What is the purpose of “mi” at the start of a sentence?

It seems you can use it or not use it….? It sometimes means “me” but not at the start of a sentence?



Mi at the beginning of a sentence is a so-called “positive marker”, and its only function is to signal that the sentence is a positive statement, and as such it is completely optional. You’ll also find the variation fe, and both cause a soft mutation of the following word.
So for I had a good time you can say
Ces i amser da or Mi ges i amser da or Fe ges i amser da.
In speech it is also acceptable (and often heard) to say Ges i amser da, leaving out the marker word and keeping the mutation, but note that Duolingo marks that as a mistake.

5 Likes

I was wondering about this from the other side of it - on the South challenges, sometimes there is a soft mutation and sometimes not, but either way no “fe” actually spoken in front… and I just can’t figure out why the mutation isn’t consistent other than “people say what they want/feel like at the time”. Past tense of “I did” so far always has the soft mutation - wnes i (silent w, too), but “I said”, dwedes i. (Which apparently is spelled dywedais i?! There’s more than one vowel there I never heard Iestyn or Cat actually pronounce.)
And then if you turn the statement into a question, the soft mutation seems more likely, but I’m not 100% sure that’s consistent either…
Is there a rule/pattern I’m missing?
I’ve started reading recently (Blacmêl, cyfres Amdani), and the “mi” in front of verbs that aren’t first-person keeps tripping me up. I guess I’ll get used to it… and then read some specifically southern-dialect books and be confused by “fe” for a while? Which is more common / standard in writing?
I am constantly mildly-confused-but-trying-to-roll-with-it these days. I just need to keep telling myself it’s fun.
It is fun.
People literally pay money for fairground rides to disorient them. Right? :rofl:

1 Like

Questions should always have a soft mutation at the beginning (and the particle omitted from speech triggering this mutation is a, and you’ll sometimes see it in writing), but of course, people miss mutations in real life all the time.

As a rough guideline, mi is more common in the north, fe in the south, but in reality it’s personal preference more than anything.

2 Likes

Sometimes it seems like written Welsh is its own entirely separate dialect.

2 Likes

There are certain more common verbs that people almost always tend to mutate whether there is a mi/fe there or not - nes i is one of them (gwnes i) and weles i (gweles / gwelais i) is another.

With dwedes i you’ll often see it written as dywedais i or dwedais i but it’s quite common in parts of south Wales for people to say wedes i and instead of dweud to say gweud. It becomes dw i’n gweud y gwir (I say the truth) instead of dw i’n dweud y gwir and wedes i’r gwir instead of dwedes i’r gwir.

2 Likes

I did notice that about dweud/gweud with some South Welsh speakers on television! :grin: I think maybe gweud y gwir just sounds more satisfying with the alliteration.
Once upon a time, I was told “Welsh is entirely phonetic; every letter or letter combination has one pronunciation and it is always said that way.” (I think it was the Open University.)
Now, relative to the utter chaos that is English spelling and pronunciation, Welsh is pretty consistent. But still. :rofl:
South Welsh in particular seems to be founded on the principle that there are too many vowels and we needn’t bother with half of them. LOL.

1 Like

What you’ll generally find is consistency within the local dialect, so if it’s the north and a word like pethau (things) is pronounced like petha, or it’s the south and it’s pronounced pethe, you’ll tend to find all words ending in “au” pronounced the same way.

2 Likes

Which it is. Linguists consider Welsh to be “diglossic” in that the written register is markedly different from the spoken register. SSiW dives in with the spoken one (the idea being that getting people out into the community speaking is the important bit - certainly from a “saving the Welsh language” point of view). The Dysgu Cymraeg courses (on which Duolingo is based) go with their own hybrid (in the first few levels), which is a sort of “written spoken Welsh” and then introduce the more formal written forms later on.

Personally (and unusually for me, the academic geek) I went down the “speak first, write later” route and it worked well for me to start with one dialect and then expand outwards. YMMV of course.

When I was studying sociolinguistics it was pointed out to us that “standard English” is, in itself, a dialect - just one that has been raised above the others that exist.

5 Likes

I do wish someone would enforce that view on the people that write the school curricula & exam schemas! The grammar police seem to have become part of the culture war battalions, and I’ve had enough of that nonsense to last a lifetime.
Welsh in real life is great from that point of view - but in schools? not so good. And English is a disaster.
Language belongs to the people that speak it.

3 Likes

Indeed. :slightly_smiling_face: But you might also find that au somewhere other than the end of the word sounds different… and that’s precisely what I was told wouldn’t happen. Haha. Academics live in their own little bubble sometimes.
Vowel changes happen to a living language. If they aren’t happening, the language is either dead or being ruthlessly policed. :slightly_smiling_face: But of course, having a standard does help keep everyone able to understand each other, so I don’t really blame the teachers for what they’re trying to do.

When I went to a Welsh evening class in 1980 in Gwent, I was taught “fe”.

However, when I used it after restarting my Welsh language journey with SSiW a couple of years ago with someone in Lampeter, and I said “fe ddechreuais i dysgu Cymraeg…” she smiled and said “I don’t think anyone’s used ‘fe’ in speech for about forty years, love!”

“Yeah, that’s when my evening class was!”

2 Likes

I am also an academic geek, and usually pretty formal/pedantic in my English usage. I was taught that the kind of English my family used and that I was taught in school was “correct”, and that’s kinda hard to shake. So using SSi and knowing I’m saying casual, informal, sometimes downright slangy things feels… weird. Not necessarily “me”. But SSi works, and while I enjoy reading, studying, getting things “right”, and being the grammar police (just kidding, mostly), all that is a lot of effort and I just don’t have the spoons right now.
:woman_shrugging:
I had thought I’d heard that written Welsh was a separate dialect, but then with people writing mi in the North and fe in the South, it seemed like maybe I was imagining that and it’s still just the North/South thing…
Maybe it’s Dysgu Cymraeg doing their own “hybrid” version as you say (the books I’ve read so far are written to line up with what they teach) that has slightly confused the matter for me. Perhaps really I’ve yet to encounter Standard Written Welsh… or maybe even within the standard there’s regional variation, just to keep everyone confused?

Proper Literary Welsh is very much influenced by the Welsh of the Bible, which means that writing elegant, formal Welsh is a little like being expected to express oneself in the English of the King James Bible. The KJV is early Modern English, with traces of having been based on even older, Middle English versions; the William Morgan Bible is almost Middle Welsh in some ways. So Literary Welsh has literally twice as many tenses as colloquial Welsh, and some of the ones you know have a different meaning in Literary Welsh; LW is a “pro-drop” language (you don’t need pronoun subjects because the information is all in the verb ending) but Colloquial isn’t; etc.
Don’t get me wrong: it isn’t a different language, but it is a very different dialect of the same one. As a result, most modern novels (and any less than formal writing) strike some sort of compromise - but exactly which features they allow, and which they feel are too slovenly to commit to written form (even though it’s what everyone says) will vary from author to author, depending on tone, style, intended audience, etc. Some books - and not just those aimed at learners - will have first-person narrators who ‘speak’ colloquial Welsh throughout (eg Llechi by Manon Steffan Ros; others will have a more formal narrative voice, contrasting with colloquial speech.
Dysgu Cymraeg Welsh is still pretty colloquial - it’s just a little bit more hide-bound, a little more uptight than what SSiW tends to go for. They don’t start feeding you any actual straight-up Literary Welsh till you’re about half way through Uwch (Advanced).

5 Likes

I was wondering which thread would be appropriate for this, and this seems as good a place as any.
This is at the Church of the Pater Noster on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, Israel, where I took the photo three days ago. The church has the Lord’s Prayer (the Pater Noster) in more than a hundred languages displayed throughout the complex (including a few in Braille). So I hunted successfully for one in Welsh (I add myself to give an idea of the scale).

This is obviously a very formal Welsh register with which I am almost totally unfamiliar, and I would welcome insights into its linguistic aspects.

1 Like

Wow, that’s amazing! :heart: What a beautiful idea.

1 Like

One thing that jumps out at me is all the verbs ending in -er, which, as far as I know, are impersonal present subjunctives :slight_smile: The impersonal (like man in Old English and Modern German, French on, English one but only if you’re posh) basically does the same job that passive verbs do in other languages, by saying that something happens without specifying who does it. The subjunctive makes it into a wish. You’ll see it commonly in formal-ish phrases such as gweler isod = “let one see it below” = “see below”: here, “may someone do your wish” = “thy will be done”.
Some of the other weird verb-forms are going to be other subjunctives, too, but they’re less familiar to me!

3 Likes

Regarding Fe and Mi (fe wnes i), I have many Welsh speaking friends both first language and new speakers and we meet several times a week and communicate daily via WhatsApp group or directly. First language speakers are both South Wales and North Wales. ‘Fe’ is not taught to new speakers here and and it’s never used by any of our first language friends, (nor is ‘Mi’ used by our North friends). My advice for what it’s worth is to be aware of it but dont go there, its rather old fashioned, confusing and unnecessary. (I’m a ‘new speaker’ since the 1990’s).
Paul

2 Likes

In 1962, my family moved from Liverpool to Corwen, where I immediately had to deal with the Welsh language in school. Every morning we recited the Lord’s Prayer and I have never forgotten the words. This is a shortened version (as found in Luke 11: 2-4), but the version in Matthew adds “Canys eiddot ti yw’r deyrnas, y nerth a’r gogoniant, yn oes oesoedd, Amen.” I particularly loved the phrase “yn oes oesoedd”. If anyone would like to see a 1588 Bishop William Morgan Bible, plus a 1567 Salesbury New Testament, a 1620 revision, a 1630 Beibl Bach, and many more up to Mary Jones’ era, I will be helping at a Welsh Bible exhibition from 5 - 10 August, 11am - 6pm, at the Best Western Aberavon Beach Hotel, Port Talbot, SA12 6QP. It highlights the importance of the Welsh Bible to the language, education and culture of Wales. Amazing!

2 Likes