8. The Welsh Language is not Gaelic.
Welsh belongs to a branch of Celtic, an Indo-European language. (It was a Welshman in India in the 18th century, Sir William Jones who noticed the similarities between Welsh and Sanskrit and thus pioneered the later research into the families of European languages.) In heavily populated areas of Wales, such as the Southeast (containing the large urban centers of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea) the normal language of everyday life is English, but there are other areas, notably in the Western and Northern regions (Gwynedd and Dyfed particularly) where the Welsh language remains strong and highly visible.
The Welsh people themselves are descendants of the Galatians, to whom Paul wrote his famous letter. Their language is a distant cousin to Irish and Scots Gaelic and a close brother to Breton. Despite being widely spoken in the British Isles at one time, because the Anglo-Saxon conquest was so thorough and took so very long, the native British language was exterminated in many areas and very few words were adopted into English. (Surviving examples are coomb, coracle, eisteddfod, cromlech, avon, avalon and a few others.) When a conquest is quickly achieved, such as the Norman Conquest of England, the native tongue survives even if the official language of the royal court and the judiciary changes. This didn't happen during the centuries of warfare with the Saxon invaders when the native Brythonic language disappeared from most of lowland Britain.
The Anglo-Saxons called the native peoples "brittas" and "brittisch" as well as "walas" or "wealas." The latter terms denoting foreigners or those who spoke the Celtic languages. (Ref: Walloons, Wallachians). However, the Welsh people called themselves Cymry as well as Brythoniaid. The Welsh word for their country is Cymru (Kumree) the land of the Comrades; the people are known as Cymry (Kumree) and the language as Cymraeg (Kumrige).
Despite the increasing Anglicization of their lands, it is believed that there may be more speakers of Welsh than of any other surviving Celtic tongue. (Manx as a living language disappeared just after World War II; Cornish in the latter part of the 18th century; Scottish Gaelic is confined to limited areas of the Western Highlands and the Hebrides; Irish to the enclave known as the Gaeltecht; and Breton hanging on as a tongue of the old people, given little or no encouragement from the authorities in Paris).
Welsh is still used by about half a million people within Wales and possibly another few hundred thousand in England and other areas overseas. Welsh speaking people are still finding it difficult to get equality with English. Only be grudgingly has the language lately been recognized by the Parliament at Westminster. It was not until 1967 that the Welsh Language Act made special reference to the use of Welsh in legal proceedings and on official forms. The Gittins Report of 1967 recommended that every child in Wales be given the opportunity to become reasonably bilingual by the end of the primary stage, a recommendation put into effect in the 1990's.
Long before the Anglo-Saxon invasions of Britain, the Celtic languages had branched into p-Celtic, which developed into Welsh, Cornish and Breton; and the q-Celtic tongues, which developed into the Gaelic languages of Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland. Speakers of Welsh cannot understand speakers of Irish or Scots Gaelic and nor, without extensive study, are they able to read Gaelic. Though we might expect to find a common vocabulary, especially in words that deal with basic commodities or geographical terms, there is very little correspondence. To put it simply and emphatically, Welsh is not Gaelic.
Yet some similarities can be readily found: the Irish Inishmore is immediately recognizable to a Welsh speaker as ynys mawr (big island). Similarly tra can be recognized as traeth (beach); muir as mor (sea); gleann as glan (valley); aimsir as amser (weather in Irish, time in Welsh); go breagh as braf (fine); gabhar as gafr (goat); mhoin as mawn (peat); tarbh as tarw (bull); cearc as cyw (hen); eala as alarch (swan); cais as caws (cheese); vaineoil as oen (lamb) glas as glas (blue or green); dubh as du (black); bidh as bwyd (food); Nollaig as Nadolig (Christmas); ainm as enw (name); muc as moch (pigs); lan (full) as llawn; and mor (big) as mawr. There don't seem to be too many more. It would be nice to report that Welsh had a word for water similar to the Irish uisge (pr: Whisky), but dwr doesn't come close, either in taste, effect or spelling.
Similarities are also found in the use of mutations. For example, Irish tir (land) mutates to mo thir (my land); Welsh tir (land) mutates to fy nhir (my land); Irish bean (woman) to an bhean (the woman); Welsh menyw (woman) to y fenyw (the woman); Irish ceann (head) becomes mo cheann (my head): Welsh pen (head) becomes fy mhen (my head). It is the Irish c and the Welsh p that distinguish them as p-Celtic and q-Celtic languages.
Despite its formidable appearance to the uninitiated, Welsh is a language whose spelling is entirely regular and phonetic, so that once you know the rules, you can learn to read it and pronounce it without too much difficulty. Its seven vowels include y and w (which are also used as vowels in English though usually listed under consonants). For young children learning to read, Welsh provides far fewer difficulties than does learning English. The latter's many inconsistencies in spelling are not found in Welsh, in which all letters are pronounced. Gaelic, however, is altogether another matter (as Irish and Scottish schoolchildren who have to study the language will tell you).
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