The Welsh for Wales is Cymru but the Welsh version on the ‘Welcome to Wales’ signs you see when you enter the country reads ‘Croeso I Gymru’. The ‘c’ of Cymru has mutated to ‘g’, in this case undergoing soft mutation.
Mutation in Welsh is a process whereby the initial letter of a word changes in certain situations. It is a distinctive feature of the surviving Celtic languages, apparently not present among earlier mainland Celtic branches. Mutation in English can be seen in plurals e.g. roof/rooves, hoof/hooves, wife/wives; fox/vixen is a rare example of an initial mutation. Mutation is an example of lenition (lit. ‘weakening’), a common feature in the development of languages over time, whereby consonants become less strong, i.e. less vigorously expressed, in the course of a process which may end with a consonant being dropped altogether.
This article will outline the main features of mutation to aid the user’s understanding of Linguata Welsh. Examples and guidelines will be provided but the aim is not to produce an exhaustive account. Guidelines are useful but the application of mutation contains a residue which can only be learned through experience – and it also has to be remembered that usage varies across regions and over time.
Three Kinds of Mutation
There are three kinds of mutation in Welsh: soft, nasal and aspirate. Of these, soft mutation is the commonest, with a tendency to take over from nasal mutation in everyday speech. Because of their relative infrequency in colloquial Welsh nasal and aspirate will not be treated separately. Examples of nasal mutation can be found in Linguata. Emergencies e.g.:
Dw i wedi colli fy mhasport (I have lost my passport – passport)
Dw i wedi colli fy mag llaw (I have lost my handbag – bag llaw)
There is a tongue-in-the-cheek version of an aspirate mutation in Linguata.At the Bar or Café. 3:
Jin a thonig, os gwelwch yn dda (A gin and tonic, please)
The Welsh Language. Mutations. Part 1 of 2
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