Welsh: How important is mutation really in Welsh?

Curt Jugg

Senior Member
English - England
Perhaps the most salient aspect of Welsh grammar to an English learner is mutation. The rules defining when mutation should take place seem very complicated when written down in a grammar.

However, I am beginning to wonder if they seem all that important to a native Welsh speaker. Take, for example, the word byth. InWelsh Grammar You really Need to Know” on page 51 it is clearly stated that when meaning “never” or “ever” byth does not mutate. Yet on page 213 of the same grammar we find “Yr oeddwn yn gwybod nad anghofiwn y stori fyth” meaning “I knew that I would never forget the story” and on page 218 we have “Y trychineb na allwn fyth ei anghofio” meaning “The disaster that we can never forget” In both cases byth has been mutated even though it means “never”, when it shouldn't have been according to the rule. Another example I have found is in the Welsh alphabet. In South Wales the letter u is called u bedol. Pedol has been mutated. The letter i is called i dot. Dot has not been mutated. I'm only a beginner and I've spotted these inconsistencies. I assume there are many others. Am I therefore safe in assuming that mutation isn't as important as one might think? I'd be grateful for native speakers' views.
 
  • Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    Quick answers - and illustrations of seeming ambiguities resolved by mutation rules. (With additional homework!)

    1. Is dot a borrowed word and is therefore not considered suitable for mutation? Same rule could apply to e.g. braf in the standard language (although some southerners are said to even mutate that - whereas I would not. See for example GPC under braf).

    Similarly, short loanwords beginning with <g> tend to withstand soft mutation. Who except for jokey language teachers refer to sentences like, Dw i'n hoffi chwarae êm o olff am ini?

    2. What is it that the mutation (or lack thereof) tells you about the difference between these two sentences?

    a) Mae'r athrawes yn byw
    b) Mae'r athrawes yn fyw

    3. What is it that the mutation (or lack thereof) tells you about the difference between these two sentences?

    a) Plismon a drawodd löwr
    b) Plismon a drawodd glöwr
     
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    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    Here are some more.

    1. Ei gôt vs Ei chôt. Whose coat? How do you know?

    2. Gwelodd cath vs Gwelodd gath. Who saw who?

    3. a ganodd gân vs a chanodd gân. What is the difference between the two 'a''s? How does the different mutation help you?
     

    Curt Jugg

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Thanks for these, @Welsh_Sion. I think I've understood them all correctly except possibly for the teacher one. Is "byw" a mutation of "pyw" (meaning "stocky" or "solid") in this case? And in the case of the two sentences I quoted from "Welsh Grammar You Really Need to Know", would you have mutated "byth" if you had written them?
     

    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    From Peter Wynn Thomas, 1996: 434.

    Byth does not mutate when it is the complement of a simple preposition. Here, byth is a noun meaning 'eternity' or 'for ever': hyd byth, Cymru am byth.

    Byth
    may or may not be mutated when it's an adverbial: Ni ddaeth byth, Ni ddaeth fyth.

    TJ Morgan (Rhodri's dad) in the definitive book on Mutations cites an etymology in Irish for byth - which explains its awkward behaviour. :) (Similarly, an Irish etymology for mewn is cited, so it's 'i mewn' not *'i fewn' - although we tend to say this expecting it to mutate.)

    I await your responses with interest and will allow colleagues to 'mark' your efforts, too! :)

    Never heard of 'pyth' - last citation in GPC is for 1803! Could be an answer I s'pose - not the one I was thinking of.
     

    Curt Jugg

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Thanks for this, @Welsh_Sion.

    Well, if "dot" is a borrowed word, I suppose that would explain the lack of mutation.

    In the "plismon" sentences the policeman is striking the miner in the first sentence and being struck by the miner in the second (mutation v non mutation).
    The first coat is owned by a male, the second by a female (soft v aspirate mutation).
    The first cat did the seeing, the second cat was seen (non mutation v mutation).
    In the last sentence the first"a" is a relative pronoun (soft mutation) and the second "a" is a conjunction (aspirate mutation).

    As for the teacher sentence, I don't know, unless one could imagine a situation where the teacher had not been heard of for years and had been thought to be dead but was in fact alive and living in,say, Paris and one could write, "Mae'r athrawes yn fyw ac yn byw ym Mharis."

    How did I do?
     

    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    I'll keep you in suspenders just a little longer, though you'll be pleased to know you did very well. Da iawn, ti! (Perhaps colleagues would like to confirm your prowess ...)

    Just a little anecdote or three - not really backed up scientifically, but known in the 'Welsh language linguistics community' (and 'practised' by yours truly in speech, too - but never, hopefully, in professional writing).

    1 A growing tendency to not aspirately mutate after 'a' meaning 'and'.
    2 A tendency for the aspirate mutation itself to appear to be dying in other circumstances with only the trigger words 'ei' (fem.) and ''w' (fem.) holding their ground. (These may be holding their own as they are key to distinguishing the other trigger words 'ei' (masc.) and ''w' (masc.) which cause soft mutation. Ei thŷ - her house / Ei dŷ - his house; I'w thŷ - to her house / I'w dŷ - to his house.
    3 The substituting of soft mutation where nasal mutation should be used after the prep, yn meaning 'in'. Dw i'n byw yn Gaernarfon, yn Gaerdydd, Mi es i i weld Mam yn Bwllheli etc.
     

    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    I'm perfectly happy with all your answers, @Curt Jugg. Da iawn!

    You needn't have gone to so much trouble with the fyw/byw sentence though. It was simply that adj. takes SM after pred. yn - yn fyw ('alive'), whereas the verbal noun does not yn byw ('lives'/'is living').
     

    Curt Jugg

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Diolch yn fawr iawn, @Welsh_Sion. Glad I got them right. Could I ask you again, if you had written the two sentences I quoted from "Welsh Grammar You Really Need to Know", would you have muted "byth"?
     

    Welsh_Sion

    Senior Member
    Welsh - Northern
    See post 5, quoting PWT:

    "Byth may or may not be mutated when it's an adverbial: Ni ddaeth byth, Ni ddaeth fyth." [Trans. W_S]

    Personally, considering that adverbials do mutate, (and contrary to advice given by, e.g. Gareth King), I probably would mutate byth in these contexts.

    Here's another quote from Morgan, 1952:

    "Several examples can be found in Geirfa Barddoniaeth Gynnar Gymraeg, J Lloyd-Jones, 1931, some of byth and others of vyth, without an attempt to make a rule and distinguish between them, for the simple reason there is no rule." [Trans. W_S]

    Thus, and probably also in keeping in mind the need for the rules of cynghanedd to be obeyed in strict metre poetry, it seems for poets, at least, that anything (i.e. either /b/ or /v/) goes. Likewise, us lesser mortals can do worse than submit ourselves to Morgan's dictum: "There is no rule."
     

    Curt Jugg

    Senior Member
    English - England
    See post 5, quoting PWT:

    "Byth may or may not be mutated when it's an adverbial: Ni ddaeth byth, Ni ddaeth fyth." [Trans. W_S]

    Personally, considering that adverbials do mutate, (and contrary to advice given by, e.g. Gareth King), I probably would mutate byth in these contexts.

    Here's another quote from Morgan, 1952:

    "Several examples can be found in Geirfa Barddoniaeth Gynnar Gymraeg, J Lloyd-Jones, 1931, some of byth and others of vyth, without an attempt to make a rule and distinguish between them, for the simple reason there is no rule." [Trans. W_S]

    Thus, and probably also in keeping in mind the need for the rules of cynghanedd to be obeyed in strict metre poetry, it seems for poets, at least, that anything (i.e. either /b/ or /v/) goes. Likewise, us lesser mortals can do worse than submit ourselves to Morgan's dictum: "There is no rule."
     
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