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This unit discusses and presents the major ways in which noun plurals are formed. There will be no exercises.
There is no easy way to get around the complexities of Welsh plurals. You just have to learn them. The person who simply wants to read Medieval Welsh texts can limit their efforts to recognizing the various possible ways of forming plurals rather than being able to produce the correct one for a particular word.
There are five general ways in which plurals are formed:
These are shown below using the vocabulary you have already learned (with supplements where necessary).
1. The addition of a suffix is the simplest way to form a plural. The most common plural suffix is "-(y)eu".
|hebawg||n.m||(og)-eu||falcon (i.e. hebogeu)|
Spelling/Pronunciation Note 1
For "hebawg" (falcon), note that the diphthong "aw" changes to "o" in the plural form. This is not a change due to the plural (as seen below) but simply a change that happens to "aw" when it is no longer in the final syllable of a word. In Modern Welsh (and thus in any dictionary you use) "aw" will usually be spelled "o" everywhere except in a few one-syllable words. So, for example, the dictionary will list "hebog", not "hebawg".
Spelling/Pronunciation Note 2
This plural suffix is one of a number that are sometimes prefixed by "y". Sometimes this alternation is dictated by the last vowel in the stem of the word that the suffix is added to. Notice that in the three nouns above that take "-yeu", the last vowel before the suffix is either "i" or "e". This pattern isn't consistent enough to use as a rule (see the examples under " (y)on" below), but it is worth noticing.
The common thread in a number of plural suffixes is a vowel followed by either "d" or "dd".
|baedd||n.m||-od||boar (see also below)|
But life couldn't be that simple, so we have a number of other suffixes, too.
You may have noted above that some words have more than one possible suffix noted. Sometimes there is no agreement in the texts on which suffix a word takes, and sometimes the original suffix is gradually replaced by another, usually one of the very common ones like "-eu". Occasionally, we find a plural that is a combination of more than one suffix.
2) Forming a plural by changing the vowels of a word presents a few problems to the reader. Besides being able to recognize when a word is likely to be a plural, you need to have some notion of what the vowels might have been changed _from_ if you are to look the word up. There are some clear patterns to follow, but they are not unambiguous. (It should be pointed out that the _concept_ of pluralizing by vowel change is found in English -- man/men -- but not nearly as commonly as in Welsh.)
In explaining the general phenomenon, it's useful to speak in phonological terms. So let us digress for a rather simplified description of Welsh vowels. In phonology, vowels are described in terms of "front/back", "low/high", and "rounded/unrounded. Ignoring the last, the relevant vowels look something like this:
(The description tells where it "feels" the vowel is being produced in the mouth.) When vowels are changed to form a plural, they move generally up and toward the center. So, for example, "e", "o", and "w" become "y" in the plural.
Both "a" and the diphthong "ae" are raised to the diphthong "ei".
|baedd||n.m.||beidd||boar (also found with " od")|
Similarly, the diphthong "oe" is raised to "wy".
To summarize, this type of sound-change in plurals can take the following forms:
If there is more than one syllable and the prior one contains "a", it may be raised to "e" as well as the change in the final syllable.
There are also some idiomatic words that don't follow the above patterns.
3) Sometimes, both a vowel change and a suffix are used. In some cases, earlier forms of the same plurals used only the vowel change. So, for example, the plural of "maen" (stone) can be found as both "mein" and "meini".
Just to confuse the issue, in some cases the singular has the "raised" vowel and the plural suffix is added to a stem with the corresponding "lowered" one. (This "raising" is called "vowel affection" in Welsh.)
4) For some items that are normally thought of as coming in groups rather than singly, the root word is the plural and a singular is formed by adding a "singulative" suffix: either masculine "-yn" or feminine "-en". (This was mentioned in passing in the section on noun gender.) Note that the (plural) stem can undergo vowel affection in the singular.
5) And then there are a few nouns whose plurals don't fit even the generous assortment of patterns above. In some cases, the irregularity is a remnant of the old noun declension.
Paired body parts are the one place where traces of the old dual number remain. The gender-appropriate form of the number "two" is prefixed to the noun. (More details on the use of numbers will be given later.) These expressions sometimes correspond to a meaning like "a pair of X" in English, but more often have an ordinary plural meaning.
|glin||n.m||deulin||knee (but also "glinyeu ")|
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