I realize this is a compicated and nuanced question, but I would very much like to know hiw many words are in Welsh.
I heard it described as a “sparse language” by the staff on “Y Gwylll/Hinterland” and considerations had to be made during production by both the directors and actors due to the differences in acting in English and then in Welsh.
I have been doing “word for word” translations of Welsh Art songs, and am struck how at first glance, much of the poetry seems niave and unsophisticated at first, but then when one takes into account that so many words have so many different meanings, it actualy makes for quite amazing word play that offers multiple levels of interpretation.
One wonders what the basis for that assessment would be, and indeed what that really means. Consider for instance the rich literature - e.g. Mabinogion - and poetry - e.g. cynghanedd - that exists in the Welsh language.
Does it mean that, compared to English, there are fewer words in Welsh? As long as there are enough for all things on earth and in the heavens - and mathematics - to be discussed - I think that Welsh is up to that task.
That’s interesting - could this perhaps have been a reaction/pushback against the Welsh idiom yr iath fain meaning the English language, literally “the thin language” - or is it possible that the reports could have mixed things up and they were actually talking about the Welsh language??
You can look at some raw numbers and compare to English, but no-one knows how many words there are in English either, because it doesn’t work like that as this blog piece explains.
Comparing the number of words in the OED quoted above with GPC, then you would get 218,000 words in English of which 47,156 are considered obsolete (21.5%), leaving 171476 current ones. GPC has 124,000 words and if you assume similar obsolescene then that gives about 27,000 obsolete words and just shy of 100,000 current ones. Applying the same arguments in the blog article above then if that number of dictionary entries in English may equate to as much as 750,000 actual words, then in Welsh that would mean about 420,000, which to me is more than anyone or any language could ever possibly need.
I wouldn’t say that Welsh has a small number of unique words; but I would say that English has a very large vocabulary. This is due to it having so many influences, such as Anglo-Saxon, and then French and Latin, plus the internationalisation of it. For example, there are many nouns with similar meanings but different roots, depending on when the item came into being (eg stool/chair).
Also, as English has become the international lingua franca for science, transport, business etc, many new words are created in English that don’t have a requirement in other languages.
Welsh also has words that are very nuanced; eg gwyn can mean white and pure. I’m definitely not a poet, but it is this subtlety brings meaning to a lot of Welsh texts.
A valid example of Welsh being a sparse language include colours. English has hundreds of terms for colours, but Welsh relies on the core gwyn, du, coch, brown, llwyd, gwyrdd, porffor etc and then pairs one with another or with dark/light in order to define shades.
I think fof the purposes of my research and for compairison, I will just compare the number of headwords in the most authoritative dictionary in the language. Using that methodology, I’ll take Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru’s number of headwords.105,000 as the point of compairison.
I read somewhere that one of the German dialects, can’t remember which city - stuttgart or Frankfurt maybe has an incredibly productive vocabulary making mechanism. It will devise words for sequences of events, like catching the second train before getting the bus etc.
That’s just how some languages work I guess while others don’t and don’t need to.
I suspect that as the word means “the action or practice of estimating something as worthless”, it would probably need a corresponding phrase in Welsh, something like “y weithred neu’r arfer o amcangyfrif rhywbeth mor ddiwerth” (Welsh may need improving).