The Welsh language
The Welsh language (called Cymraeg in Welsh) has 28 letters. The Latin alphabet is used (i.e. as in English, French, Polish, etc.), but letters sometimes represent different sounds in Cymraeg. It is this variation that sometimes confuses English speakers when they see "impossible" combinations like bwr or words such as chwyddwydr ('magnifying glass'). Fortunately, the pronunciation of Welsh words is regular and phonetic. Only two sounds, ll and ew, will be difficult to master.
There are no silent letters. Every letter has a sound, and the sound is vocalized in spoken Welsh. The letters J, K, Q, V, X and Z are not included in the Welsh alphabet, but are sometimes found in borrowed words. When present, these letters have their English sounds.
There are regional differences in Welsh pronunciation, but standard Welsh is understood by Welsh speakers everywhere. The pronunciation guide below approximates the Welsh letter sounds by using standard English examples.
IPA for Welsh
The charts below show the way in which the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) represents Welsh pronunciations in Wiktionary entries. The transcription adapts a slight bias towards pronunciation in northern parts of Wales.
See Welsh phonology at Wikipedia for a more thorough look at the sounds of Welsh.
|Other symbols used in transcription of Welsh pronunciation|
|ˈ||Primary stress (placed before the stressed syllable), for example ysgrifenyddes [əsɡriveˈnəðes]|
The Welsh alphabet
The vowels are A, E, I, O, U, W, and Y. All the vowels can be lengthened by the addition of a circumflex, called to bach in Welsh.
- a is always as in can, ham, or man, never long as in may. The Welsh words am and ac are pronounced as they would be in English.
- e by itself is always as in get, pet, and let. However, the letter E has a different sound in the three diphthongs.
- i has the I sound as in bin or pin, or a long E sound as in seen or queen.
- o has the O sound as in hot or the long sound as in toe.
- u has the sound of long EE, as in see.
- w has the sound of OO as in boot and shoot, or of U as in pull. Note, however, that W can also be used as a consonant with the English W sound.
- y has two different sounds. In one-syllable words (llyn), and in the last syllable of polysyllabic words (estyn), it is a shortened EE sound as at the end of happy. (Note the different sound in ywy, however). In other contexts (in non-final syllables of polysyllabic words) it is pronounced as the obscure vowel schwa, as in the first syllable of the English word about (e.g. ystyr, pronounced uh s t ii r, where uh represents schwa).
- The preceding rules for y apply to South Welsh accents. In areas of North Wales, the non-schwa pronunciation of y is less like English EE and more of a guttural sound, formed further back in the mouth.
- Ae, Ai and Au are all pronounced as English eye.
- Aw has the sound of ow as in how and now.
- Eu and Ei are pronounced as long A, or the ay sound in say.
- Ew is difficult for English speakers because there is no direct equivalent. It is approximately eh-oo or ow-oo, but the correct sound is between those examples.
- Iw or I'w is ee-you with the ee sound very short. It is similar to the English yew.
- Oe has the sound of Oi or Oy.
- Ow is pronounced the same as English row, tow, or throw.
- Wy has the sound of oo-ee or a short Wi sound as in win.
- Yw or Y'w is the same as Iw above.
- Ywy (considered a diphthong even though it has three letters) has the sound of ow-ee as in the name Howie.
- B is the same as English B as in beer.
- C is the Welsh K. It is always hard, as in can or cane, never soft as in once.
- Ch is a glottal Kh sound, as in the Scottish loch.
- D is the same as English D as in dog.
- Dd has the sound of voiced TH, as in this or there.
- F always has the sound of V, as in have or very.
- Ff is the same as English F as in first.
- G is always hard as in go or good, never soft as in manage.
- H is the same as English H, but it is always pronounced, never silent.
- L is the same as English L as in long.
- Ll is a sound with no English equivalent. It is formed by pronouncing L with a slight escape of air around the tongue, and sounds like thl or shl with the leading th/sh very soft. Try saying whistle with a lisp, as whithle.
- M is the same as English M as in many.
- N is the same as English N as in no or never.
- Ng has the English NG sound as in longer, hunger, or finger.
- P is the same as English P as in poor or party.
- R is the same as English R as in right. It is sometimes slightly rolled as in Welsh bwrw.
- Rh is pronounced as HR; that is, a slight H sound comes before the R sound.
- S is the same as English S as in say.
- Si is the same as English Sh as in show.
- T is the same as English T as in turn.
- Th is English voiceless TH, as in think or three. Note difference from the voiced Dd.
- W, when used as a consonant, has the English W sound as in work.