Welsh: Northern dialects vs Southern dialects differences


New Member
English - American
I'm learning Welsh from the Teach Yourself series (I hope this isn't advertisement), and I'm aware that this book mostly uses Welsh that's mainly spoken in Southern Wales. The problem is that I have no idea how to pronounce the words without using pronunciation websites as I have no CD, the pronunciation sites have a very limited vocabulary and exclude plurals and conjugations of verbs, and I would like to know how other areas of Wales differ in pronunciation. I studied the words Sbaeneg and Almaeneg and heard it pronounced Sb-ay-nehg and Al-may-nehg, and I have no idea why. I didn't understand I should pronounce si as sh because it wasn't in the "pronunciation" section, I don't understand vocabulary differences because this book is oriented to the southern dialect, and I don't understand why "eisiau" gets pronounced ay-sha sometimes. I think I'm right in saying that words like pethau aren't pronounced peth-eye, but I'm not sure what they do get pronounced as. I can't afford to buy cassettes and CDs; they cost around $60 or more here for the modern versions! ): Please list as many differences in pronunciation, the rules as to when the sound is not pronounced like literary Welsh, and differences in grammar as you can. If possible (I'll probably have to read the rules very carefully tomorrow; I'm dead tired at midnight), will you PM me any recommendations for affordable resources to learn dialect differences in Welsh (pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar)? I don't think people are allowed to list the names of products on threads, but I don't know for sure. Will I be able to speak Welsh from reading it without having the audio for the word or sentence? For example, "I can read the word sentence" automatically registers as "Eye can reed thuh werd sehn-tehns", will I be able to do that in Welsh?

Pardon me if there are any grammatical mistakes; my eyes are closing right now, so I know I have to sleep.

Thank you very much,

Dysgwr Cymraeg
  • Hi Alice

    I agree, the Teach Yourself book is a little frustrating because it does have such a southern-bias and with just a cursory glace at northern varieties now and then.

    Here are a couple of useful websites that may help with your learning Welsh.

    The first one is a course for complete beginners and it has a northern and southern Welsh version, and works along the same lines as the Michel Thomas courses, so you just listen and repeat, but in a way that you slowly build up the structures. I found it useful to do both at the same time, but that's up to you. It's free to use, and there is also an app (at least on Apple, I don't know about Android) if you have a smart phone or tablet. But you can use the web-based version just as easily:


    The other site I've given a link to is a useful site for learners (called Clwb Malu Cachu) with a whole range of resources, including information on pronunciation and differences between North and South varieties:


    There is quite a lot of information online about Welsh for learners these days, so just doing some Googling will come up with lots of useful links. You can always check out Cymdeithas Madog (the North American society for the Welsh language), and the BBC has some useful stuff for learners including some courses and videos and an online dictionary. The BBC has had its funding cut in recent years so their Welsh-language sites haven't been updated and so look a bit rough round the edges now, but they still work. There are also a few forums specific to Wales as a country or to Welsh the language with lots of helpful people.

    Another site worth visiting is Forvo, which allows users to listen to real speakers of the language pronounce individual words, which can be a really useful for learners when stuck about pronunciation.

    I hope this helps.
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    With regard to some of your queries:

    ae is usually pronounced like the English word "eye" (IPA: /ɑɪ/), and that's how it's usually shown in beginners courses like the Teach Yourself one. The name of the language (Cymraeg) is pronounced with this sound in the second syllable. However, in some words and especially when unstressed, it can be reduced to a long /a:/ sound, and some people even pronouce the name of the language as though it were written Cymrâg (IPA: /kəmˈrɑːg/) rather than Cymraeg. However, you won't go wrong with always pronouncing it as in the word "eye".

    Pethau would usually be pronounced peth-eye (IPA: /'pɛθɑɪ/) as you say when spoken in slow speech and is how beginners are taught, and the letters au are pronounced like "eye". However, as a plural ending, -au in the spoken language is pronounced either as /-ɑ/ or as /-ɛ/, depending on where in Wales you are. In the South, pethau would be pronounced as pethe (IPA: /ˈpɛθɛ/), while in the north it would be pronounced as petha (IPA: /ˈpɛθɑ/). There's a shop in Aberystwyth (or there used to be anyway) called Siop-y-Pethe, showing how that word is pronounced in that part of Wales.

    Eisiau is one of those words that seems to be pronounced any number of ways depending on where in Wales you are and who the speaker is. I pronounce it as ee-sha (IPA: /ˈɪʃɑ/). Either this way or the way you mentioned (ay-sha / /ˈɑɪʃɑ/) are common and you won't go wrong with either of those. Some people spell it differently, such as isio or isia (isio shows that the last vowel is variable, and can also be pronounced as a schwa).

    Si is very often pronounced like sh, as in the word siop (a borrowing from the English "shop"). I don't think this always happens and probably varies from person to person or from locale to locale.

    By the way, I should point out that I'm not a native speaker so my comments are from a beginners perspective, but I hope that they are accurate.
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    I think I know why (and you have my sympathies btw).

    If you heard something that sounds like 'ay' (like in May), then you probably heard the northern dialect pronunciation (which is my own dialect). I can see how it would sound like 'ay' to you, but actually English has no direct equivalent to this sound. The closest thing to this Northern sound is the 'i' in 'sip' or 'sit'. In the Northern dialect, whenever you see the letter 'u' or 'ae', it's pronounced like I've described above. In the south, most of the time they say 'ee' as in 'seen', although accents can change/merge a little depending on where you are in Wales.

    If you were to read "eisiau" in full, then yes, it would sound something like 'ay-sha'. However, no native speaker says it like this. Like many, many Welsh words and sentences, it gets abbreviated! This is one of the most difficult aspects of learning Welsh, in my opinion, and also why I think it's easier or best to learn it through audio rather than books (even though they are good memory aids obviously).

    I would say eisiau as 'eesho' (I've typed that pronunciation in English). The 'o' at the end would be sound open and sharp, like in some Japanease words. It would not sound like the 'owww' in 'so'. That 'oww' sound is a habit that learners often do because of a similar linguistic habit they have in English. Sometimes you hear it here in the South-East because most people here are not native speakers.

    I would pronounce 'pethau' as 'petha', but southerners would pronounce it as 'pethe'. The 'u' at the end of words is usually omitted in spoken Welsh, in the north and south.

    Regarding what Stoggler said about 'eye' in 'pethau' - this 'eye' sound at the end of 'pethau' is often said by learners, people who've learnt Welsh mostly through school, or who've learnt Welsh from other Welsh learners. It's true that southerners sometimes pronounce 'ae' as 'eye', like in the word 'cae' (field). However, in a few other words it sounds strange and is something that you will hear mostly in Cardiff and bits of the south East. For example, learners often say ''blodau' (flowers) as 'blod-AHee', with quite a grand, English sounding 'ah' sound in it, instead of saying 'bloda' or 'blode'. They would say 'gorahee' instead of 'gore'. That's my experience anyway of living here in the south.

    Sometimes, you will be able to make sense if you speak Welsh as it is on paper. Other times, maybe not. If you do speak it like it appears on paper, it will sound quite odd. Certain sentences will sound very robotic and unnatural. You don't have the equivalent of this issue in English but I think it exists in a few other languages. You'll probably be understood, but you'll end up making sentences much, much longer than they have to be.

    One day, I'd really love to start a learn Welsh series/lessons on Youtube. I'm a native speaker of the Northern dialect and I find it so sad that many people have trouble learning Welsh because their textbooks tell them to pronounce things a certain way, but that doesn't match what they will hear in real life. I live in Wales and I see this a lot. I also see problems when a book doesn't tell you that it focuses on one dialect, or somehow attempts to make a made-up neutral Welsh which just doesn't match how native speakers sound like. I know someone down here who was taught to say 'paned' in her Welsh class (which is a northern thing), instead of 'dishgled' (which is southern for 'cuppa', or 'cup of tea'). I don't know why 'dishgled' wasn't taught since she lives at the very bottom of South Wales. Bizarre!

    I want it to concentrate on spoken Welsh, and how words actually sound like, as opposed to what they're like on paper and in textbooks. This would be accompanied by MP3 files that people could download at a price and then listen to them on the way to work (haven't figured how much yet). Problem is, I'm struggling to find the time to do it because I don't have a lot of free time. I need to find some sort of software that I can use that marries sound with images & text.
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    Stoggler mentioned the Say Something in Welsh website and that's a good starting point for both vocab and pronunciation. Another place for beginner vocab with audio (this one's North Wales dialect) is http://www.learn-welsh.net/welshtopics.

    If you want to know how to pronounce specific words that you're coming across in your book, one option is to go to the Ivona text-to-speech site:


    Some of the pronunciation can be a little bit incorrect at times because it's not an actual person speaking, but on the whole it's a useful resource. Just paste in the text you want to hear pronounced and choose the Welsh voice (not the "English, Welsh" voice, mind) - you can listen to a woman (Gwyneth) or a man (Geraint).
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