Appendix:Welsh mutations

Welsh, like all modern Celtic languages, is characterized by its initial consonant mutations. These mutations affect the initial consonant of a word under specific morphological and syntactic conditions. The mutations are an important tool in understanding the relationship between two words and can differentiate various meanings.

Welsh uses three mutations on consonants: the soft mutation (segment becomes voiced/lenites), the nasal mutation (segment becomes nasal), and the aspirate mutation (also called spirant mutation). Words beginning with a vowel are subject to h-prothesis under certain circumstances. Some sources consider h-prothesis of vowels to be a form of aspirate mutation, but since the environments of the two mutations are different, it is preferable to consider h-prothesis and aspiration two different mutations.

The unmutated form, i.e. the “basic” form that dictionary entries are listed under, is known as the radical.

Soft mutation edit

Effects of the soft mutation edit

When under soft mutation, radical consonants lenite to voiced and/or fricative segments (/v ð/), as shown below:

Radical Soft mutation
p /p/ b /b/
b /b/ f /v/
m /m/ f /v/
t /t/ d /d/
d /d/ dd /ð/
ll /ɬ/ l /l/
rh /r̥/ r /r/
c /k/ g /ɡ/
g /ɡ/ ∅ (deleted)
ts /t͡ʃ/ j /d͡ʒ/

† – the mutation of Welsh tsj is only found in the colloquial language and will not be found in the literary register. It is found only in loanwords from English, i.e. chips is rendered as tsips in Welsh and with the mutated form jips – for example, mae gen i jips.

All other Welsh consonants do not change under the soft mutation.

Environments of the soft mutation edit

Soft mutation occurs in an enormous number of very different environments in Welsh. The following list is representative but not exhaustive.

After certain determiners edit

The definite article y, yr, ’r triggers soft mutation of a feminine noun or adjective in the singular:

In nouns, ll and rh never undergo soft mutation after the article, although they do in adjectives:

  • y llysywen (the eel), although llysywen is feminine singular
  • i’r rhyd (to the ford), although rhyd is feminine singular
  • y lonnaf (the happiest one) (referring to a feminine singular noun)

The possessive pronouns of the 2nd person singular (dy, ’th) and 3d person masculine singular (ei, ’i, ’w) trigger soft mutation:

Nouns undergo soft mutation after pa (which?), sut (what kind of?), and ychydig (a little, few):

  • Pa ddewis sydd gan ddyn? (What choice does a person have?)
  • Sut fagwraeth gâi fy wyrion i? (What kind of upbringing would my grandchildren have?)
  • ychydig gariad (a little love)

After a predicate particle edit

The predicate particle yn triggers soft mutation of a noun or adjective, except ll and rh do not undergo soft mutation here:

  • Rwy’n ddyn rhesymol (I am a reasonable man)
  • Roedd y caffi’n wag (The café was empty)
  • byddai’n rhaid (it would be necessary)
  • Yr oeddem ninnau’r plant yn llygaid ac yn glustiau i gyd (We children were all eyes and ears)

The verb form sydd, sy triggers soft mutation of a predicate noun or adjective:

  • hynny sydd orau (that is best)

After certain prepositions edit

After certain adverbs edit

  • mor deg (so fair)
  • cyn wynned â’r eira (as white as snow)
  • gorau po gyntaf (the sooner the better)
  • croeso go gam (a somewhat cool welcome)
  • dynes hollol wahanol (an entirely different woman)
  • Roedd yntau’n rhy wan i frwydro’n ôl (He was too weak to fight back)
  • pur dda (quite good)

There is no soft mutation of ll and rh after cyn (as), mor (so) and pur (quite):

After certain preverbal particles edit

  • Mi a rodiaf (I shall walk)
  • y dreth a basiwyd yn 1693 (the tax that was passed in 1693)
  • A wrthodwn yr abwyd? (Will we refuse the bait?)
  • Pwy all roi cyngor i mi? (Who can give me advice?)
  • Beth ddigwyddod i’r côr? (What happened to the choir?)
  • Fe ddywed John Davies... (John Davies says...)
  • Mi garwn ymhelaethu arno yn y fan yma (I would like to enlarge upon it here)
  • Ni feiddiai wnïo na gwau ar y Sul (she did not dare to sew or knit on Sunday)
  • Na feddylier na welsom chwarae llachar gan Bontypridd (Don’t think that we didn’t see some sparkling play by Pontypridd.)
  • Oni ddylem ofyn pam... (should we not ask why...)

Note: ni, na, and oni trigger aspirate mutation of p, t, c and soft mutation of all other mutable consonants. This is known as mixed mutation.

After certain conjunctions edit

  • dyn neu fenyw (man or woman)
  • Ni wyddwn pa un ai chwerthin ynteu grio yr oedd (I didn’t know if he was laughing or crying)
  • Fe fu amser pan fyddai drysau trên yn cael ei hagor i chi (There had been a time when train doors would be opened for you)
  • Mae naw mlynedd er pan gawson ni ddillad newydd (It’s nine years since we had new clothes)

Between nouns and their modifiers edit

After certain numbers

Feminine nouns only are mutated after un (one; same), but in nouns ll and rh are not (though they are in adjectives):

  • un ferch (one girl)
  • yr un gath (the same cat)
  • un llaw (one hand)
  • un ryfedd (a strange one) (referring to a feminine singular noun)

When un means “similar” it triggers soft mutation of both masculine and feminine nouns in the singular:

After dau/dwy (two) and ail (second), both feminine and masculine nouns are mutated:

After other ordinal numbers, only feminine nouns are mutated:

After preposed adjectives

An attributive adjective usually follows its noun in Welsh, but when the noun follows the adjective, it undergoes soft mutation.

An exception is cyntaf (first), which does not trigger soft mutation, and other preposed superlative adjectives do not necessarily trigger it.

The second part of a compound
  • hafddydd (summer’s day)
  • hwylbren (mast, literally sail-tree)

There is no soft mutation of ll and rh after n and r:

  • gwinllan (vineyard, literally wine-yard")
Attributive adjectives after a feminine singular noun

Exception: d does not mutate to dd after s, e.g. nos da (goodnight).

Nouns in a genitive construction after a feminine singular noun

This rule is applied sporadically in the case of proper names, and Gŵyl Dewi is also found.

Attributive adjectives after a proper name when used as an epithet

There are many exceptions to this rule, e.g. Rhodri Mawr (Rhodri the Great)

Numbers following a plural noun for literary effect

Soft mutation without a trigger in the same phrase edit

The direct object of a finite verb, including wele (behold), dyma (here is), dyna (there is)
  • dyma fwrdd (here is a table)
  • Codais goler fy nghôt (I raised the collar of my coat)
  • Cafodd e lwyddiant nodedig (He had a notable success)
The equative used exclamatorily
  • Fyrred yw bywyd! (How short life is!)
Various nouns and adjectives used adverbially
  • Mae hi’n aros gyda ni fynychaf. (She stays with us usually (most frequently))
  • Nid yw ef gartref lawer (He’s not home much)
  • Mae e’n galw yma bob dydd (He calls here every day)
  • Ddim o gwbl! (Not at all!)
  • Ymwelodd droeon â Gwenfô (He visited Wenvoe many times)
  • ddeunaw mis yn ôl (eighteen months ago)
  • gwych ryfeddol (amazingly splendid)
A noun in apposition to a noun or pronoun
Nouns in the vocative
  • Darllenwch hwnna, gyfaill (Read that, friend)
Forms of bod (to be) starting with b- after a stylistically fronted predicate
  • Crwydryn fu Gwilym (William was a wanderer)
  • Ofer fai ceisio... (It would be vain to try...)
Verbs expressing an opinion or belief used parenthetically
  • Ŷn ni’n cerdded i gyfeiriad y dwyrain, debyga i (We’re walking eastward, I believe)
A verb at the beginning of a question or negated sentence (colloquial language)
  • Ddoi di acw i swper? (Will you come here for supper?)
  • Wnes i ddim byd na ddylwn i (I did not do anything I ought not to have done)

Negated sentences take the mixed mutation, so p t c undergo aspirate mutation, not soft mutation, here. In questions, all mutable consonants undergo soft mutation.

A word after an interpolated prepositional phrase (including a conjugated preposition) or adverb
  • Mae yn yr ardd gi (There is in the garden a dog)
  • Gwyddo iddo gael ei eni yn gymharol olygus (He knew that he had been born fairly good-looking)

Nasal mutation edit

Effects of nasal mutation edit

A voiceless stop becomes a voiceless nasal, while a voiced stop becomes a voiced nasal.

Radical Nasal mutation
p /p/ mh /m̥/
b /b/ m /m/
t /t/ nh /n̥/
d /d/ n /n/
c /k/ ngh /ŋ̊/
g /ɡ/ ng /ŋ/

The other consonants and the vowels do not change under nasal mutation.

Environments of nasal mutation edit

After the determiner fy edit

The possessive determiner fy (my) triggers nasal mutation:

  • fy nghar (my car)
  • Dw i wedi fy mrifo (I have hurt myself)

Colloquially, fy may be reduced to ’y or deleted altogether (but still marked with an apostrophe); in both cases, the nasal mutation remains:

  • Diolch am ’y nhynnu i allan (Thanks for pulling me out)
  • Huw, nghariad i (Huw, my love)

After the preposition yn (in) edit

The preposition yn assimilates to ym before a bilabial consonant and to yng before a velar consonant.

  • yn nyfnder gaeaf (in the depths of winter)
  • ym mhoced ei gôt (in the pocket of his coat)
  • yng Nghymru (in Wales)

Certain time words after certain numbers edit

The words blynedd (year), blwydd (years old), and diwrnod (day) undergo nasal mutation after the numbers pum (5), saith (7), wyth (8), naw (9), deng (10), deuddeng (12), pymtheng (15), deunaw (18), ugain (20), can (100), and their compound forms.

Blynedd and blwydd also undergo nasal mutation after un (one) in composite numerals (i.e. where another number follows the noun to complete the meaning):

In most cases, only nouns (including verbal nouns) can undergo nasal mutation. The only exception is adjectives that are placed before the noun they modify:

  • fy mhrif ddiddordeb (my main interest)
  • yn dy ddwylo (in your hands) (no mutation of the possessive determiner dy)

Aspirate mutation edit

Effects of the aspirate mutation edit

Under aspirate mutation, voiceless plosives become voiceless fricatives:

Radical Aspirate mutation
p /p/ ph /f/
t /t/ th /θ/
c /k/ ch /χ/

The other consonants do not change under the aspirate mutation.

Vowel-initial words are sometimes said to undergo aspirate mutation by adding a prothetic h, but since the environments are different for vowels than for consonants, h-prothesis will be discussed separately below.

Environments of the aspirate mutation edit

After certain modifiers edit

The possessive determiner ei/’i (her) (also i’w (to her)) triggers aspirate mutation:

  • ei thad (her father)
  • a’i phlant (and her children)
  • i’w thŷ (to her house)
  • Nid oes yma neb i’w chlywed (There is no one here to hear her)

The numerals tri (three) and chwe (six) trigger aspirate mutation:

  • tri thŷ (three houses)
  • chwe chath (six cats)

The adverb tra (very) triggers aspirate mutation:

  • cylchgrawn tra phwysig (a very important journal)

After certain preverbal particles edit

  • Ni chymerodd Tom ei gyngor (Tom did not take his advice)
  • Na chuddia fy ngwaed (Do not cover my blood)

Note: ni and na trigger aspirate mutation of p, t, c and soft mutation of all other mutable consonants. This is known as mixed mutation. The particle ni may be omitted, but the aspirate mutation remains:

  • Chododd o mo’i ben o’r croesair (He did not raise his head from the crossword)

After certain conjunctions edit

  • llyfrau a phamffledi (books and pamphlets)
  • mor hen â phechod ei hun (as old as sin itself)
  • Bydd yn haws na phaentio’r wal (It will be easier than painting the wall)
  • o cherwch fi, cedwch fy ngorchmynion (If ye love me, keep my commandments)
  • Ni fwytâf hyd oni thraethwyf fy negesau (I will not eat until I have told my errands)

After certain prepositions edit

  • tua phum punt ar hugain (about twenty-five pounds)
  • Gyda chynifer o gystadleuwyr, y mae’n anodd iawn bod yn bendant ynglyn â threfn teilyngdod y cerddi (With so many competitors, it is very difficult to arrange the poems strictly in order of merit)

H-prothesis edit

H-prothesis is the addition of h to a word starting with a vowel (including i when pronounced /j/).

The possessive determiners and infixed pronouns ’m (my, me), ei/’i (her) (also i’w (to her)), ein/’n (our, us), and eu/’u (their, them) trigger h-prothesis:

  • i’m henaid (to my soul)
  • fe’m hysgogwyd (I was impelled)
  • Edrychodd ar ei horiawr (She looked at her watch)
  • Saesneg oedd ei hiaith gyntaf (English was her first language)
  • a’i harian (and her money)
  • i’w henw (to her name)
  • Mae e wedi’i hosgoi (He has avoided her)
  • ein heglwys (our church)
  • y mae hyn yn ein hatgoffa o’r syniad (this reminds us of the idea)
  • o’n henwau (from our names)
  • Fe fu amser pan fyddai drysau trên yn eu hagor i chi (There was a time when train doors would be opened for you)
  • Cwynent am eu blinder a’u hafiechyd (They complained of their weariness and their illness)

When ’i precedes a verb form as its direct object, it triggers h-prothesis even when it’s masculine singular:

  • Bu farw Morgan fis Medi 1604 ac fe’i holynwyd gan Richard Parry (Morgan died in September 1604 and he was succeeded by Richard Parry)

The preposition ar (on) triggers h-prothesis of ugain (twenty) in complex numerals:

  • un ar hugain (twenty-one)
  • saith ceffyl ar hugain (twenty-seven horses)

References edit

  • Thorne, David A. (1993) A Comprehensive Welsh Grammar. Oxford: Blackwell. →ISBN.