do you have a car

    Wyt ti eisiau darllen? - Tisho darllen?
  5. Tegs

    Tegs Mód ar líne

    English (Ireland)
    Haul and hael would be pronounced the same in south Wales, but as Cerinwen says, you'd hear a marked difference in the north. Both of these words are pretty common, but I don't think the word "hail" exists - I've never heard of it, and I can't find it in the dictionary. Where did you get it? On the same note, tau definitely doesn't exist in modern Welsh (whether informal or formal).

    Also in the south, Mai and mae sound exactly the same.

    I'm not sure what you meant Cerinwen, when you said that verbs are never conjugated in Welsh... in your example "mi wnes i ddarllen", the word "wnes" is a conjugation of the verb "gwneud". A good point though, is that certain verb forms are never used in spoken Welsh and would only be used in academic books. The BBC website, as you said, is a great resource for the common spoken verb forms.
  6. Cerinwen Member

    Welsh, English - British
    Lol Tegs, I haven't heard of 'hail' either - I just assumed it was an old word. I'd be interested to know where he's getting these from.

    What I mean it 'darllen' wouldn't be conjugated. Sorry I don't think I was very clear. Compare 'siarad' with other languages for example -

    je parle
    tu parles
    il parle
    nous parlons
    vous parlez
    ils parlent

    Dw i'n siarad
    Ti'n siarad
    Mae o'n siarad
    Mae hi'n siarad
    Mae nhw'n siarad
    'Da ni'n siarad
    Mae nhw'n siarad

    Siarad remains the same. I'm looking for the correct grammatical term for this, since Welsh uses verbs in a different way than they do in English. Maybe it conjugation then, but a particular type of conjugation perhaps.
  7. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    I found hail in Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru. tau appears in the GPC and also on the website geiriadur.net.

    Again, I never said that these words were used in the modern spoken language, but doesn't the fact that they're in the GPC mean that they have some level of existence in Modern Welsh? :)
  8. Cerinwen Member

    Welsh, English - British
    Hmmmmm.......not really. Welsh just isn't the same as English because I've often found words in the online University of Wales that I've never heard before, or that only features in poetry. I've also found a few things in modern Welsh dictionaries that would confuse learners (and some of these have been corrected in later editions). For example, recently I found 'gwraig' under 'woman', but gwraig, at least in modern Welsh, means 'wife'. I found it recently in quite a modern dictionary. I then checked another version that was published around two years later, and they had removed 'gwraig' (wife) from 'woman'.

    I just had a look at it now, on the BBC dictionary and I found this under 'woman'. I've given the direct English translation below some of the sentences. You'll notice that even with 'gwraig' the example they've used to illustrate its usage concerns the concept of a wife. I don't know why it's the second word listed, because it certainly shouldn't be. Most Welsh native speakers would use this word just for 'wife' and not for 'woman'.



    Example: Mae gwraig y doctor o hyd yn edrych yn smart.
    The doctor's wife always looks smart.


    Example: Daeth fy ngwraig a fy merch draw i'r ysbyty neithiwr.
    My wife and my daughter came (over) to the hospital last night.

    Example: Mae pob dynes ar y staff yn dweud mai Aled ydy'r dyn mwya golygus yn y siop.
    Every woman (female) staff member says that Aled is the most good-looking man in the shop.

    menyw Example: Mae pob menyw ar y staff yn dweud taw fe ydy'r dyn mwya golygus yn y siop.
    The same example as above, but 'menyw' is only used in the south.

    'Dynes' is our word for a woman, in Gwynedd at least. Things tend to change as you get to mid Wales though, or the very south of Gwynedd. We would never use 'benyw' or 'menyw', but we know that southerners do. I've seen 'merch' being used before to mean 'young woman' as well as 'daughter'.

    A good rule of thumb is to ask me or Tegs if we've ever heard of a word, and if we haven't then it's best if you don't use it, especially in conversation.
  9. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Verbal noun. ;)

    It's described in books as: a word such as siarad is a verbal noun and you only conjugateto be(bod) and link it to the verbal noun via yn (or nothing if it's eisiau etc.)
  10. Cerinwen Member

    Welsh, English - British
    Oh thank you! I'll look it up.
  11. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    Dim problem. :)
  12. Tegs

    Tegs Mód ar líne

    English (Ireland)
    The business of "dw i'n siarad" versus "siaradaf" is a bit more complicated than Alxmrphi’s post makes out :)

    Yes, siarad is a verbal noun, but the fact that siarad stays the same in constructions such as “Dw i’n siarad” is not related to the fact that siarad is a verbal noun - bod is also a verbal noun, but "bod" does change in the construction "dw i'n siarad". So, I'll explain why.

    First of all, in Welsh all “verbs” are actually “verbal nouns”. So, bod, rhedeg, neidio etc are all called verbal nouns, unlike the English to be, to run, to jump which are all called “verbs”.

    Welsh verbal nouns can be conjugated – “conjugate” simply means giving the different forms of a verb, making it obvious who the person is, what the tense is etc (je parle, tu parles etc). So, with “bod” you can conjugate in a few different ways: rydwyf i (I am, formal), rwy (I am, informal, southern dialect), or dw i (I am, informal, northern dialect). Some conjugations are more formal than others – rhedeg, siarad, neidio etc all conjugate quite formally to “rhedaf, siaradaf, neidiaf”, none of which are used in spoken Welsh.

    So, to get back to “dw i’n siarad”! The reason siarad stays the same here is because this type of construction is what is called a “periphrastic construction”. It might be easier to understand if I use the Welsh grammar term - in Welsh, it’s called “ffurf gwmpasog y ferf” (cwmpasog = mynd o gwmpas = the “roundabout” form of the verb).

    If you want to be concise, you use “ffurf gryno y ferf” (the “concise” form) which is “siaradaf”. If you want to “go around” this, you can instead use the roundabout form and use the longer construction “dw i’n siarad”.

    In the case of “dw i’n siarad”, this phrase is made up of the verbs bod + siarad. Bod here works as an auxiliary verb, which is also called a “helping verb”. You use the helping verb to help specify the person and the tense, so that you don’t specify that directly using “siarad”.

    So, periphrastic construction (ffurf gwmpasog) = dw i’n siarad (and this is a lot more common in spoken Welsh)

    Concise construction (ffurf gryno) = siaradaf (and this is only used in more formal, written Welsh)

    Moving on to the next point:

    No, the fact that a word is in GPC does not mean it is used in modern Welsh. GPC is a fabulous resource, but it notes all words which have been recorded in the Welsh language, dating back a fair few centuries! There are a huge number of words in it which people today have never heard of. They would not be used in modern Welsh, and you really would have to look them up to have any idea what they were. As a beginner Welsh student, you would be better off using Geiriadur yr Academi instead, which contains a lot of more modern Welsh :)
  13. Cerinwen Member

    Welsh, English - British
    Ahaaa! I thought it was! I first realised that it might be a periphrastic construction when someone on a Youtube video was pointing out the differences between English and Russian (I'm learning Russian). I went to have a look at it in a bit more detail, but then I started o doubt myself and assumed I was wrong. I must have seen something that conflicted with my assumption.

    Even though I would never use them in spoken Welsh, I like concise constructions in languages because I think they're quite an elegant, simple way of phrasing something. I think Italian has those constuctinos, and I think they only use pronouns when they want to emphasise themselves in that sentence. However, I haven't studied Italian properly, and only crammed it in before going to Florence, so I might be wrong.
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2013
  14. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    Geiriadur yr Academi (here) has tau / y tau under the entry for "yours", but it's prefixed with the abbreviations "A & Poet". Clearly "Poet" = "poetic", but what does "A" stand for here -- "academic"?

    Also, out of curiosity, is there a Welsh -> English section of Geiriadur yr Academi? The online version only seems to have English -> Welsh entries.
  15. Tegs

    Tegs Mód ar líne

    English (Ireland)
    Your link doesn't work - but I found "tau" by searching for "your" (it is quite far down the entry). If you look at the top of the page under the tab Background - Abbreviations, you will see that A stands for Archaism; ancient; in former use while Poet stands for Poetical. So, it is safe to say that "tau" is not used these days :)

    You can only search that website in English to Welsh, because it is based on a printed English-Welsh dictionary, not a bidirectional Welsh-English/English-Welsh dictionary
  16. Gavril Senior Member

    English, USA
    The website seems to be set up so that individual entries don't have their own URLs, so I could only link to the main dictionary page.

    I guess that just about closes the case. :) So if neither hail nor tau are acceptable, we're still left without a minimal pair indicating a contrast (in pronunciation) between -au- and -ai- in Modern Welsh, unless you or Cerinwen can think of one.
  17. Wynn Mathieson

    Wynn Mathieson Senior Member

    Castell-nedd Port Talbot
    English - United Kingdom
    Well, they're not all that common, but I can think of one or two. How about:

    Dai : (man's name)
    dau : two

    llai : less, smaller
    llau : lice

    and, in sentences:

    Ges i air : I had a word
    Ges i aur : I got gold

    It should be remembered, though, as has already been pointed out, that i and u represent different vowels only in northern varieties of Welsh. In the south they both stand for the same /i/ sound -- so much so that if you're spelling out the letters of a word in the south it's sometimes necessary to clarify by saying i dot or i bedol ("horseshoe i")!

    Another important feature of ordinary, everyday Welsh (i.e. other than in poetry-reading, hymn-singing, and the like) that needs to be borne in mind is that in unstressed positions the digraphs ae, ai, and au are all pronounced the same ...although that same way is

    /a/ in the north, and
    /e/ in the south


    llywodraeth (government) is pronounced llywodrath in the north, llywodreth in the south
    mam-yng-nghyfraith (mother-in-law) is pronounced mam-yng-nghyfrath in the north, mam-yng-nghyfreth in the south
    pethau (things) is pronounced petha in the north, pethe in the south

    This is so pronounced a feature (sorry about the pun) that it's not unusual to come across the mis-spellings "llywodrath" and "llywodreth" even in fairly formal writing.

    It's notable, too, that in Welsh-language fiction-writing authors frequently choose to write dialogue "as it is said": a very succint way of describing and differentiating characters. Thus where an English-language storyteller might need to write

    "Good morning," he said in a northern accent

    a Welsh author can simply write

    "Bora da," meddai.

    * Your homework task :)
    -- How is "meddai" pronounced a) in the north of Wales b) in the south of Wales?
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2013
  18. Cerinwen Member

    Welsh, English - British
    Only? Lol! That'll be 50% then. You make it sound it sound like it a small dialect, when it's not.

    I've come across this 'only' a few times before. It seems to me that some people (not necessarily you Wynn) like to make out that our pronunciation is some kind of rare feature, only to be heard in the far distant mountains..........a strange standpoint as around 60-70% of the people where I live speak Welsh as a native language. Even in dictionaries, I've seen south Welsh dialect words being put before northern, as if that's the right way, when they have equal value. It's a tricky thing to get right, but I've seen too much of it recently.

    'U' is after all quite a common sound in celtic languages - Scottish Gaelic, Cornish and Breton seem to have it, or a variant of it as well, so it's not that unusual.

    Your explanation of northern 'ae' is almost right. Personally, I've never heard it being said as 'llywodrath', and that sounds strange to me. However with a word like 'gweinyddiaeth', I wouldn't be surprised to hear that 'a' at the end. It depends on the word I guess, and how often it's used.

    It would be the same with a word like Garndolbenmaen (place name). The stress would be on 'ben' in this word. We wouldn't say it as Garndolbenman, we say it as 'Garndolbenmaun', although the 'u' sounds quite soft.

    However, the way you explained 'mam-yng'ngyfraith' and 'pethau' was correct.

    Remember, in stressed 'ae', it will sound like 'u'.

    Here are some more words where you can see this letter combination. The left it's how it looks like on paper, and on the right I've written how I would say it. In these words, the stress is on the 'a', except for Penmaen, which almost has no noticble stress.

    Traeth - trauth

    Gwaeth - gwauth

    Cae - cau

    Maes - maus

    Bae - bau

    Cymraeg - Cymraig. The 'e' at the end sound like a cross between 'i' and 'u', or some people would even say the 'a' and 'e' separately, as you see it on paper! It changes from person to person I think.

    Penmaen Mawr (place name) Penmaun Mawr

    We don't always turn 'e' into 'a' at the end of multi-syllable words. If it's a name for something, the 'e' will remain as that sound.

    For example -

    Wood - Coeden - Coedan

    Oak tree - Derwen - Derwen

    Woman - Dynes - Dynas

    Ceinwen (name) - Ceinwen

    Lightingbolt - Mellten - Melldan (we sometimes turn 't' into 'd' in multi-syllabic words). I don't think southerners do this with 'd', or I'm not aware of it anyway.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2013
  19. Tegs

    Tegs Mód ar líne

    English (Ireland)
    Umm, I don't think Wynn meant to belittle the Welsh spoken in the north - I certainly didn't read his post that way. ;) Nobody is saying there isn't a large number of Welsh speakers in the north. "Only in the north" simply means not in the south, same as "only in the south" means not in the north.

    As for the way dialects are treated in the dictionary, it isn't biased towards either dialect - it's biased with regard to alphabetical order ;)

    If you look up "woman" in Geiriadur yr Academi, you'll see that it goes in order of 1) standard word, 2) dialect words in alphabetical order. So you get gwraig, merch (standard), followed by benyw (B) and dynes (D).

    Getting back on point though, I would say "i bedol" and "i dot" to show the difference between u and i as you can't tell from my accent which I'm referring to. As for how each set of vowels changes, as Ceinwen says, it does depend a lot on the word itself.

    With "mellten", I don't know if the t changes to d in the south - there's so little difference in the sound that I can't tell even from my own pronunciation whether it's a d or a t :)
  20. Cerinwen Member

    Welsh, English - British
    Ughh.....it's a gripe of mine anyway!

    In that case, wouldn't llefrith be in front of llaeth then? Not in the dictionary I saw a while ago. I would have thought that dictionaries went along usage.

    I think the whole 't' turning into a 'd' is not that important. It's just a quirk that someone might notice.
  21. Tegs

    Tegs Mód ar líne

    English (Ireland)
    No, because llaeth (llA) comes before llefrith (llE) alphabetically speaking. There isn't a "more standard" word that ranks higher in this case, so it just goes by the alphabet. Dictionaries always follow the alphabet. Imagine how long it would take to make dictionaries if the editors had to go around the whole country making surveys of the usage statistics of every word!

    Wherever you got the idea from, there is no plot to undermine the northern variety of Welsh in dictionaries! ;)
  22. Cerinwen Member

    Welsh, English - British
    I have no idea why I said that.

    Nonsense Tegs! You're lying! There is a conspiracy **puts tinfoil hat on**.

    Stop trying to charm me with your Irish/Welsh ways! ;)

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