Connections with other languages


Right – here’s a quick one: when I was going on the weekend in Bethesda with Cymdeithas yr Iaith, I invested in some ear-plugs in case anyone else snored, and some of those stick-on nose-strips in case I did. But I had trouble remembering the difference between snoring (chwyrnu) and vomiting (chwydu). So to try to get things straight I looked up ‘snore’ in the GPC, and found rhwncian, or the noun rhwnc.

Snoring seems to be something else the Welsh picked up from the Romans: the Portuguese, Spanish, Occitan and Catalan words for rhwncian are all roncar, and there’s an Italian dialect word roncare; the Catalan for rhwnc is ronc :slight_smile:


Must have been those Roman noses… :wink:


One pattern that I’ve been thinking about for a few days now is where Welsh has an h- in place of an earlier s-. I tried looking it up in various places, but couldn’t find much on it – books and online sources just seem to say “s becomes h in early Brittonic” without being entirely clear as to whether that’s only at the beginning of words (like initial mutations), or why there seem to be so many exceptions to it, but anyway…

So many of us will already know that Halen Môn is salt from Anglesey, and that halen is saline; and Greek does the same thing (a shape with six sides is a hexagon), so the gases in headlight bulbs that ‘give birth to salts’ are halogens.

But one that I kind of knew, but had sort of forgotten, came up the other day: I saw a reference to a book on Old Irish (Hen Wyddeleg) that’s called Sengoidelc, and I went :bulb: hen - sen - Oh, OK, hen as in senior (signore), senate (Senedd), senility :slight_smile: And now I come to think of it, Tolkien describing Welsh as “the senior language of the men of Britain” was probably a deliberate, donnish pun…

And then another one came up: sedd means ‘a seat’, from the same root as English ‘sit, seat’, and I don’t know why it hasn’t changed, but it may be partly due to the influence of related words like Gorsedd where the -s- wasn’t at the start of the word. But then it turns out that it did change as well, after all, because hedd as in ‘peace’ is actually from the same word – like saying ‘settled’ in English (or, as any parent or teacher knows, “alright you lot, settle down”).

And then another one came up, when further up this thread @stephenbranley asked about dyfalu – I looked it up in the GPC and it sent me to a word hafal, meaning ‘similar’, which is apparently related both to Welsh fel as in ‘like’ and, with the usual changes, Latin similis which is where we get ‘similar’ from. (And therefore also English ‘same’.) By now it’s all getting a bit recherché again, but I might remember the word hafal.

What else can we think of? Hafren - Severn, of course; and now I’ve just looked to see if haf is related to ‘summer’ (spoiler: apparently it is) to find that the Kurdish word for haf is havîn :smile:

Any more?


Oh yes – haul and ‘sol-’ as in ‘solar power’.


Beat me to it! :slight_smile:


just throwing this into the mix, because I think it’s relevant to the s to h discussion - when did halstatt get named and why not salstatt, like salzburg?

Hallstatt is known for its production of salt, dating back to prehistoric times, and gave its name to the Hallstatt culture, the archaeological culture linked to Proto-Celtic and early Celtic people of the Early Iron Age in Europe, c.800–450 BC.


The only Hebrew word I know of that’s made it into Welsh is Wlpan, which means “learning” or “studio” in Hebrew, and is also the name given to the classroom method of teaching a language largely in the language being taught, with the emphasis on ready-to-use-in-the-wild, colloquial language, with little or no grammar. The method has been adopted in Wales - successfully, I believe - and seems to be the basis for SSiW.
Any lingo fans out there know any more semitic-celtic connections?


Ooh – intriguing possibility! I have honestly no idea, and chasing up etymologies of place-names isn’t always as straightforward as ordinary words, because they don’t make it into ordinary dictionaries and grammars. I wonder…

ETA: Etymonline reckons the name means ‘place of salt’, so they think you’re bang on the money, but that doesn’t answer your question as to when and why.


I’ve always been led to believe that Wlpan was the only direct borrowing from Modern Hebrew into Modern Welsh, although of course there’ll be plenty of weirdly indirect ones via Latin, Greek, and English that ultimately go back to Biblical Hebrew. I think my favourite of those (because so unexpected) is probably seidr ‘cider’ – apparently via English from Old French sidre, from a form like Old Spanish sizra, from Latin sicera, via Greek σίκερα, from Hebrew shekar ‘strong drink’! (Leastways, that’s what the OED says…)


Following your lead - you may want to look up hir and hiraeth as well - they fit your description nicely.


Ah - the GPC links hir ‘long’ to Latin serus ‘late’, as in Italian buona sera or ‘serenade’ :slight_smile:


Just to throw in a curveball - was early latin actually a celtic language?


More salt! @RichardBuck @Toffidil (if anyone would like to attempt a translation…)

And in any case…I had to learn Welsh to learn the etymology of sera! :open_mouth:


It was surprising how much I could understand, just by guessing, without resorting to google and I’ve never tried to learn Italian before. So he’s saying salt and plough words - hal/sal/sale and aradr/aratro etc are markers of European languages, remnants of early agriculture - not present in Indo-iranian, but are present in Armenian and Tocharian etc.

Some believe that languages migrated solely from the East/middle East/Turkey or Caucasus (the Kurgan hypothesis). Others think it’s mixed with an additional migration of other groups from the atlantic coast eastwards, because the celtic elements in Iberia arguably pre-date celtic cultures in central Europe.

I like these conundrums and all the controversial elements that go with them.


Right! :slight_smile:

The only strange conclusion he draws from the fact that Indo-iranian do not have a word for salt is:
since they ate mostly meat, they did not use/need salt. :thinking:
I always knew that meat and fish eaters preserving food was even more of an issue that agriculture-based people; and salt was certainly one very important resource.
But after all he seems a total academic bookworm, not a gourmet! :laughing:


That does sound odd, unless they just dried it, like pemmican:

Totally unrelated, but just for fun:

“A wonderful bird is the Pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belly can.
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week!
But I’ll be darned if I know how the hellican?”


Well, looking at the evolution of languages is like looking at the evolution of life-forms (in fact, Darwin actually drew inspiration from the reconstruction of Indo-European, and says so in The Origin of Species). So you get to define a particular group (dinosaurs, say) by shared innovations or apomorphies (some dinosaurs evolved a wishbone; all birds have wishbones; birds are descended from and technically a sub-group of dinosaurs).

So there are certain features that are common just to the Italic and Celtic languages – for example, passive verbs ending in -r – but then there are others that are shared only by the Celtic languages, such as loss of original p- (Irish athair versus pater, pitah, pedar, ‘father’; llawn versus Latin plenus ‘full’, Orkneys not Porkneys, etc.).

That makes the Celtic languages a sub-group that doesn’t include Latin: if you wanted, and had good enough arguments for the Italo-Celtic hypothesis, then I s’pose you could probably decide to call them all Celtic (Greater Celtic?), but then you’d still wind up having to distinguish between Celtic-Celtic and Italic-Celtic…

On the other hand, fun fact: just as there are P- and Q-Celtic, there were P- and Q-Italic languages: Irish ceathair and Latin quattuor vs Welsh pedwar and Oscan (or Umbrian, I forget) petiro- :slight_smile:


Oh, that’s interesting. I had never heard of pemmican!

Well, sure they could dry (or smoke) meat and fish. However it’s still strange that the Italian linguist specifies that people who had agriculture “also ate beans, that they seasoned with salt” (not sure bean is the best translation for “legumi” but that’s the only one I found).

Beans are usually dried to preserve them and are one of the few foods I can think of, that should not be cooked with salt (until the very end).

I suspect the professor thinks doesn’t like vegetables and beans - and thinks that the only way to make them edible is adding lots of salt! :rofl:


Legumes in English are beans and peas - protein-rich vegetable crops that fix nitrogen and so replenish the soil. In cooking terms, the usual English word for beans, chickpeas, etc. is ‘pulses’.
But légumes in French are just vegetables.

My Italian is almost wholly passive, so I think I read the article with my French=foreign head on, and assumed he meant vegetables in general - does it actually mean pulses?


Legumi in Italian is just the protein-rich ones, not vegetables in general. In fact it’s one of the most common mistakes we do in France and viceversa (they have légumes and légumineuses that’s a bit confusing anyway!)

I have never heard legumi for vegetables here, not even in the oldest cooking books, and the fact that the professor mentions vegetali in another paragraph makes me guess he makes a difference but…who knows if he really meant pulses or not!