Connections with other languages


So here’s one I came across today: I was reading one of the lives in Straeon Nos Da i Bob Rebel o Ferch (Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls) – that of the 17th-18th century naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian – and it kept mentioning glöynnod byw. I was pretty sure from context that they had something to do with insects, but in the end (sorry @aran!) I’m afraid I had to look them up in the GPC – to discover that it’s another word for ‘butterflies’.

But this led me in various interesting directions. For a start, the singular glöyn, with its slightly weird spelling, turns out to be one of those making-a-mass-noun-into-a-singular endings (like pluen or aderyn or coeden) added onto glo ‘coal’, so these butterflies are ‘living coals’. And then the dictionary says that they used to be glöynnod Duw – ‘God’s coals’ – until about the 18th century, when the growth of religious feeling in Wales led to increasing disapproval of the use of Duw outside of specifically religious contexts.

But that had me thinking about whether there was a better English word for a ‘live coal’, since glöyn Duw clearly means a live coal of God, not a little black lump, but you’ve already used up the word ‘live’ in your English version of glöyn byw. And then I thought of ‘glede’, and started looking up English etymologies as well, and going down rabbit-holes of Indo-European reconstructions, and so on.

It seems that there are a couple of different relevant reconstructed Indo-European roots, and my knowledge is not such that I can say for sure whether or not those roots are themselves related, or just happen to look like each other (I suspect the former). But in many ways the fact that I’ve got these irretrievably tangled up in my head doesn’t really matter (not even to me!), because it probably still helps to give me more hooks to hang my Welsh vocabulary on, which is the main point.

So one root, which is cited by Wiktionary under the form ǵhel-, apparently means something like ‘bright, shining’, and probably underlies Welsh glas ‘blue’ as well as (according to the GPC) glo ‘coal’ and English ‘glass’, ‘glow’, ‘glede/gleed’, ‘yellow’, and ‘gold’ – the latter etymologically just ‘the yellow metal’ in Germanic: the Welsh aur seems to be the proper word for it :slight_smile:

And then the other, cited as ǵhley- – which looks to me suspiciously like a variant of the preceding, with an extra -y- added – also apparently meaning ‘shining’ – gives us gloyw and related words (including Caerloyw) which was one of @catrinlliarjones’ Geiriau y Diwrnod a while back, as well as English ‘gleam’ and ‘glint’. And perhaps (according to Wiktionary, if not the GPC) also Welsh trylwyn – ‘swift, skilful, bright, splendid’.


So when @Toffidil posted above the link to Welsh words with links to other languages, one word I noticed on the list there was swydd, apparently from Latin sēdes ‘a seat’, which it says is also the source of an English bishop’s ‘see’.

This jumped out at me because I was already thinking about hedd and sedd, but also because it reminded me of another word where Welsh -wy- goes back to a Latin -ē-rhwyd ‘net’, from Latin rēte: the ‘retina’ is so called, as I understand it, from the network of blood vessels visible all over it when they take photographs of it for you at the opticians; red is Spanish for a net or network, and rede Portuguese for a fishing net, the internet, or a hammock.

So then I was wondering if there were any other words where this happened, and I went back and looked up hwyr again in the GPC: sure enough, hwyr corresponds perfectly to Latin sērus ‘late’, only the GPC can’t quite decide whether it’s native Welsh (as the h- on the start suggests) or borrowed from Latin ('cos of the -wy-).

And then, elsewhere on the forum, @JohnYoung asked about Gwenhwyseg, and I came across the word Gwennwys for ‘people of Gwent’, and I suddenly realized it sounded like the Latin ending that gets used for areas or people in other languages: it comes out as -ès in Catalan (Penedès) and -és in Occitan (Agenés); -ais or -ois in French (Béarnaise, Biterrois); -ese in Italian (Milanese) etc. So I looked up -wys in the GPC, and found ‘people from a given region’, borrowed from Latin -ēnsēs, e.g. Gwennwys, Lloegrwys, Monwys. And then I remembered @brynle asking about Powys, and checked that: apparently Powys comes from pagēnsis, although they seem to think that doesn’t necessarily imply the inhabitants are all pagans…

And then I was trying to think of any other Latin words in -ē- or -ēn- that might link to Welsh words in -wy-, and I finally remembered what @louis said about cynnwys coming from condens-.

Now, can we think of any others, I wonder?

ETA: D’oh! Eglwys < ecclēsia, of course! Any more for any more?




@RichardBuck @Toffidil
One of the first things that impressed me about Welsh is that you can learn present tense + one form of past (wedi) + one of future (mynd) of a whole lot of verbs in a snap .
In Italian it would take at least 6 months to reach the same level, so I thought: “Luckily not much latin influence here!” :sweat_smile:

However when we got to another past tense (I see it’s called preterite), I appreciated the fact that at least the conjugation was almost the same as passato remoto of leggere in Italian.
As usual, especially for the sound, because that’s all I knew at the time.
So for example:
nes i - lessi
nest i - leggesti
neith e/hi - lesse
naethon ni - leggemmo (this doesn’t sound so similar, although the written ae does remind of latin)
naetoch chi - leggeste (this is very different - no ch sound in Italian, but still ae)
naethon nhw - lessero (this again, not too similar, but similar to conjugation of another “family” of verbs: amarono, impararono).

I admit I didn’t try to find out more about it, but since here there’s quite a few very active researchers, I’m throwing it into the arena and see what happens! :wink:

@Baruch - I can certainly recognize ysgol but can’t catch ysbety!


ysbyty = hospital.


Oh I wasn’t able to recognize that.

However it reminded me there’s more I can _hear_within the Welsh words:


This is something I try to impress upon people who say “Isn’t Welsh really hard?!” when I tell them I’m learning it. No! It’s a lot easier in some ways than any other European language I’ve tried! Ignoring mutations (not that they’re really very hard) you can learn various present, perfect, past, future and conditional tenses without conjugating any verbs apart from bod and gwneud:

Dw i’n mynd
Dw i wedi mynd
Wnes i fynd
Wna i fynd
O’n i’n mynd
Bydda i’n mynd
Baswn i’n mynd

I’m not sure I can do all of those in French, and I’ve been learning that for YEARS longer than Welsh! This is why I think we ought to teach Welsh in schools in England!


Ooh, now that turns out to be slightly more complicated than I realized. I’d always just kind of assumed it was from the Latin for ‘hospital’, with the ending being influenced by as in all those words like gwesty, llety, bragdy, modurdy – and then I was wondering if the lack of an h- (when Welsh generally has no problem with initial h-) maybe said something about the pronunciation of Latin when it was borrowed.

But according to the GPC, the actual borrowing was from Latin hospes, plural hospitēs ‘guest’, giving (dated? obsolete?) Welsh osb and the irregular-even-by-the-standards-of-Welsh plural esbyd. So ysbyty is apparently from esbyd + tŷ :slight_smile:


Well, some of this is indubitably chance – for instance, the fact that including the Welsh pronouns (but not the Italian ones) helps them to sound more alike – but I’m not complaining: if it makes it easier for those forms to stick in your head, and come out when you need them, it’s all good.
But it’s not all chance: I’ve just spent a bewildering hour or so trying to fathom the early Celtic forms without accidentally learning any Old Irish while I’m at it, and the thing I came away with was that the Welsh past/preterite and the Latin perfect (for forms like vīxī from vīvere) go back ultimately to the old Indo-European ‘s-preterite’. So, yeah – there is a family resemblance :slight_smile:

While I was at it I came across another couple of words with -wy- from Latin -ē-, though: bwyst as in bwystfil ‘beast’ is indeed Latin bēstia, and pwys as in pwysig ‘weight’/‘important’ comes from pēnsum, which gives us French poids, Catalan pes, and Italian peso. It’s more distantly linked to English ‘pensive’, ‘pendulum’, and ‘depend’ (dibynnu), as well as to ‘pound’ (punt).


I’ve been trying unsuccessfully so far to see if there may be a link between the celto-iberian particle “Kue”, (KwE) which crops up all the time in inscriptions like the Botorrita inscriptions to Welsh wedi, formerly gwedi and before that spelled guetig in the 8th century. I’m just following a hunch and wondering if theres anything to suggest it could be a completed form of Kue, but not getting anywhere, so maybe not. Kue has been linked to latin “que” and is intriguing in itself.

If you read the Bottorita insciption with modern welsh pronunciations for the letters it sounds very poetic and I keep going back to it for some reason.


I am from a generation of people who “learned” Latin in secondary school, and in an old fashioned way, by being forced to chant out loud verb conjugations (and noun declensions).

And when I first came across conjugated verbs (aka “short form verbs”) in Welsh, I was struck by the similarity (in principle, if not in detail) of them to Latin verb forms. Not that you could take it too far, but at least I felt I was on familiar territory.

I later read somewhere or other (possibly from a “revisionist” type linguist), that when Welsh was being formalised, way back when, and of course being done by people who were familiar with Latin, those people were a little bit over-influenced by the reassuring structure of Latin, and rather tried to structure Welsh in a similar way, whether it fitted in with natural Welsh or not. To put it more crudely, or in more familiar terms: they formalised it within an inch of its life! :slight_smile:

I think this was probably more relevant to literary Welsh than colloquial spoken Welsh.


Something I came across today and never realised before is that the different tenses of the irregular verbs in quite a few languages can come from different sources or even different verbs altogether. The English go has a different etymology to went which comes from the germanic wend and some people up North may actually still use a different past form of go colloquially.

The Welsh “bod” forms Fues i, Fuest ti, Fuodd, fuon etc to me in Welsh, which I think is called the preterite, sounds similar to me to some of the perfect forms of Latin “sum” to be i. e. fui, fuisti, fuit, fuimis etc. OK different endings etc, but look familiar.

The af i tense of mynd seems to link back to a common PIE route for go type words, whereas mynd itself, which I haven’t looked up sounds very unique and perhaps has a different source altogether?

Edit: Found this wiki info on mynd/myned and this suggests different proto-celtic sources for the different tenses:

verbal noun from Middle Welsh mynet , from Proto-Brythonic *moned (compare Cornish mones , Breton mont ), verbal noun of Proto-Celtic *monītor (compare Middle Irish muinithir (“goes around”)), from Proto-Indo-European *menH- (compare Umbrian menes (“will come”), Lithuanian mìnti (“to trample, scutch”)).

Indicative forms from Proto-Celtic *ageti (“to drive”) (compare Old Irish aigid ), from Proto-Indo-European *h₂eǵ- (compare Latin agō ).

The forms in el- are from Proto-Celtic *ɸel- (“to approach, drive”), from Proto-Indo-European *pelh₂- (compare Latin pellō (“strike, drive”), Epic Greek πίλναμαι (pílnamai, “approach”).

and for the English “Go”:

From Middle English gon , goon , from Old English gān (“to go”), from Proto-Germanic *gāną (“to go”), from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰeh₁- (“to leave”). The inherited past tense form yode (compare Old English ēode ) was replaced in the 15th century by went , from Old English wendan (“to go, depart, wend”); this process is called suppletion.

So the English “Go” may go back to an ancient Indo European root that gave Welsh “Gadael”?


Interesting article, but I have to stop him right here:

But in no language are the words for “girl” and “woman” derived from those for “boy” and “man.”

What about dyn and dynes?

Edit: and of course: gwr and gwraig (gwragedd).

And come to think, is he really saying woman is not derived from man?


Good spot - I don’t think Welsh is on his radar.

Also in the colloquial south crwt and croten (or crotes).

and surely either the word woman is derived from the word man or it’s the other way around - how could they possibly have come about independently?.


Yup - originally ‘wife’ + ‘man’, hence the '70s feminist respellings ‘wimmin’ etc. :slight_smile:


Chance discovery a few days ago: pabell ‘tent’ comes from the Latin word for a butterfly – both being things that flap in the wind, I guess. So it’s related to Catalan papallona and French papillon, as well as English ‘pavilion’ (D’oh! should have been obvious), Italian padiglione, and Spanish pabellón.

And I came across a nice one the other day, reading something in Golwg online about a failed bank robbery. It said something about two dynion arfog leaving the bank, and I didn’t know at first what arfog meant. And then I read that heddlu arfog had turned up, but the men got away, and understood: from a combination of context (you know the sort of thing that the news is likely to say) and making a connection to ‘(fire)arm’, arma, I realized both the men and the police were armed.

Now, I imagine a number of people might read that and go ‘oh, armed men, what was your initial difficulty?’ but actually, this is really the kind of thing I meant in starting this thread. Arfog wasn’t part of my active vocabulary (although I suspect I had seen it before), but between context and etymology I was able to figure it out quickly without a dictionary, and with those hooks to hang it on I think I will remember it now.

And then there was something else that come out of the same short report: it said the men dihangodd, which was a word I’d never seen before. But then I thought about the conversation with @JohnYoung about -h- appearing and disappearing in Welsh depending on where the stress is, and realized it must be from dianc (as in y llygaid del 'ma) and that they’d escaped. (Actually, it occurred to me that that’s something that has at least one parallel in the history of English, although you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t do Anglo-Saxon: just as we shift the stress on ‘object’ and ‘record’ etc. when we use them as nouns or verbs, Old Germanic languages tended to do the same. So in Old English you get bēot – a boast/vow, stress on the ‘e’ – from behātan ‘to vow’, stress on the ‘ā’.)

Mind you, I’m not knocking our excursions into more ancient forms – after all, I did once email the GPC (in my dodgy Welsh) to tell them they’d made a typo in one of their Gaulish words – just that I’m not convinced they’ll help me keep my end of the conversation up at the party next year :slight_smile: So, speaking of which…

Absolutely: the verb ‘to be’ is suppletive (a mess) in every Indo-European language I can think of. There are at least a couple of common roots: the one that gives English ‘be’ and Welsh bod, bues i etc. is also in Persian budan and regularly turns into an f- in Latin – hence fui, fuisti, fuit and also futurus – what will be. Then there’s the root es- (I think I’m ignoring a reconstructed laryngeal there, but we’ll cope) that gives Latin sum, es, est and English ‘am, art, is’, which also gives us the ‘s’ of Welsh sydd from ys ydd. English also uses the root wæs- (‘was’/‘were’) which is originally ‘to stay’, and apparently gives us the -os bit of Welsh aros. I’m not sure where the rest of the Welsh forms come from, though!

Apparently so! (And no, I never knew that till you raised the possibility.)

Well, yes, although I suspect that affected how they understood and presented the grammar of the language, more than the actual forms. I’ve got something on a Creole language somewhere, where the verbs are all completely ‘analytic’ i.e. there are no verb endings, you just string together separate particles that tell you the tense and everything is completely regular – like Welsh or English, only even more so. So it’s kind of moen pâler ‘I speak’, moen ca pâler ‘I am speaking’, moen té pâler ‘I spoke’, moen té ca pâler ‘I was speaking’ (me + past + continuous + verb) and so on: other ‘persons’ of the verb are all exactly the same apart from saying ‘you, she, he’ etc. instead of ‘I’ – but the author nonetheless insists on writing out the whole thing as the ‘paradigm of the verb pâler’ or whatever, because that’s how you do Grammar :slight_smile:

I don’t think I’d ever heard of the Bottorita inscription before, and then when you mentioned it I went back to the book I’d been looking other stuff up in and, sure enough, it was discussed there. It looks like kue is just Latin -que as in Senatus PopulusQue Romanus, though: it’s a fairly well-known old Indo-European way of doing ‘and’ that seems to have got… phased out in more modern languages. It’s there in Ancient Greek (-τε) but not Modern; Sanskrit (-ca) but not, I think, Hindi; Gothic (-uh, -h) but not Old English (although it’s still there, fossilised, in Modern English ‘gh’ on the end of ‘though’); and Old Irish (-ch-) although I couldn’t see any sign of it in Welsh.
guetig, on the other hand, was according to the GPC originally guotig with the -o- becoming -e- in anticipation of the following -i- by a process called ‘i affection’ in Celtic (which sounds like something you should see an ophthalmologist about) and ‘i umlaut’ in Germanic. It’s the change that’s responsible for things like bardd/beirdd and ‘man’/‘men’. Apparently the guo- of guotig is the same as the go of go iawn – and the -tig- related to English ‘stick’ (as in sharp and pointy): quite how we get from ‘sub-stick’ to the meaning ‘after’ I have no idea… :smile:


Well, in modern Norwegian at least (and it’s similar in Danish and Swedish), it is almost sensible.

“er” for all persons in the present. “var” for all persons in the simple past.
The infinitive looks a little odd: være (although it’s only a small stretch to see it as a sort of cross between “er” and “var”.

And the perfect tense is formed similar to English, using “have” as an auxiliary, which also is the same for all persons (“har”). Future uses “vil” or “skal” as an auxiliary, so at least English speakers should feel at home.

But I suspect it wasn’t always that simple, and that the sensible Scando’s decided to rationalise it. When you spend so much of the year in darkness, you need to save your time for looking for candles or torch batteries, and not waste it on badly-behaved verbs.

BTW, I was vaguely aware of the arf - arm connection, and am now wondering if there is also an arm connection to words like arferol, or ymarfer.


Nice and simple-ified, but you’ve still got your same two roots as in English going on there: er in Old Norse was ek em, þú ert, hann er, and all those -r-s are from earlier -s-s, so er was originally es = ‘is’ & ys; and var = vas = ‘was’. Være is basically just ‘were’.

But now you’ve made me look up arfer, and it turns out to split as ar-fer, with the second bit being related to English ‘bear’ as in ‘carry’ (Latin ferre). So only connected in the sense of ‘bear arms’; but the GPC says cymryd (in the form they quote cymeraf) has got the same -fer- root hidden there somewhere, so it’s originally ‘take’ in the sense of ‘carrying something away’ :slight_smile:


well the pointy bit of my pencil I usually call “the end” and “end” is a point in time and the point of a sharp object?


The three that struck me as having Latin/French/Italian links were ysgol, eglws and periglus