Baffling Welsh language things

I’m posting this as new topic because it is mostly a curiosity and not a practical use question.

As a mother tongue Italian speaker, I’m absolutely amazed by the possibility of saying in just three or four syllables things that would need at least 20 words in Italian. :smiley:
And the simplicity of many other aspects, a bit like English I must say, like verbs (apart from a few like dweud, but for now I’ll just blame it on the Romans wether it is their fault or not).

For this reason I’m even more baffled about the presence of extremely complicated things (and for me at the moment for no apparent practical purposes at all).

  1. Mutations. I’m sure everybody can understand me if I get them wrong, so I’m fine ignoring them until I just intuitively catch them right (I actually do sometimes, so I know I will someday).
    But I haven’t been able to figure out: why oh why do they exist?
    It doesn’t seem to affect the meaning nor make pronounciation simpler to me. So what are they for?

  2. Yes/no. In every single language I happened to hear, even the most obscure weird sounding ones, this is the easiest thing to learn. In Welsh, it was unclear doing the challenges, now I’m doing the old course as well they became a complete mystery.
    Is there a simple way to say them or,otherwise a simple scheme of which of the 5890 forms I’m supposed to use and when?

(I might need to add more questions in the future, but all for now!)


I love the fact that you’re finding a lot of simplicity in Welsh. I often enjoy the way it’s far more logical in lots of ways than English.

Mutations - well, I think I’m right in saying that all the Celtic languages have them, so they’ve been around for a long time. Sometimes people say they are a reflection of how you actually blend a couple of sounds together, e.g. if you were to say “yn Dolgellau” it’s a bit harder to say than “yn Nolgellau” so people tend to say it like that and the mutation reflects the pronunciation. But you’re right - I often don’t really think the pronunciation is that much easier.

One place they can be extremely handy though is when you’re talking about ‘her’, ‘his’ or ‘their’ when the word ‘ei/eu’ sounds the same. If you have ‘ei char’ you know it’s her car, ‘ei gar’, it’s his car, and ‘eu car’, it’s their car :slight_smile:

Yes/No - I tend to tell people that there is only really a Yes/No word in the past - Do/Naddo. The rest of the time it’s as if you’re playing a party game that was popular when I was young, where you had to try to answer questions for as long as possible without using Yes or No - so it was “I am”, “I’m not”, “I will”, “he won’t” etc - either agreeing or disagreeing with the question. To me that’s how it works in Welsh. You don’t say Yes or No, you make an affirmative or negative response.

It’s all good fun :smile:


Some mutations particularly the nasal mutation and to an extent the aspirate mutation still work from a ‘make it easier to say’ perspective. Most, however are the fossilised remains of how things were said in the distant past. I like to think of them as formalised sloppy pronunciation from the early Iron Age.
For example, all feminine nouns in Brythonic would end in a vowel sound. Naturally, the human voice softens certain hard consonants after such sounds, so the ancestors of the Welsh and the Cornish and the Bretons naturally came to soft-mutate adjectives after feminine nouns, even when the languages rapidly started to change and word endings were significatly dropped during the social, political and economic upheavals after the withdrawal of the Romans (see, it was their fault!).
Why the languages stuck with mutations even when the need was removed is open to conjecture, though it may have something to do with the oral tradition and the passing down of epic poetry though the generations.


Also, forgot to add this, languages lacking yes and no (or at least not using them except in specific circumstances) is not that rare:


That’s a really interesting article! I didn’t know that about Finnish. No wonder Milla has no problem with Welsh!


I definitely think mutations add to the flow of the language in some circumstances. “fy mrawd” and “dy frawd” flow much more nicely that “fy brawd” and “dy brawd”; likewise “yng nghaerdydd” sounds smoother than “yn Caerdydd”. The one I don’t understand, and the one I find the hardest to predict, is the soft mutation of singular feminine nouns after the definite article. That one I just can’t understand the logic behind.

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I was surprised by just how simple many aspects of Welsh are. Certainly there are some things that are very complicated for an English speaker, but the ease with which one can form the various tenses periphrasastically is so refreshing after having learnt languages like French and German in the past, where it’s necessary to know conjugations for every verb in various tenses for various persons! To be able to know just the forms of bod (though I concede, there are many!) and then a single verb-noun for past, present and future for first person, second person and third person sentences is SOOOOOO much easier than so many other languages.

I’ve said it before and I’m really not joking: I seriously think schools in England should consider teaching Welsh as a second language, certainly instead of German. Visitor numbers to Wales from the rest of the UK dwarf the number of visitors to Germany each year! It presents a real opportunity for learners to practice what they learn. It would also boost the number of Welsh speakers.


I’m completely guessing here, but I suspect that the masculine and feminine definite articles in ancient times were different (as they are today in many modern European languages). The feminine version would have made a sound that encouraged the softening of following hard consonants, the masculine wouldn’t.

But, as I said, that’s just a guess.


In English there are mutations as well. For example, knife/kni_v_es etc. I think @Nicky has posted a video which gets you to slow down how you would say “in Birmingham”, and actually, if you do it sounds like “ing Nhirmingham” or something like that. That’s really cool to see and sort of helped loads with my understanding of why they exist. I used to worry about them but they are becoming more natural, even with combinations I’ve not said before - and I have no idea what the three (?) different mutations are for!


Just wondering if you’re around @HarrietEaris and if you have any insight into this?

Yes, all the Celtic languages have mutations — I’m not very familiar with the three Gaelic languages, but I know they definitely do that (I remember getting excited when I saw something written in Irish and realised they mutated a sound — “k” to “g”, I think it was — exactly as we would!). Cornish and Breton have mutations similar to Welsh, though not always exactly the same. It’s obviously just a quirk of being Celtic! :grinning:

I don’t know why any more than anyone else does — I’ve heard the “it makes it easier to say” argument too, but that doesn’t really hold, or else all words that can mutate would logically always do so in the same way under the appropriate circumstances. But they don’t. In Cornish, for example, feminine singular nouns mutate (if they can) after the definite article and the adjective following a feminine singular noun mutates as well (if it can). But if the feminine noun is plural, it doesn’t mutate and neither does the adjective! So, “an gath wynn” — the white cat, but “an kathes gwynn” — the white cats.

(And just to make it even more fun, in Cornish there’s the quirk that masculine nouns (singular or plural) don’t normally mutate after “an” (the) or mutate their adjectives, but masculine plural nouns of persons do. So we would say “an pyskador koth” — the old fisherman, but “an byskadoryon goth” — the old fishermen. Do you do that in Welsh too?? :slight_smile: )

If it was just a case of “some sounds are easier to say when mutated”, you’d expect it would always happen with those particular sounds when they follow certain other words. But instead, it happens according to very particular (and sometimes rather complicated) grammatical rules. Which, I can only conclude, means that people in the distant past actually worked out those rules in detail and made sure they were taught as the correct way of doing things — it can’t have happened by chance!! :astonished:

I’m also almost certain that none of the Celtic languages traditionally have words for “yes” and “no” — again, I’m pretty sure that’s the case with the Gaelic languages and I know it’s definitely the case with the Brythonic languages. Another quirk of being Celtic. I know it’s strange and baffling for an English speaker and it must be just as strange for speakers of other languages too — as you say, @gisella-albertini — but I guess we stick with these things precisely because they are almost unique to the Celtic languages and we don’t want to lose what makes us different and special, so there. :smile: :wink:


Yes, once you get over the initial scary unfamiliarity, it’s the little quirks that make any language interesting. To me, English is special because of its unnecessarily huge vocabulary and its bizarre spellings, some of which (like mutations in the Brythonic languages) reflect long-gone pronunciations. All other languages will have their own attractions.
@Deborah-SSi could probably explain to us why Esperanto, a language designed to be deliberately without quirks, because it’s spoken by humans and not robots, actually has plenty.


I know nothing of Esperanto, but I imagine it’s very much like writing a computer program (which I do know a lot about!): you start off with a perfect specification, based on lots of requirements analysis, and you write code that does exactly what it should… until customers start using the program and realise there are scenarios you hadn’t envisaged! Then you end up having to put little kludges, tweaks and fixes in to fix those specific problems, and end up with odd little exceptions to rules


sounds exactly like all computer programs ever! I love how one starts with such high hopes of keeping the code clean and consistent but ultimately by the end anything that works is acceptable!


So many interesting comments, I don’t know where to start now. :slight_smile:

From the beginning, with a…practical digression: so if I always use do/naddo for now it would be ok, even if not the best?

If it was really an echo (as defined in the very interested page @robbruce linked, I wouldn’t mind. But the fact is it’s not just repeating the last thing you’ve heard and for me all those forms like will, shall, should,would for example are very confusing right now (sorry I can’t remember how to write them and on the phone here switching to another page to look for it’s a mess).

However, I’ll remember thinking of them as a game instead of a pain, thanks for the idea @Deborah-SSi :smile:

I don’t know if others would agree, but the advice I got elsewhere was to go with either “Ie” and “Nage” (or just “na”) or “Do” and “Naddo” if I get lost in a conversation and I’m not sure what to reply with.


I didn’t know this! However, I’m fairly sure that if you use a learning method like Duolingo or ask someone from those countries ( in an informal not academic situation), they will provide a generic translation for yes/no. Which is probably one of the reasons why I was mistaken in my impression

Even for Welsh, for example, @Deborah-SSi wrote two kinda generic forms I might use or might probably work for anyone who doesn’t need or want to go too deep into learning the language

Although on the linked page, the generic words they provide are ie and nage (edit:oh and @stephenbranley just said the same, but I saw it after posting this) . So I guess I’m confused again. :joy:

People will always understand do/naddo - or ia/na - so just go with what comes to mind first, and it’ll all sort itself out for you in due course… :slight_smile:

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Ie and Nage are the responses to emphatic/focussed questions (questions that don’t start with a verb).
Do and Naddo are the responses to questions in the past tense.

There’s a good explanation here:

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It sounds logical to me
Although figuring why substituting certain consonants with b,d,g,l or with totally unrelated sounds like f for m, or the disappearance of a consonant should be considered “soft” is not too obvious!