Etymology and geography

For those who are fans of etymology, I just stumbled upon a fascinating article about the long pedigree in Welsh of quite English-sounding constructions like go out, take up, play down - and the way the different prepositions used in the north and south are linked to topographic features!
(Link to full article below.)

"A number of these Welsh adverbials are made up of the preposition
i ‘to’ plus its noun object, referring to a generic topographical feature
which iconically suggests a direction or a location. Thus, i fyny ‘up’, i
lawr ‘down’ and iffwrdd ‘away, off’ contain reflexes of mynydd ‘moun-
tain,’ llawr ‘floor,’ and ffordd ‘road’ respectively, while the three variants
used primarily in South Wales, (i’r) lan ‘up,’ (i) bant ‘away,’ and (i’r)
maes ‘out’ contain reflexes of glan ‘shore,’ pant ‘valley’ and maes ‘field.’ "


Ah, so it’s gyrru ymlaen for carry on (ref 40 in the article). Ive been saying carry ymlaen :frowning: It sounds sort of cool though.

Edit: And yet ref 47 has Cario ymlaen for carrying on. There you go.

I’m thinking Breton might be easy and may give it a whirl. You could guess most of the Breton Ones - they just looked much like misspelt Southern Welsh ones, with the odd extra particle here and there added in. .

Mont = Mynd
Maes = Maez
Lan = Laez

breton uses dro where welsh might use o gwmpas or nol, but dro/tro ones still make sense.

bant is different because Breton uses the adaptation from French kuit from Quitter.

Also: There is a footnote that says: Logically the Verb Adverb patterns in English could have come from Celtic language influences, but this is discounted as something that doesn’t happen, apart from place names etc. This is a common argument for a few bits of unusual things in English grammar that could in principle have dropped across.

Total guess, but I’m thinking that Breton will also be about mastering the accent. Having said that, the same will be true of any Celtic language dialect.

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Yes, it’s far from as straightforward as I’d hope for. If you hear a breton saying harz for stop though (a seemingly foreign word to Welsh frim it’s spelling) , it can comes across quite surprisingly as aros.

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My great uncles were in the merchant navy, plying around the coast of France. I was always told that, while the English officers dealt with their French counterparts in the ports, as soon as they got to Brittany, the Welsh crew took over because the Welsh and the Bretons could understand each other quite easily


I know this idea is generally refuted, but so many people have said similar things over the years. I think on first contact both languages might very well seem different, but if there is regular contact, such as sailors, merchants and onion sellers, then they will probably start to fathom out the subtle differences I would guess. I really believe that colloquial southern Welsh is closer to Breton and Cornish than other forms of Welsh, which to me would make perfect sense - I have ancestors from Cornwall who came to South Wales in the industrial revolution, but I’m pretty confident it was after the time that Cornish had gone.

Perhaps Cornish and Cumbric or the languages of the hen gogledd never left us - they just moved to North and South Wales along with Brittany. Wales as a whole and Cymraeg may now be the place where the old Brythonic dialects have all come back together.

Thank you to @Catriona for this – I haven’t yet finished reading the article, but it’s really very interesting.

The thing about where these idiomatic phrasal verbs come from – Celtic into English or vice versa or whatever – is complicated by the fact that the author is presumably coming from a Celtic languages perspective, and so doesn’t look at what other Germanic languages do. You’ve got things in German and Dutch called separable verbs, which a re a bit similar to phrasal verbs, but the real comparison is with Icelandic. For example, using setja (to set, put, place) you can list:
setja inn – to put in;
setja undan – to escape
setja af – to depose
setja aptr – to hold back, check
setja at – to set against, attack;
setja á – to put up
setja á – to notice
setja eptir – to leave behind
setja sth fyrir sb – sb to be sad and depressed about sth
setja fram – to put forward, produce
setja fyrir – to order (sth)
setja sb sth fyrir – to set sb sth as a task (e.g. of a teacher)
setja nidr – to put down, quash; to bury (a body); to dispose
setja saman – to put together; to compose
setja fram – to launch (a ship)
setja upp – to draw (a ship) up on land; to erect (a building, monument); to hoist (a sail)
setja út – to set out (goods for sale)
setja vid – to let
(I happened to have that list already saved from an English class about phrasal verbs! The equivalents for ‘do’ or ‘get’ would be even worse…)

So obviously, some of those are more literal (setja út, say) and others more idiomatic (to set something before somebody = somebody to be sad and depressed about something). But what I don’t know is how much they are Old Icelandic and how much they are Modern – whether they show the same pattern of increasing less-literal usage in the early modern period as the article mentions in English and Welsh. On the whole, it kind of leaves me with two possibilities: if some, at least, of these are Old Norse/Icelandic (which vague memories of reading sagas suggests to me they are), then there may be some Viking Danelaw influence on Middle English percolating through to Welsh. (Old English didn’t really do phrasal verbs.) Or, alternatively, we just see it as what they call an ‘areal feature’, where a number of languages in a given area are seen to do a similar thing linguistically, without our necessarily being able to pin down a precise direction of influence – after all, there are the examples from Welsh without direct English equivalents, and the fewer and more literal Breton examples to bear in mind, too.

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I guess that when it comes to words and vocabulary it’s relatively easy to pin down etymology, but when someone brought up with a different language uses no native vocabulary, but brings their underlying grammar with them - speaking seemingly natively in another language, then almost subconsciously it could stick, if it works in the other language, but we might never fully be able to understand the origins, particularly if several languages are involved.

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Yes, I read that even regarding English, the grammar rules were just invented to reflect the existing practice. But then someone tried to import a load of Latin grammar rules to confuse the issue. Like not starting a sentence with but or like :slight_smile:

Anyway, Ive just happened upon another interesting paper - Brittonic Language in The Old North by Alan James. It’s mostly about place names but has some interesting Welsh and non-Northern stuff in there as well if anyone is interested. It seems pretty non-biased, eg it’s happy to admit when stuff has been claimed but can be “difficult”. Such as Alt which could be Allt or just English Auld (Old).