Medieval Welsh

A Self-Instruction Course created by Heather Rose Jones

Copyright © 2003, 2004 all rights reserved. This page most recently revised on: April 24, 2005

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Unit: Introduction


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Why Am I Doing This?

The prevailing approach to teaching Medieval Welsh seems to be to hand the student one of the well-edited editions of the Mabinogi, a copy of D. Simon Evans' Grammar of Middle Welsh, and a copy of the Geiriadur Mawr and tell him to have at it. My own experience with this method was softened somewhat by having studied a bit of both Modern and Medieval Welsh on my own beforehand, but I was able to observe the difficulties that my fellow students were having with this method.

Those difficulties broke down into three major areas:

I'm not the first person to decide that there's a call for other approaches to the topic. There have been a number of projects similar in intent to mine -- both on-line and for classroom use -- but I feel that it's always good to have multiple options. I first began these lessons nearly ten years ago on a handful of volunteers via e-mail, and their feedback has been invaluable in developing the format. The project went on hold for quite a while as I worked on my PhD, but now that I've acquired my own web site, it's time to go public.

This course has been designed to help work around these problems by the following methods. Lessons and vocabulary are introduced in a "standardized" Medieval Welsh spelling that follows a middle path of disambiguating the sounds without entirely modernizing the spelling. Concepts are introduced one at a time, with examples and exercises for each unit, gradually building toward reading first simple and then more complicated texts. In parallel with units on grammar and vocabulary, there will be lessons on second-guessing the modern forms of medieval words, and on the range of variation in medieval spellings.

The final goal of any Medieval Welsh course is, naturally, to enable the student to read texts in the original unedited or minimally edited form. As the skills for dealing with the original form of the langauge are acquired, reading and translation exercises will be presented with correspondingly fewer crutches in the way of regularization and editing. I will try to present material in a wide variety of styles to familiarize the student with the range of material that will be encountered in actual use.

Because the student's goal should be to read actual texts, the nature and order of the lessons will be driven by what is needed to read specific samples of the language. At first, the lessons will be dense and the texts simple. After a while, the lessons will become eclectic and the texts more elaborate. The purpose is not to present the material in a systematic and exhaustive manner, but to present it in interesting and easy to learn manner. Those who want a systematic presentation for reference are encouraged to buy the previously mentioned Grammar of Middle Welsh by D. Simon Evans.

This is a good place to mention reference books. At some point in the course of these lessons, you will need reference to a good Welsh dictionary. The standard student reference is Y Geiriadur Mawr ("The Big Dictionary"). If you move on to a more advanced level, you may want to consider buying the multi-volume Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (the Welsh equivalent of the OED), but these lessons are geared to someone using the more affordable referernce. Vocabulary lists will be provided for the grammar exercises, but the dictionary exercises are essential if you plan to move on beyond my edited versions of the texts. If you are serious about Medieval Welsh, you should eventually acquire Evans' grammar. And eventually you will want to get ahold of some complete texts to try your hand at reading. There are a number of sources for these books. In the US, one of the best is Books for Scholars. (I have no affiliation with this company except as a satisfied customer.) I am less familiar with the best booksellers for other parts of the world.

Who Am I?

I'm an enthusiast for the language, literature, and history of medieval Wales. That enthusiasm eventually led me to acquire a PhD in linguistics, with a dissertation on the semantics of Medieval Welsh prepositions. (If you're really interested, you can find it here.)

Where is the Project Going?

These lessons are likely to be a work in progress for a long time. There's enough material here to get people started, and more will be added as it cycles to the top of the project list. I now have the facilities to add sound files to the lessons and (with no promises as to when) that is on the to-do list.

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