Welsh and Portuguese

I read somewhere that there are a lot of Welsh words in Spanish and vice versa, obviously. I’ve never learned Spanish but I have learned Portuguese which is very similar to Spanish and in fact this is one of the reasons I decided to try to learn Welsh because it feels oddly familiar. I’m really curious as to where this crossover has come from, why Welsh has more words in common with Spain/Portugal than it does with English (barring modern loan words from English that is which happen all over the world… computador in Portuguese for example). Many thanks I’m fascinated by this wonderful language.

There are two main reasons for similarities between Romance languages and Welsh. Firstly, the whole group of Celtic languages was in some ways more similar to the Italic languages (including Latin) than they were to Germanic (such as English) - so you’ve got some common words like braich = braço, ci = cão, cant = cem (Latin cent-um) that go back literally thousands of years. Even where the same words exist in English the resemblance is often obscured by English’s own sound-changes: cant = hund(-red) is a bit less obvious.
Secondly, you’ve got loads of loan-words from Latin into Welsh that go back to when the Romans were in Britain, and these are often easier to spot: pysgota and pescar, cadair = cadeira etc. Depending which Romance language you look at - Portuguese or Spanish or Catalan or French or Italian or… - some of these are more obvious than others: my favourite one is that the Catalan for castell is… castell :slight_smile:


talking of cadair - I like the etymology of Cathedral and I think it’s linked in some way.

(bishop’s seat”), from Ancient Greek καθέδρα (kathédra, “chair of a teacher, throne”), from κατά (katá, “down”) + ἕδρα (hédra, “seat”).

I’ve tried to find “special” links to spanish, gallician and Portuguese words in the past and I’ve never stumbled across anything surprising that doesn’t really reflect what you’ve already said.

1 Like

Yes, and the ‘hed(ra)’ bit of it is from the root ‘sed-’, like Welsh hedd and sedd (and Latin sedeo and English sit/set/seat/settle etc.).

English ‘chair’ is also ultimately the same word, too, but has been a bit more mangled along the way :slight_smile:

Oh, and I nearly forgot: a cathedral is a bishop’s ‘see’, which is from the Latin sedes ‘seat’ - which is where swydd comes from, too!


I’ve been meaning to ask you, actually - so ‘perro’ is Spanish for dog - and ‘Pero’ is a common name for a dog in Gwynedd, as well as a brand of local dog food (actually, they seem to sell much more widely than just around here, but are based in Betws) - so what the heck is going on there, then? :slight_smile:

I’m not aware of Pero as a common dog’s name anywhere else in Wales, but I haven’t done extensive (read: any) research into the matter… :wink:

1 Like

Dim syniad, I’m afraid, although I’m now a little intrigued - pero for perro wouldn’t work for an actual Spanish speaker, though, being as distinct as el and ell, so if there’s a connection I’m guessing it’s down to a Welsh or English speaker.

1 Like

Not sure if this helps, but the Spanish word for dog “Perro” doesn’t seem to be of italic origin at all:

I presume that the Welsh word for dog “ci” is however related to canis, chien, cur, etc., and therefore another example of the Italic-Celtic relationship?

1 Like

Yup, and those c- sounds appear in English as h’s, where the same words appear in both branches, so just as cant = hund(red), cwn = houn(ds).

1 Like

I had a Plethyn CD years ago of Caneuon i blant and the Pero cropped up on one of the songs. I think it was

dacw dadi’n mynd i’r ffair

but can’t find the lyrics for that one. There was another Welsh folk song on that album that seemed to have a really unusually non-welsh tone to it, that reminded me of the phrygian mode used in flamenco styles like sevillanas _well it reminded me specifically of Sevllanas to be honest. I don’t have the CD anymore and I can’t pin it down - all i can remember about the song was there was a line in the cytgan that went something like “draw dros y mynydd a welaist ti”-that doesn’t probably make sense - it doesn’t to me - but it sounded like that to me.

Welsh pronunciation of ‘pero’ is probably pretty similar to Spanish of ‘perro’…

So my theory is stray Armada sailors, and I’m sticking to it until proven wrong (and for some time subsequently, probably).

1 Like

I had a relative hung drawn and quartered after the battle of sedgemore fighting for the earl of Monmouth. The Earl of Monmouth organised his failed rebellion from northern spain where he was in exile. Just another spanish link.

haha thanks for all your replies, which I will have to study in a but more depth. I’m still none the wiser though about the Portuguese/Welsh link, the consencus looks like it’s not specific. I had noticed a link particularly with portuguese words rather than other latinate languages. Of course the Latin influence would have happened as it did with English, so presumably the evolution of Welsh was untainted by further invasions that tainted what happened the English side of the border. It’s little things like the words for grass, bean, leeks even. Beans in Portugues is feijão = ffa (I think in Welsh). There were lots of other things I’ve noticed. I mean, I speak french, Portuguese and I understand a fair bit of Italian, but it’s definitely the Portuguese/Spanish similarity that seems more pronounced to me. The possibility of a spanish invasion of large enough proportions to influence the language? I don’t know enough history to know it.

The celtic sub-strata in the Iberian languages and French is there in a significant amount of vocabulary and the Atlantic zone in celtic times (bronze/iron age and afterwards) was an economic trading area that meant there was plenty of opportunity for developing and sharing vocabulary - from the Northern fringes of Scotland to North Africa.
The differences between early celtic and early Latin mean that saying that a word was of celtic or latin origin is often a little bit subjective and may depend as much on what you’d like it to be as much as anything else.


The fact of it being a trading area does seem to make sense, yes going along the atlantic coast, the languages would pick up similarities. I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean by the Celtic Sub strata. Can you elaborate? Also not quite sure what you mean by your last sentence, are you saying it’s impossible to distinguish what was early celtic and what was early latin? Many thanks

1 Like

The substrata will include things like place names and some of the words of Celtic origin that persist - there are lists on Wikipedia suggesting in the Spanish of the middle ages maybe 10-20%, probably less now.

Gaullish has had a bigger influence on French, maybe as much as 25%.

Pronunciations and nuances may also be there? Celtic presence in Iberia lasted a long time, probably peaking between 1200 and 800 BC, coinciding with King Solomon in the old testament and the peak of the Phoenicians, who traded from the straits of hercules (Gibraltar) to the levant - Romulus and Remus weren’t even born then, so no Rome to talk of. The languages probably disappeared when the Romans destroyed those Mediterranean trading links by seeing of the Phoenicians and later sacking Carthage and then moving to take total control of Iberia in the second or first century BC.

For what is latin and what is Celtic - sometimes clear, sometimes less so - Caballus for horse for example - not classical latin, but a later addition to Latin long after the variants of this word were well known in Europe - Ceffyl in Welsh, Cheval in French - it may not have been originally Celtic, but the Welsh is presumed to come from Brythonic and the French from Gaulish, but who knows?

And then there’s Basque, but that’s a mystery and a half.


Mor Mar Pysgod Pescado Eglws Iglesia Trist Triste Lladron Ladron Canu Cantar - Welsh and Spanish words that from the top of my head are very similar


It’s the Llan place names that strike me - I know the pronounciation differs, but where else outside of Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and spain, majorca etc will you find those.

I know they also use san and santa, but then again we also use San and Sant in place names as well.

1 Like


Thanks all for your replies. It’s really really fascinating. The Welsh word for place is the same as Portuguese. Among lots of others of course.

Shame we don’t have baillando as well - I love that word.