Welsh: usage of mutations in spoken language

Stoggler

Senior Member
English (Southern England)
As a learner of Welsh, I've been taught about the three different initial consonant mutations in the language.

The most common is soft mutution, which I hear all the time in the spoken language as well as in formal written language. Then there's nasal mutation, which occurs after the words "fy" (meaning "my" and "yn" meaning "in") and which affects only six consonants (p, t, c, b, d, g). And then there's aspirate mutation, which only affects p, t, and c in certain circumstances.

The nasal and aspirate mutations are used as described (or prescribed?) in text books on formal programmes like the news on S4C and in writing, but in everyday spoken language their usage seems to vary somewhat, with my hardly ever hearing any aspirate mutation at all, and often with soft mutation replacing either nasal or aspirate mutation.

Is this a fair assessment of the situation? Is the mutation system in the spoken language a lot more simplified than in more formal Welsh? Does usage vary between speakers or different varieties within Wales?

Diolch
 
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  • Tegs

    Mód ar líne
    English (Ireland)
    Hi Stoggler,

    All mutations are used daily in Welsh but you're right that usage varies. For example, you hear some native speakers unnecessarily mutate "mam" to "mham" which wouldn't be in your grammar books.

    There are formal and less formal ways of saying things, but even the informal ways include mutations. For example, you can ask "where is my car?" a few ways: ble mae car fi? / ble mae nghar i? / ble mae fy nghar i? (The third option being the most formal and correct.)

    The aspirate mutation is used after possessives and it sounds odd if people don't follow this rule in spoken Welsh - e.g. ei char (her car)

    It's impossible not to hear when a word hasn't been mutated when it should've been. So, while learners are forgiven mutation errors, unfortunately, if you want to sound less learner-y, you'll need to learn all types of mutations :)
     

    Gavril

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    I'm not sure if this counts (technically) as a mutation, but is h-insertion also common in the spoken language today? E.g., does one hear

    ei harian "her money"
    ein harian "our money"
    eu harian "their money"

    (as opposed to fy/dy/ei/eich arian "my/thy/his/your money")

    I also seem to remember that there are some further subtleties to h-insertion when it comes to the contracted forms of the pronouns above: e.g., do people say â'm harian "with my money"?

    Thanks
     

    analeeh

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    People don't use aspirate mutation in spoken language, unless they're learners or deliberately trying to speak Cymraeg Byw. I would be surprised to hear ei char and not ei car. Likewise, h insertion to me sounds very formal. It is common in some dialects to further collapse the nasal mutation into the soft mutation and say things like yn gariad for fy nghariad. Personally I don't.

    In many areas where english is dominant, mutation and other features such as noun gender are rapidly dying out. But the soft mutation is still very robust in the northwest at least.

    The nasal mutation is not used in spoken language much in some of the more obscure contexts it can be used in in literary Welsh. But it is used by a lot of people after yn and fy (which in any case is pronounced yn or y by a lot of people anyway).
     

    Highland Thing

    Senior Member
    English, Welsh
    ^
    It's refreshing to read such an assessment, which matches 100% my experience (and my own usage). As a native speaker of Welsh I would never use anything but the soft mutation - all the others sound to me like affectations. If the nasal or aspirate is 'called for' by formal usage, then I either use the soft in some circumstances, or simply don't mutate.
     

    analeeh

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Whereabouts do you come from? I recently met some people who use the aspirate mutation in speech and was very surprised...
     

    Highland Thing

    Senior Member
    English, Welsh
    I'm from Carmarthenshire. I think people who use the aspirate in conversation are trying to speak what they think is 'proper' Welsh; whereas to me, proper Welsh is what most people actually say when they're in situations where they don't feel they're being judged.
     

    analeeh

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Well, it is apparently also a feature of northwestern accents to have aspirate mutation. It's not an affectation I don't think - it happens even in places where it shouldn't (like ei mham for 'her mum'). But I also think it is limited to after ei 'her' and isn't used for example after a (that sounds literary to me - though then again so does ei chath or whatever and apparently that exists).

    I also find nothing weird about yn nhad or even just nhad for 'my dad' (fy nhad sounds a bit spelled out though increasingly people who are learning Proper Cymraeg Byw say it, even native speakers) or yng Nghymru per se but obviously other nasal mutation contexts where I do find it weird.
     

    Highland Thing

    Senior Member
    English, Welsh
    The trouble with Cymraeg Byw, though, is that it was/is artificial - it tried to get learners to speak and write in ways that are not all that natural, certainly not in 21st century Wales. In particular, the aspirate and nasal mutations. In a language now heavily influenced by English (at least in the south, but everywhere via the internet), people are much more likely to say yn Cymru or yn Gymru, like they say yn Iwerddon or yn Gymraeg, than to have to bother with elaborate rules based on Biblical Welsh. I'm exaggerating for effect, but you can see what I'm getting at.
     

    Gavril

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    The trouble with Cymraeg Byw, though, is that it was/is artificial - it tried to get learners to speak and write in ways that are not all that natural, certainly not in 21st century Wales. In particular, the aspirate and nasal mutations.

    No disrespect meant here, but at least one Welsh speaker on this thread (Tegs, post #2) has vouched for the continued existence and regularity of all three kinds of mutations.

    My takeaway from this discussion, as a learner, is that there is a lack of consensus (between individuals, regions or cities) on what constitutes "normal" usage of the nasal and aspirate mutations in today's language, so for the time being, I will continue using all the mutations I originally learned (soft/nasal/aspirate) when I have the chance to converse in Welsh.
     
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    Highland Thing

    Senior Member
    English, Welsh
    No disrespect meant here,

    No, of course not!

    but at least one Welsh speaker on this thread (Tegs, post #2) has vouched for the continued existence and regularity of all three kinds of mutations.

    My takeaway from this discussion, as a learner, is that there is a lack of consensus (between individuals, regions or cities) on what constitutes "normal" usage of the nasal and aspirate mutations in today's language, so for the time being, I will continue using all the mutations I originally learned (soft/nasal/aspirate) when I have the chance to converse in Welsh.

    You're quite right, there's no consensus. There's no doubt two (or even three) mutations are more widespread in the north, but in the south you're only likely to hear the soft one in natural speech. There are Cymraeg Byw-ers in the south too of course, so their speech will match yours better, and if you follow the traditional mass media, you'll even get plenty of archaic Welsh phrases that have been raised from the dead, like "yr wyf".

    Anyway, even though I'm (obviously) strongly opposed to Cymraeg Byw, I'd concede that you'd have more leeway in the written language, particularly in more formal contexts.

    It's interesting, by the way, to compare the situation in Wales with that of Gaelic in Scotland (where I live). Gaelic is in a much weaker position in many ways, but the problems of inauthenticity that (in my opinion) dog Welsh are nowhere near as prevalent: learners who acquire spoken Gaelic sound on the whole much more natural and less bookish than their counterparts in Wales.
     

    analeeh

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    The trouble with Cymraeg Byw, though, is that it was/is artificial - it tried to get learners to speak and write in ways that are not all that natural, certainly not in 21st century Wales. In particular, the aspirate and nasal mutations. In a language now heavily influenced by English (at least in the south, but everywhere via the internet), people are much more likely to say yn Cymru or yn Gymru, like they say yn Iwerddon or yn Gymraeg, than to have to bother with elaborate rules based on Biblical Welsh. I'm exaggerating for effect, but you can see what I'm getting at.

    Yeah, I totally agree with you. I don't like Cymraeg Byw and find it very strange when people use it in colloquial contexts.

    My advice to learners would be to imitate a specific dialect.
     

    Stoggler

    Senior Member
    English (Southern England)
    As a learner, I was surprised to learn that the nasal mutation isn't used often in spoken Welsh in some parts of the country. The main reason for that is that (to my un-Welsh ears), it seems easier to pronounce something like "yng Nghymru" rather than "yn Cymru" or yn Gymru": to me, the nasal mutation seems to make pronunciation (but then that's coming from a learner's perspective rather than a native speaker's).
     

    Tegs

    Mód ar líne
    English (Ireland)
    Hi all, an interesting discussion :) I personally would say yng Nghymru (yn Gymru sounds totally bizarre to me and actually harder to pronounce, as Stoggler said), yng Nghaerdydd or yn Gyrdydd as variations of each other, ym Mangor (never ever yn Bangor, which sounds horrendous), y nghath or fy nghath, ei char, ynhad or fy nhad. I certainly wouldn't say that nasal mutation is confined to obsure contexts as said somewhere above.

    In speech I wouldn't say "ei harian". Not that it comes up much in conversation, but in a phrase like maybe mae'n dynn da'i arian (she's tight with [her] money), I wouldn't use it because it would require my making an effort to pronounce the h. As for â'm harian which was also mentioned above, if I were talking about my money I'd be much more likely to phrase it like "be dwi di neud da'n arian i?" (what've I done with my money?) - â is not something I'd use in speech, I'd use da (from gyda).

    For me, all mutations sound normal and I use them normally, except in cases which potentially require more pronuncation effort and can sound too formal in speech (ei harian/ â'm harian). They're not something I put on to sound 'correct' or because I'm afraid other people will judge me - I would actually have to make a huge effort to stop mutating and it would sound unnatural to me. When people don't mutate in certain cases e.g. yn Gymru, yn Bangor, fy tad, that's painful to my ears (tad fi would be fine though - that's one way round mutating which doesn't sound bad).

    On another note, noun gender isn't dying out round here. Dwy gath, tair merch - these would sound bizarre if the masculine dau, tri were used.
     
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    Stoggler

    Senior Member
    English (Southern England)
    Hi all, an interesting discussion :)

    Indeed!

    I was wondering what type of Welsh institutions such as Nant Gwrtheyrn teach. They are keen to get people speaking Welsh rather than getting bogged down with difficult grammar, so I was wondering if they'd teach the sort of mutation rules you find in the likes of Teach Yourself Welsh and Colloquial Welsh (would that be Cymraeg Byw or close it it?) or whether they concentrate on how Welsh is actually spoken around the country.
     

    Tegs

    Mód ar líne
    English (Ireland)
    I have some friends who have done Wlpan courses and I hear that they avoid teaching too much grammar, so it's different to how you'd learn something like French in school. From what I've heard, you aren't told all the rules of mutation at once, I think you just learn one instance of when it happens as and when that instance comes up in a phrase you need to learn. So if you are really interested in the hows and whys of all types of mutation, I think you probably need to get a grammar book yourself. I don't know about Nant Gwrtheyrn though.
     

    Stoggler

    Senior Member
    English (Southern England)
    This may be a bit off topic (I'll start a new thread if necessary), but this discussion has got me thinking and I was wondering: are there certain things that beginners say that really mark them out as beginners? The above discussion suggests that how someone uses mutations may well be a pretty big clue, but are there other things that native speakers pick up on when that are particular "beginnerish"?
     

    analeeh

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    The thing that really jars to me is people pronouncing final diphthongs (-au really?! really guys?!) and using full-on standard forms like rydw all the time instead of dw/w (or even fi if you're a weirdo hwntw). You might find native speakers talking like this carefully but not very many in normal speech. Also accent, of course - people not having trills. Though actually in south Wales the r strikes me as a bit different from our one and more like the tap that a lot of southerners also have in English.

    Edit: to be fair to the Cymraeg Byw-ers I am apparently basically alone in spelling imi as one word, which is definitely an affectation of mine.
     

    Tegs

    Mód ar líne
    English (Ireland)
    There are plenty of things beginners get wrong, and that's normal for any language. Maybe talking about what marks out a "non-native" would be better than talking about what makes you sound like a "beginner" (because that can be pretty wide-ranging). So, once they've ironed out other problems and their Welsh is pretty good, people sound non-native for example when they don't mutate, they mutate incorrectly, they pronounce an English R rather than a rolled one, or they switch between chi forms of the verb and ti forms in the same sentence while talking to the same person. Plus, if they are unable to shed their native accent.
     

    Highland Thing

    Senior Member
    English, Welsh
    As a learner, I was surprised to learn that the nasal mutation isn't used often in spoken Welsh in some parts of the country. The main reason for that is that (to my un-Welsh ears), it seems easier to pronounce something like "yng Nghymru" rather than "yn Cymru" or yn Gymru": to me, the nasal mutation seems to make pronunciation (but then that's coming from a learner's perspective rather than a native speaker's).

    That's obviously a subjective response, not really dependent on whether your Welsh is native or not. Phonetically, there's nothing inherently more difficult about pronouncing 'yn Cymru' or 'yn Gymru' - in most cases the actual sound would be [ŋ] (that is, a velar nasal) anyway. If anything, sounding the extra in 'Nghymru' could be considered additional 'effort'.

    In defence of my view on mutations, I'd like to quote from Gareth King's 'Modern Welsh: a Comprehensive Grammar':

    "In the spoken language of many areas of Wales, the position of the NM is [...] precarious at best. The is especially true after yn (in), and particularly with place names where, if any mutation at all is heard, it is usuallt the SM. So yn Fangor, yn Geredigion, yn Ddolgellau [...] SM of names beginning G-, however, is resisted, and here the radical is substituted: yn Gogledd Cymru. The radical of all place names after yn is also common enough: yn Bangor etc. All these non-NM usages are regarded as dialectal at best - the formal written language does not allow them at all. On the other hand, it must be said that NM of place names, and especially yn Nh- and ym Mh-, strikes many native speakers as affected, to say the least."

    I should add that this corresponds exactly both to my opinion and to my experience of Welsh spoken in south Wales (at least between Carmarthen and Cardiff).
    Hi all, an interesting discussion :) I personally would say yng Nghymru (yn Gymru sounds totally bizarre to me and actually harder to pronounce, as Stoggler said), yng Nghaerdydd or yn Gyrdydd as variations of each other, ym Mangor (never ever yn Bangor, which sounds horrendous), y nghath or fy nghath, ei char, ynhad or fy nhad. I certainly wouldn't say that nasal mutation is confined to obsure contexts as said somewhere above.
    Well, again, that's purely subjective - see my post above.
    The thing that really jars to me is people pronouncing final diphthongs (-au really?! really guys?!)
    You really have to blame the media for that - that [ai] pronunciation in noun plural endings, instead of the natural [e] or [a] (south & north) - arises from an education system too much in thrall to 19th century grammarians. It's the same mentality as that found among English speakers who are convinced it's a heinous crime to 'split an infinitive' - even though English doesn't even have infinitives!
     
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    Tegs

    Mód ar líne
    English (Ireland)
    Does usage vary between speakers or different varieties within Wales?

    I think we can all agree on one thing here - yes, usage varies between speakers. You say my post was subjective Highland Thing, like that is a bad thing and therefore invalidates what I was saying. My previous post is littered with the words "I personally" and "I". I didn't at any point make a blanket statement, unsupported by fact, about all of Wales. I am talking about my usage of Welsh, and I think that's fair enough (and also very obvious to anyone who reads it).
     

    Highland Thing

    Senior Member
    English, Welsh
    ^
    I didn't say your post was subjective - I was actually referring to what you said about nasal mutations being easier to pronounce, and thought I made that clear by quoting that section.

    As for your point that usage varies among speakers, that's clearly true, but it doesn't mean that all idiolects are equally desirable or indeed valid for learners to imitate. Sorting them out is another matter, of course!
     
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