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Welsh Language Phrases & Pronunciation

Author: Lara Turner
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Britain's Oldest Language

Today, English is the language spoken the most in Wales. Welsh remains the dominant language in many areas, particularly in Gwynedd County in the North. The highest percentage of Welsh-speaking homes live here, specifically in villages such as Llanrug and the town of Caernarfon. Our language has battled through the ages for its status. In 2011, Parliament finally recognised Welsh as the official language of Wales. Welsh is now hugely supported by the Welsh Assembly, actively spoken and mandatorily taught within schools up to age 16.

An Ancient Language

Welsh, or Cymraeg [pronounced come-rah-eeg], is the language of the country of the Celts and Druids. Wales is famous for castles, princes, myths and legends, music, mountains, rivers, oceans, and dragons. Welsh is the oldest language in Britain,  as it has been spoken for over 4,000 years. In fact, the Welsh language pre-dates English by 3,500 years – though sadly, it has spent most of those years fighting for its right to exist.

Aerial photo of the grassy outline of a roman amphitheatre, taken at sunset.

Segontium Roman Fort, Wales

The Origins of Welsh

The language originated from ancient Celtic tribes who travelled to the country now known as the United Kingdom during the Bronze Age (2300 – 800 BCE). They brought their native language of Brythonic with them. The ancient language was spoken across the UK south of the Firth of Forth in modern Scotland and fragmented around the country around 600 BCE.

Tribes living in the lands we now call Wales adopted the language, which, over time, has changed to become what we know as modern Welsh. Settlements appeared in Wales after the Roman invasion in 43 CE, and their British Latin language influenced the local language. Roman influence can still be seen within the Welsh language spoken today.

A Brief History of the Welsh Language

Photo looking across the dramatic fortifications of Conwy Castle in Wales on a sunny evening.

Conwy Castle, Wales

It has not been an easy journey or an accepted language until now. Norman invasions, English monarchs – particularly Edward I, Henry VIII, and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I – and subsequently, the English Parliament have fought against the Welsh language. Following Henry VIII’s Act of Union in 1536, the Welsh language was banned in many settings, such as legal proceedings.

Religion v. Welsh

Medieval Wales was a Catholic country, so in 1563, Parliament passed an act to translate the Scriptures into Welsh, hoping to spread Protestantism from England. In the 1570s, a Welsh translation of the Old Testament joined the earlier translations of the New Testament and Book of Common Prayer. At a time when the use of the Welsh language was prohibited everywhere except religion, the use of the language in the Church ensured its survival. But the battle for Welsh did not end there.

“Welsh Not”

Determined to continue to quash the language, the English Parliament tried to stop the language young by introducing the ‘Welsh Not’ program in 1847. Children speaking Welsh at school were forced to wear a wooden plaque around their necks etched with the letters WN (Welsh Not). The teacher distributed the plaque throughout the day as they heard Welsh spoken. The last person wearing the plaque at the end of the school day was severely punished.

Welsh Language in the Twentieth Century

In 1922, Ifan ab Owen Edwards created the Urdd Gobaith Cymru, an establishment to protect the Welsh language. They encouraged the young people of Wales to produce stories, songs, and poems in their native tongue. Today, the group continues as a National Voluntary Youth Organisation. Tragically, Welsh was almost lost entirely during the Second World War when over 20,000 Welsh speakers lost their lives.

The Revival of the Welsh Language

Train station sign showing the longest place name in Wales, and Europe - llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

The longest name in Europe.

A huge turnaround for the Welsh language came in 1962, led by Welsh politician Saunders Lewis. Lewis oversaw the establishment of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith (Welsh Language Society). The Society fought and won the right to produce Acts requiring road signs, all official documents, and public education to become bilingual, as well as establishing the Welsh Radio and TV Channel, S4C. The Welsh language has not looked back since, and to this day, it continues to strengthen.

The language, famous for having a village with the longest name in Europe, will live on despite its complex history and seemingly endless battles. (Curious to know what that village name is? Keep reading below).

Useful Welsh Words & Phrases

Geiriau Cymraeg

Pronunciation: gear-ee-ay come-rye
Meaning: Welsh Words

Cwtch

Pronunciation: Coo-ch(as in cheese)
Meaning: Cuddle. There is a famous saying – “anyone can cuddle but only the Welsh can Cwtch”.

Bore Da

Pronunciation: boh-ray-daah
Meaning: Good morning

Prynhawn Da

Pronunciation: prin-ha-oon-daah
Meaning: Good afternoon

Hwyl

Pronunciation: hoo-ale
Meaning: Goodbye

Iechyd Da

Pronunciation: yeah-chid-daah
Meaning: Cheers – Literally, good health

Bwrw hen wragedd â ffyn

Pronunciation: boo-roo hen rag-eth aa-fin
Meaning: It’s raining old ladies and sticks – to describe a really heavy rainstorm

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgog-
erychwyrndrobwllllanty-
siliogogogoch

Pronunciation: lan-fer-pwl-gin-gil-go-ger-ick-gin-drob-wil-lan-ti-sileeo-go-go-gok
Meaning: St Mary’s Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel Near to the Rapid Whirlpool of Llantysilio of the Red Cave

Esgusodwch fi

Pronunciation: es-geeh-sod-wch-vee
Meaning: Excuse me

Cenedl heb iaith yw cenedl heb galon

Pronunciation: ken-head-el hib-yay-th eww ken-head-el hib gallon
Meaning: A nation without a language is a nation without a heart

Os gwelwch yn dda

Pronunciation: oss-gwil-wk-een-daah
Meaning: Please

Croeso

Pronunciation: crow-saw
Meaning: Welcome

Y Ddraig Goch

Pronunciation: ugh thr-eye-g gok
Meaning: The red dragon

Diolch yn fawr

Pronunciation: dee-olk in va-oor
Meaning: Thank you very much

Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant Hapus

Pronunciation: dith gool day-wee sant hap-is
Meaning: Happy St David’s Day

Cenin pedr

Pronunciation: ken-een-ped-rr
Meaning: Daffodil – The national flower of Wales

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau

Pronunciation: hen oolad vy had-eye
Meaning: Land of My Fathers

Cenhinen

Pronunciation: ken-hin-hen
Meaning: Leek, the national plant of Wales

Yr Wyddfa

Pronunciation: err with-va
Meaning: Grave. Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales and legend has it that it is the Grave of Rhita Gawr, Rita the Giant, who was buried under a cairn on the summit by King Arthur

Twm Sion Cati

Pronunciation: tomb seeon kat-ee
Meaning: Wales’ very own Robin Hood

Visit Wales

Meet the Author: Lara Turner

I grew up at the foot of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in North Wales and, more often than my father liked, when there was little else to do, I could be found at the summit eating my packed lunch from the young age of 7. Exploring is pretty much all I know and what I live and breathe for, and there’s little I enjoy more than sharing it with others. What better way to share this outstandingly beautiful country than to take people who enjoy nature as much as I do out on Wilderness trips? Not a lot of people know this, but my first language is Welsh, and I still think in Welsh.

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