Middle Welsh

Middle Welsh (Welsh: Cymraeg Canol) is the label attached to the Welsh language of the 12th to 15th centuries, of which much more remains than for any earlier period. This form of Welsh developed from Old Welsh.

Middle Welsh
Native toWales
EraApproached Modern Welsh by about the 15th century
Early forms
Language codes
ISO 639-3wlm

Literature and history

Middle Welsh is the language of nearly all surviving early manuscripts of the Mabinogion,[2] although the tales themselves are certainly much older. It is also the language of most of the manuscripts of Welsh law. Middle Welsh is reasonably intelligible, albeit with some work, to a modern-day Welsh speaker.[3]


The phonology of Middle Welsh is quite similar to that of modern Welsh, with only a few differences.[4] The letter u, which today represents /ɨ/ in North Western Welsh dialects and /i/ in South Welsh and North East Welsh dialects, represented the close central rounded vowel /ʉ/ in Middle Welsh. The diphthong aw is found in unstressed final syllables in Middle Welsh, while in Modern Welsh it has become o (e.g. Middle Welsh marchawc = Modern Welsh marchog "horseman"). Similarly, the Middle Welsh diphthongs ei and eu have become ai and au in final syllables, e. g. Middle Welsh seith = modern saith "seven", Middle Welsh heul = modern haul "sun".[5]


The orthography of Middle Welsh was not standardised, and there is great variation between manuscripts in how certain sounds are spelled. Some generalisations of differences between Middle Welsh spelling and Modern Welsh spelling can be made.[4] For example, the possessive adjectives ei "his, her", eu "their" and the preposition i "to" are very commonly spelled y in Middle Welsh, and are thus spelt the same as the definite article y and the indirect relative particle y. A phrase such as y gath is therefore ambiguous in Middle Welsh between the meaning "the cat" (spelt the same in Modern Welsh), the meaning "his cat" (modern ei gath), and the meaning "to a cat" (modern i gath). The voiced stop consonants /d ɡ/ are represented by the letters t c at the end of a word, e.g. diffryt "protection" (modern diffryd), redec "running" (modern rhedeg). The sound /k/ is very often spelled k before the vowels e i y (in Modern Welsh, it is always spelt c, e.g. Middle Welsh keivyn = modern ceifn "third cousin"). The sound /v/ is usually spelt u or v (these are interchangeable as in Latin MSS), except at the end of a word, where it is spelt f (in Modern Welsh, it is always spelt f, e.g. Middle Welsh auall = modern afall "apple tree"). The sound /ð/ is usually spelt d (in Modern Welsh, it is spelt dd, e.g. Middle Welsh dyd = modern dydd "day"). The sound /r̥/ is spelt r and is thus not distinguished from /r/ (in Modern Welsh, they are distinguished as rh and r respectively, e.g. Middle Welsh redec "running" vs. modern rhedeg).


Present indicative active
caru, "to love" bot, "to be"
He, she, itcaryw, ys, yssyd
You (pl.)kerychwych


Middle Welsh is closer to the other medieval Celtic languages, e.g. Old Irish, in its morphology. For example, the endings -wŷs, -ws, -es and -as are used for 3rd person singular of the past tense in Middle Welsh as well as the form -odd. In the same person and tense exists the form kigleu from the verb clywed 'to hear (etc.)', which is very antiquated and corresponds to the Old Irish cúala from the verb ro-cluinethar 'he/she heard'.

Middle Welsh also has more separate plural forms of adjectives that do not appear in modern Welsh, e.g. cochion 'red; rouges'.

The plural termination -awr for nouns is very common in Middle Welsh, but has been replaced by -au.


As in modern written Welsh, the VSO word order (Gwelodd y brenin gastell: "Saw the king a castle") is not used exclusively in Middle Welsh, but irregular and mixed orders are also used: Y brenin a welodd gastell: ("[It was] the king that saw a castle"). The suggestion is that the mixed order places emphasis on the subject, and is often used in Welsh today to emphasise something. The difference between the two is that a negative particle (ni/na) precedes the subject in the mixed order (thus Ni brenin a welodd gastell would mean "It was not the king that saw the castle", but precedes the verb in the irregular order (thus Brenin ni welodd gastell = "The king did not see a castle").

See also


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Middle Welsh". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. Bollard, John K. (2007). "Mabinogi and 'Mabinogion'". The Mabinogi. Retrieved 2019-04-19.
  3. Strachan, John (1909). An introduction to early Welsh. Manchester: Manchester University Press. pp. v–vi.
  4. Evans, D. Simon (1964). A Grammar of Middle Welsh. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. ISBN 1-85500-000-8.
  5. Morgan, Gareth (1996). "Reading Middle Welsh -- 3 Pronunciation: Diphthongs". Retrieved 2019-04-19.

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