Mutation of Initial Consonants in Middle Welsh
Three types of mutations are common in Middle Welsh:
- lenition (vocalic mutation): preceding element originally
ended in a vowel.
- nasal: preceding element originally ended in -n.
- spirant: preceding element ended in -c, -s.
Consonant mutations are directly analogous to sound-changes
within words; with the mutation known as lenition or softening the
phrase is taken as a basic unit rather than the word. It's a
commonplace that many/most Indo-European languages tend to demonstrate
a softening of single consonants in intervocalic positions (that is,
between two vowels in a medial position). Take a common word
like 'kitchen.' The Latin (coquina) shows the word with its
hard (plosive) middle consonant; most of the Indo-European vernacular
languages show some manner of softening of this same consonant, usually
to a fricative or affricate: kitchen (English), cuisine (French), Küche
(German), cocina (Spanish), cozinha (Portuguese). The same
softening takes place in Welsh (cegin), but with a significant
difference: the same softening can occur at the beginning of a word
when the preceding word ends in a vowel. That is, for Welsh,
the definition of 'intervocalic' is expanded so that it covers not only
consonants in medial position, but also consonants in initial position.
This suggests that in early Welsh the phrase (article + noun,
adjective + noun, etc.) was seen as a stronger unit that in other
Indo-European languages. So (as an example) nouns following
an article or an adjective are lenited only when they are feminine;
compare the Latin endings -us (masc.), -a (fem.), -um (neut.)
where only the feminine form ends in a vowel and would therefore place
the initial consonant of the noun in an intervocalic position.
cegin < L. coquina
niver < L. numerus
in phrase - tud vawr <
*tota mara (great people)
2. Nasal mutation
An initial consonant is nasalized by the presence of a nasal
consonant (m or n) at the end of the preceding word.
vy ghynghor < vyn cynghor
vym penn, vy mhenn < vyn penn
vyn nyvot < vyn dyvot
ym mwyt, y mwyt < yn bwyt
3. Spirant mutation
An initial stop/plosive becomes a fricative when the preceding word ends in -c or -s.
The use of mutations in Middle Welsh is not always consistent, since mutations also spread analogically, by connection with
grammatical functions: thus an adjective is mutated after a
feminine singular noun, though not all feminine nouns end in a vowel.
Mutations can also disappear analogically.
Mutation is not consistently expressed in MW orthography;
the presence of such pairs as 'y wlat' and 'y gwlat' do not
necessarily indicate a difference in pronunciation.
Table of Mutations
- the spirant 'dd' is normally written 'd', so the
mutation is not always evident.
- 'rh' is generally written 'r', so the lenition is
- 'll' and 'rh' are normally unlenited after -n, -r: yn
I. Lenition occurs in the following situations:
- feminine singular after article:
- y wreic (gwreic) 'the woman'
- y gaer (caer) 'the fortress'
- y vrenhines (brenhines) 'the queen'
- (y llaw < OW ir lau, thus unlenited)
- genitive proper nouns after feminine singular noun
(cf. Adj l):
- Gulat Uorgant (Morgan) 'Morgan's kingdom'
- enys Brydein (Prydein) 'the isle of Britain'
- Branwen uerch Lyr (Llyr) 'Branwen daughter of
- also with adj. gen. of quality:
llech uarmor (marmor) 'a slab of marble'
- genitive proper noun after dual (cf. Adj 2):
- deu uab Uedravt (Medrawd) 'two sons of Medrawd'
- also with adj. gen. of quality:
y'r deu dafyn waet (gwaet) 'to the two drops of blood'
- in apposition to proper noun (titles,
includes mab, merch after personal names:
- Arawn urenhin Annwuyn (brenhin) 'Arawn king of
- Llud vrenhin 'Llud the king'
- Maxen wledig (gwledig) 'Maxen the ruler'
- Branwen uerch Lyr (merch)
- Math uab Mathonwy (mab) 'Math son of Mathonwy'
- proper noun in apposition to personal pronoun:
- ef Uanawydan (Manawydan)
- ynteu Wydyon (Gwydion)
- ynteu Bwyll (Pwyli)
- also: ni bechaduryeit (pechaduryeit) 'we
- after vocative particles a, ha, oia, och:
- a vorwyn! (morwyn) '0 maiden'
- oia wr! (gwr) 'ho, man'
- och Ereint (Gereint) 'alas, Gereint'
- also as vocative without particle at middle or
end of sentence.
- also after
- llyma 'lo here'
- llyna 'lo there'
- nachef 'behold'
- used adverbially:
- trigyaw y gyt a mi vlwydyn (blwydyn) 'to stay
with me for a year'
(except at beginning of sentence)
- used adjectivally in compounds:
- kist vaen (maen) 'stone chest'
- moruarch (march) 'sea-horse'
- after adjectives in compounds:
- glasved (med) 'fresh mead'
- amryuaelyon gerdeu (cerdeu) 'various songs'
- prif lys (llys) 'chief court'
- also occasionally after comparative and
- after some numerals:
A few numeral compounds are lenited as well:
- un (1) - regularly with feminine
- un wreic (gwreic) 'one woman'
- un uerch (merch) 'one daughter'
- occasionally with masc., meaning 'the same'
- yn un uaes (maes) 'in the same field'
- but yr un march 'the
- deu/dwy (2) - regularly lenited
- deu lu (llu) 'two hosts'
- dwy uerchet (merch) 'two daughters'
- but also deu cant '200', deu peth 'two
- pump (5) - occasionally lenited by analogy
- pump wraged (gwraged) 'five women'
- but normally pump cantref 'five cantrefs'
- chwech (6) - occasionally lenited by analogy
- chwech wraged
- but normally chwech blyned 'six years'
- seith (7) - not usually lenited, though some
- seith gantref (cantref)
- but normally seith meibion 'seven boys'
- wyth (8) - regularly lenited
- wyth drawst (trawst) 'eight beams'
- wyth gant (cant) '800'
- but also wyth cant
- naw (9) - occasionally lenited
- naw rad (grad) 'nine ranks'
- but normally naw cant '900'
- mil (1000) - frequently lenited
- mil vanyeri (banyeri) '1000 banners'
- mil verthyr (merthyr) '1000 martyrs'
- pumwyr 'five men'
- seithwyr 'seven men'
- nawwyr 'nine men'
- canwyr '100 men'
- after pronomials:
- pa 'what'
- pa le (lle) 'what place'
- pa beth (peth) 'what thing'
- pet 'how many'
- pet wynt (gwynt) 'how many winds'
- holl 'all'
- holl gwn (cwn) 'all the dogs'
- neill 'the one'
- eil 'the other, second'
- ryw 'some, such'
- amryw 'various'
- kyfryw 'such'
- sawl 'so, as many'
- y saul geuri (ceuri) 'so many giants'
- amyl 'many a'
- ambell 'an occasional'
- ychydic 'few, a little'
- kwbyl 'complete'
- cwbyl waradwyd (gwaradwyd) 'a complete
- after prepositions:
- a 'of'
- am 'about'
- ar 'on, in'
- ar vrys (brys) 'in haste'
- at 'to' - att Bwyll (Pwyll) 'to Pwyll'
- dan 'under'
- dan brenn (prenn) 'under a tree'
- gan 'with'
- gan bawb (pawb) 'with each'
- heb 'without'
- heb vwyt (bwyt) 'without food'
- hyt 'as far as'
- hyd galan Mei (calan) 'until the first of
- y 'to'
- y vynyd (mynyd) 'upwards'
- is 'below'
- o 'of, from'
- tros 'over'
- tros vor (mor) 'over the sea'
- trwy 'through'
- trwy lewenyd (llewenyd) 'through joy'
- uch 'above'
- uch benn (penn) 'above, overhead'
- wrth 'at, by'
- after 2nd and 3rd singular masculine possessive
although c, t, p often remain unlenited after th:
- dy davawt (tavawt) 'your tongue'
- y benn 'his head'
- y uryt (bryd) 'his mind'
- o'y gyuoeth 'of his kingdom'
- y'th castel 'in your castle'
- a'th teulu 'with your retainers'
- but usually y'th uedyant (medyant) 'in your
- after mor 'how' - mor druan (truan) 'how wretched'
- after neu 'or' - gwr neu wreic (gwreic) 'man or
- after some verbal forms:
- as subject
- after some forms of bot 'to be'
- 3spi (oed, yssit)
- 3s consuet. pres (bit, byd)
- 3s imperf. (oed)
- 3s consuet. pret. (bydei)
- 3s pret. (bu)
- 3s pres. subj. (bo)
- 3s imperf. subj. (bei)
- other verbs, only common with 3s imperf.,
- Subject is also normally lenited when it is
separated from the verb:
- y mae yno wr du (gwr) 'there's a black
- as object:
- normally lenited, especially when separated
- some common exceptions:
- after 3spi
- after 3s pret.
- after 3s pres. subj.
- after impersonal passive constructions
- objects of destination after verbs of motion
- Gwyr a aeth Gatraeth (Catraeth) 'the men
went to Catraeth'
- as nominal predicate (after most forms of bot):
- ot wyt uorwyn (morwyn) 'if you are a
- mi a vydaf gath (cath) 'I am a cat'
- but occasionally bum ki 'I was a dog'
- after predicative particles yn, y:
- yn vynych, (mynych 'frequent') 'often'
- yn borth (porth) 'as a help'
- yn wreic 'as a woman'
- but note yn llawen, see above
- after feminine singular noun:
- y wreic deccaf (teccaf) 'the fairest woman'
- after a dual noun:
- deu uarch vawr (mawr) 'two big horses'
- after personal names (cf. Nouns 4)
- Bran Uendigeit (bendigeit) 'Bran the Blessed'
- Howel Uychan (bychan) 'Howel the small'
- Beli Uawr (mawr) 'Beli the Great'
- but also Beli Mawr, Ifor Bach
- comparative after noun in negative or interrogative
- a dyvu o Vrython
wr well no Chynon? (gwell)
Did there come from the British
a better man than Cynon?
- after: mor 'so, as'
- kyn 'as'
- ry 'too'
- after adjective or noun in compound:
- canwelw (gwelw) 'pale white'
- cad barawt (parawt) 'ready for battle'
- when adjective is used adverbially:
- nyth elwir bellach byth yn vorwyn (pell) 'you
will never more be called a maiden'
- predicatively after bot:
- y bu barawt (parawt) 'it was ready'
- nyt oed uwy (mwy) 'it was not more'
- ny bydei vyw (bwy) 'he was not alive'
- (there are many exceptions to this)
- after predicative and adverbial particles yn, y:
- yn gyflum (cyflum) 'quickly'
- yn barawt (parawt) 'ready'
- after adjective in compound:
- ac a hir drigyawd ar hynny (trigyawd) 'and long
remained upon them'
- after relative pronoun a:
after affirmative particle a:
- yr erchwys a ladyssei y carw (liad) 'the pack
which had killed the stag'
after interrogative particle a:
- a'r ulwydyn honno a dreulwys pawb o honunt hyt
oet y wled (treulwys) 'and each of them spent that year until the time
set for the feast'
- a uyd llawn dy got ti uyth? (byd) 'will your
bag ever be full?'
- after negative particles ny, na:
after affirmative particles neu, ry:
- ny allaf (gallu) 'I cannot'
- na ovyn di (govyn) 'do not ask'
after prefixes go-, dy-, di-, etc.
- ry geveis (caffael) 'I have got'
- after particle yt:
yt gaffei (caffael) 'he should get'
- after interrogative particles
- pa, py 'what, why'
- py liw di? 'why do you colour?'
- cwt 'where'
- a wdosti cwd uyd nos yn arhos dyd? (byd)
'and do you know where the night waits for the day?'
- after conjunctions
- pan 'when'
- pan golles (colles) 'when he lost'
- tra 'while'
- tra vwyf (bwyf) 'while I am'
- yny 'until'
- yny welas (gwelas) 'until he saw'
- forms of bot after nominal predicate:
- llawen uu y uorwen (bu) 'the maiden was glad'
- dilesteir uyd dy hynt (byd) 'without hindrance
will your journey be'
- often lenited as subject or object:
- elwyf ui (mi) 'I might go'
- sometimes in apposition:
- ni a awn, ui a thi (mi) 'we will go, you and
- after leniting words (cf. Nouns, Adjectives,
- gwae vi (mi) 'woe is me'
- neu vinneu (minneu) 'or me'
II. Spirant mutation occurs in the following
- after 3rd singular feminine of pre- and infixed
- y phenn (penn) 'her head'
- y chlust (clust) 'her ear'
- y throet (troet) 'her foot'
- y'w phenn 'to her head'
- after numerals:
- tri (3)
- tri chantref (cantref) 'three cantrefs'
- tri pheth (peth) 'three things'
- chwech (6)
- chwe thorth (torth) 'six loaves'
- after preposition tra 'over'
also when used as adverb 'very'
- tra thon (ton) 'over the wave'
- tra chas (cas) 'very hateful'
- after conjunction and preposition ac, a:
after conjunction no:
- a chledyf (cledyf) 'with a sword'
- a thi (ti) 'with you'
after conjunction na:
- a dyvu o Vrython
wr well no Chynon? (Cynon)
'did there come from the British
a better man than Chynon?'
- ny welynt neb ryw dim, na thy, nac aniuel,
na mwc, na than, na dyn, na chyuanhed (ty, tan, cyuanhed) 'They could
see any kind of thing, neither house, nor beast, nor smoke, nor fire,
nor man, nor dwelling.'
- after negative particles ny, na (cf. Lenition,
- after affirmative particles neu, ry
- after prefixes go-, di-, dy, etc.
- after conjunction o:
- o chigleu (cigleu) 'he has heard'
- after cw, cwt:
- cw threwna (trewna) 'where it settles'
- cwd uyd (byd) 'where it shall be'
- but also cwt gaffei (caffael) 'where he
III. Nasal mutation occurs in the following
- after preposition yn:
- ymhob (pob) 'in every'
- yng Kymraeg (Kymraeg) 'in Wales'
- yg charchar (carchar) 'in prison'
- ymhoen (poen) 'in punishment'
- after prefixed pronoun fy (vyn):
- vygkynghor (cynghor) /your counsel'
- vynhat (tat) 'your father'
- vymaraf (baraf) 'your beard'
- vyggwreic (gwreic) 'your wife'
- vymphen (penn) 'your head'
- but also vy penn
- after some numerals, esp with nouns blyned 'year',
diwarnawt 'day', dieu 'day', dyn 'man' and bu 'cow'.
also by analogy with
- seith (7)
- naw (9)
- dec (10)
- deudec (12)
- pymthec (15)
- cant (100)
- deng mlyned 'ten years'
- dec nieu 'ten days'
- deudec niwarnawt 'twelve days'
- can mu 'a hundred cows'
and occasionally with
- pump (5)
- wyth (8)
- ugeint (20)
- deugeint (40)