The Phonology of Welsh English: Influence from Welsh

Term Paper, 2011

12 Pages, Grade: 1,0




I. The phonological system

II.1 Vowels
II.1.1 Short and Long Vowels
II.1.2 Diphthongs:
II.1.3 Stress
II.2 Consonants
II.2.1 Aspiration and Voicing
II.2.2 Length
II.2.3 Dental /t, d, n/
II.2.4 Welsh English phonemes /ɬ/ and /x/
II.2.5 Clear /l/ and dark /ɫ/
II.2.6 Different realizations of /r/
II.2.7 Zero-/w/

III. Conclusion

IV. References


Historical Background: Welsh and English in contact

The Welsh language has been in contact with English for many centuries. After the Celtic languages were forced out of central Europe during the age of the Roman Empire two branches developed: Goidelic (or Q Celtic) and Brittonic (or P Celtic), with Welsh belonging to the Brittonic branch. Since the fifth century Welsh has been under pressure as other Germanic-speaking tribes such as the Angles and Saxons arrived in Britain. The Welsh speaking population had to relocate in the area we today call Wales. What followed was a long process of anglicisation (cf. Pennhallurick 2004: 98).

At the end of the eleventh century Norman invaders built strongholds in the north and south of Wales. During this period many English speakers arrived, with especially the south being affected. English was soon established by events like the Acts of Union of 1536-1543 which confirmed English as the only official language of government and law in Wales. This led to a diminution of Welsh not only in formal but also in informal contexts, because Welsh was now often seen as an antiquated language of the barbarous past whereas English was perceived as a more modern language (cf. Pennhallurick 2004: 99). The translation of the bible in 1588 helped Welsh to be ensured as the language of religion which meant an important boost for the language. However, this was also useful for the anglicised ruling classes as it helped to satisfy the Welsh peasantry while isolating them from their system of government and the politics of the state. (cf. Filppula 2008: 137)

Nevertheless up to the early nineteenth century the geographic advance of English within Wales was very slow. Until the nineteenth century still over 80% of the population of Wales could speak Welsh. The few communities which were bilingual were restricted to the border areas. As Filppula (2008: 137) points out, there are references which show that the English spoken by the population of the border areas was already in some extent influenced by the Welsh language.

In the course of the industrial revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth century a big wave of English speaking people streamed in the industrial areas of Wales which lead to a clash between the two languages. The booming industry had an ambivalent impact on the Welsh language. The anglicisation of English mainly in the south was accelerated but due to a great availability of jobs emigration of the Welsh speaking population could be avoided (cf. Bellin 1984: 452). However, the number of Welsh speakers decreased as Welsh also had a very poor prestige compared to English and social advancement was normally only possible through English. Rural areas of Wales were brought into contact with English through the educational system. The Education Act of 1870 made elementary education in English compulsory, sometimes it was even forbidden to speak Welsh at school. This resulted in a shift to bilingualism even in the often so far consistent Welsh speaking rural areas. During the twentieth century Welsh had to persist a decline of the language as many people migrated from rural to urban areas in search of work as well as English speakers came to rural areas of Wales which also still poses a problem today. The disappearance of the Welsh language was more and more perceived as a problem. As a consequence the Court Acts of 1942, 1967 and 1993 improved the position of Welsh giving it finally equal status to English. Also Welsh radio and TV channels tried to oppose the great availability of English language entertainment media since the 1970s (cf. Bellin 1984: 470). Despite this, the amount of monolingual and bilingual English speakers increased while monolingual Welsh speakers seemed to disappear by the second half of the twentieth century.

During the last decades, however, Welsh has been more and more promoted with visible success in the statistics which show an increase in the numbers especially of younger people who are able to speak Welsh. This can be traced back to the fact that promotion has been particularly concentrated in the field of education. At present about 20, 8% of the population in Wales can speak Welsh.

I. The phonological system

The numerous sub-varieties of Welsh English today are regionally very different. The industrial south east as already mentioned above has been far more influenced by English and thus the Welsh English of that area clearly differs from the dialects spoken in the North and West of Wales. That is why, when talking about Welsh English phonology, the distinction of at least two different models is necessary (cf. Thomas 1984: 178): The “southern” model, centered in the mid-south and the “northern” model, centered in the north west.

The “southern” model is far more progressed in terms of anglicisation. That is to say the dialects of Welsh English in the industrial south of Wales and the border areas already have strong similarities with the indigenous dialects of the south-west and the west Midlands of England. Although the influence of Welsh is still noticeable, these dialects are likely to progressively abandon Welsh characteristics and to more and more adapt to a more standard variation of English.

The “northern” model on the other hand describes the dialects of the north and west of Wales where we still have considerable influence from contemporary Welsh, which we don’t have in the east and south. The northern dialects of Welsh English are also influenced from north-western dialects of England and will probably soon develop the same way as the dialects of the south. One could say that these dialects are only a bit further behind in the process of anglicisation.

As the southern model is the one that is spoken by the majority of the population in Wales, who are mostly monolingual speakers of English, the following examples will be mainly based on this model. Still the influence from the Welsh language can be observed in both models and will be pointed out during the analysis of the examples. Also in case of major differences between the variations of Welsh English this will be illustrated.

II.1 Vowels

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Table 1 Welsh English Vowels

II.1.1 Short and Long Vowels

(1) pit

The word pit is pronounced with the /ɪ/ vowel in all parts of Wales.

(2) bet

Bet is pronounced with /ɛ/, which also occurs in words (in unstressed positions) where RP has either /ɪ/ or /ə/ e.g. in

a. ticket /ˈtɪkɛt/


b. helpless /ˈɛlplɛs/

(cf. Thomas 1984: 179).


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The Phonology of Welsh English: Influence from Welsh
University of Freiburg
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phonology, welsh, english, influence
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Micha Luther (Author), 2011, The Phonology of Welsh English: Influence from Welsh, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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