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Conversational Medieval Welsh

By Heather Rose Jones, copyright © 1992, 2004, all rights reserved

Reading through Medieval Welsh literature, it’s striking how real a lot of the dialogue sounds. This isn’t just a matter of good translators – the original language has the same feel. And there are some really great lines in there. Relatively few people add medieval languages to their persona play, but a big reason for that is a lack of accessibility. This is a condensed version of a larger project that’s still in progress. The first version appeared in issue #1 of my Welsh research journal, Y Camamseriad in 1992. The version published here was edited for a class presented in the Spring of 2004.

Most people do not go to the extreme of learning the language that their persona would have spoken, and even if they did, there would be few opportunities to use it in conversation. But it is well within the realm of practicality to learn a few phrases - greetings, interjections, etc. - that can add color to your persona and perhaps whet your appetite for exploring the language further. That is the purpose of this article: not to try to teach Welsh, but to provide some useful and entertaining phrases.

The majority of phrases presented here are taken directly from quoted conversations in the medieval Welsh tales collectively known as the Mabinogi. These are followed by a code in parentheses indicating which story each is taken from. (See the bibliography for the key.) In a few cases, I have supplemented these with parallel constructions presenting slightly different meanings. The spelling of the examples has been edited somewhat so that the correct pronunciation can be obtained using the pronunciation rules of Modern Welsh – it isnít within the scope of this article to teach pronunciation. In some cases, particular words may not be consistent throughout the text -- think of it as dialectal variation. It should be noted that many of these phrases would sound rather funny to a speaker of Modern Welsh.

A Note on Yes and No: Conversations will often include yes/no questions so it is worth discussing a peculiarity of Welsh: it has no exact translations for these words. An affirmative answer is normally made by using the appropriate form of the verb used in the question, a negative one by prefacing this with na/nag (na before consonants, nag before vowels and 'h'). Thus the answer to Oes llys heddiw? (Is there a court today?) is either Oes. (There is.) or Nag oes. (There is not.) and then proceeding into other details of the situation. It is generally not proper to omit this and plunge right into Ym mhen dau awr. (In two hours.) for example. Another example would be: Gweli ti'r arglwyddes racco? (Do you see the lady yonder?) Gwelaf (I see.) or Na welaf. (I don't see.) The tales, however, also use the interjection ie similarly to "yes" in some cases (other times it might be better translated as "well" and is something of a meaningless conversational filler). An example is Ie, mi a tebygaf. (Yes, I suppose so.) where the verb of the question is not repeated in the answer.

Lesson One: Greetings, Introductions, and Politeness

Vocative Address

These are just examples. One could substitute any appropriate title, relationship or name.

A unben.
O chieftain/lord! (to one of unknown rank) (PPD)

A unbennes.
O lady! (to one of unknown rank)

Arglwydd.
O Lord! (to one of known rank) (PPD)

Arglwyddes.
O Lady! (PPD)

A wyrda.
O goodmen/nobles! (PPD)

A forwyn.
O maiden! (PPD)

A facwy.
O lad/squire!

Arglwydd frawd.
(My) lord brother (MFM)

A Dduw!
O God!

A frenin.
O king!

A frenhines.
O queen!

A dywysog(es).
O prince( ss)!

A farwn(es).
O baron( ess)!

A was.
O lad/boy!

A enaid.
O friend!

Greetings

These run the gamut from simple hellos to formal welcomes. It is worth noting that a simple croeso is still "welcome" in modern Welsh.

Dydd da iti.
Good day to you (singular). (PPD)

Bore da iti.
Good morning to you.

Nos da iti.
Good night to you.

Dydd da iwch.
Good day to you (plural). [and similarly]

Dydd da iti, Arglwyd.
Good day to you, Lord. (MFM)

Henpych gwell.
May you be well. (BFL)

Da yw gennyf dy weled ti.
I'm glad to see you (singular). (PPD)

Da yw gennyf eich gweled chwi.
I'm glad to see you (plural).

Croeso wrthyt y gennyf i.
You are welcome with me. (PPD)

Croeso Duw wrthyt, enaid.
God's welcome to you, friend. (PPD)

Duw a ro da it, a chroeso wrthyt.
God give you good, and welcome to you (singular). (MFM)

Duw a roddo da iwch, a chroeso wrthywch.
God give you good, and welcome to you (plural). (BFL)

Croeso Duw wrthunt. Gellwng y mywn wy.
God's greeting to them. Let them come in. (MFM)

Introductions and Inquiries

Of course, unless the person you are speaking to also knows a smattering of Welsh, the questions won't be particularly productive....

Ny wn i pwy wyt ti.
I don't know who you are. (PPD)

A dywedy di imi pwy wyt?
Will you tell me who you are? (PPD)

Dywedaf.
I will tell [you]. (PPD)

Pwy eu henw wy?
What is their name? (MFM)

Pwy dy enw di?
What is your name?

[name] wyf i.
I am [name]. (PPD)

Mae yr enw?
What is the (i.e. his/her) name? (PPD)

[name] mae ef.
He is [name].

[name] mae hi.
She is [name].

Pan doi di?
Whence come you? (PPD)

A pha wlad yd hanwyt titheu ohoni?
And from what land do you come? (PPD)

O [place - lenited].
From [place]. (PPD)

Beth a fynnho ef?
What does he wish/want? (BFL)

Beth a fynnhych ti?
What do you (singular) want?

Beth a fynnhoch chwi?
What do you (plural) want?

Pa chwedlau yssydd yma?
What news is this? What's up? (MFM)

Pa derw yti?
What has befallen you? (MFM)

A wyt iach di?
Are you well? (MFM)

Leave Takings

Various goodbyes and parting statements.

Duw a rwyddhao rhagot.
God speed you. (PPD)

Trig yn iach.
Stay well. (PPD)

Dilestair fyd dy hynt, ac ni rusia ddim rhagot.
May your path be unhindered and may nothing hinder you. (PPD)

Y ymdeith yd af i.
I will leave. (PPD)

Y ymdeith yd af i, gan dy ganniad ti.
I will go, with your permission. (PPD)

Minheu a af yn llawen
I will go gladly. (BFL)

If You Please

Several of these work best as introductions to another phrase.

Os da genhyt ti.
If you please (singular). (BFL)

Os da genhwch chwi.
If you please (plural).

Ponyd oedd da i ti ...
Would it not be well for you [to ...] (PPD)

Ponyd oedd iawn inni ...
Would it not be better for us [to ...] (MFM)

Yr mwyn y gwr mwyhaf a geri ...
For the sake of the man you love the most ... (PPD)

Er mwyn y wraig mwyhaf a geri ...
For the sake of the woman you love most ...

Er mwyn beth mwyhaf a geri ...
For the sake of what you love most ...

Gan dy ganiad ti.
With your permission. (PPD)

Diolwch y Duw.
Thanks to God. (PPD)

Diolwch.
Thanks.

Y mynnych ti.
As you desire (PPD)

Digon yw gennyf i.
It is enough for me. (PPD)

Miscellaneous Polite Phrases

Iawn yw it y warando.
It is proper [for you] to hear him. (PPD)

Moes yw genhym ni, Arglwydd.
It is a custom with us, Lord. (MFM)

Yr hyn a allaf i, mi a'e gwnaf.
What I am able to do, I will do. (MFM)

,p>Arglwydd, i'th ewyllus yd ydym.
Lord, we are at your will. (MFM)

Ny wn i amgen no'm bod.
I don't know but that I am. (As far as I know I am.) (MFM)

Lesson Two: Commands and Business

Commands

A few phrases in the imperative.

Llyna.
Behold there. (PPD)

Llyma.
Behold here.

Weldi racco.
Look yonder! (BFL)

Weldi yma.
Look here!

Edrych beth yssyd allan.
See what is outside. (MFM)

Ymwerendewch yn dda.
Listen well. (PPD)

Gofynnwch iddi.
Ask her. (BFL)

Gofynnwch iddo.
Ask him.

Gofynnwch imi.
Ask me.

Taw di bellach.
Be silent a little longer. (MFM)

Dos y eistedd.
Go and sit down. (PPD)

Arho fi!
Wait for me! (PPD)

Gwna oed a mi.
Make an appointment/date with me. (PPD)

Gwna yn llawen.
Do it gladly. (PPD)

Canys dechreueist, gorffen!
Since you started, finish it! (PPD)

Moes fy march!
Fetch me my horse! (PPD)

Cerdda rhagod.
Go forth! (MFM)

Getting Advice

A oes cynghor o'r byd am hynn?
Is there any advice in the world about this? (PPD)

Mae ych cynghor chwi?
What is your (plural) advice? (BFL)

Mae dy gynghor di?
What is your (singular) advice?

Ni a gymerwn gynghor.
We will take counsel. (BFL)

Mi a wn gynghor da.
I know good advice. (PPD)

Cynghor iawn yw hwnnw.
That is proper advice. (PPD)

Iawnhaf yw hynny.
That is most fitting. (PPD)

Errands

Pa gerdded yssydd arnat ti?
What errand do you have? (PPD)

Negessawl wyf wrthyt.
I have a request of you. (PPD)

Eirchad wyf a'm neges a wnaf.
I am a suitor and I will do my errand. (PPD)

Gwna yn llawen.
Do it gladly. (PPD)

Croeso wrth dy neges.
Welcome to your errand. (PPD)

Beth yw dy arch di?
What is your request? (PPD)

By ryw neges yw yr eiddaw ef?
What sort of errand is his? (BFL)

By ryw neges yw yr eiddot ti?
What sort of errand is yours? (singular)

Wrthyt ti y mae fy neges i.
My errand is with you. (singular) (PPD)

I erchi iti y dodwyf.
I have come to beseech you. (singular) (PPD)

I erchi arch iti y dodwyf.
I have come to beg a boon of you.

Arglwydd, ae gwell y gwna neb fy neges i wrthyt ti no mi fy hun?
Lord, would anyone perform my errand to you as well as I myself? (MFM)

Pa arch bynnog a erchych di imi, hyd y gallwyf y gaffael, iti y bydd.
Whatever boon you ask of me, so far as I can get it, it shall be yours.

Cymeint ac a ercheist, o'r a fo i'm meddiant iti a'y ceffi.
As much of what you asked as is at my command you shall have. (PPD)

Os arch gyfartal a erchi imi, yn llawen ti a'e ceffi.
If you ask of me a reasonable boon, gladly shall you have it. (PPD)

Arch didraha yw honno.
That is a modest request. (PPD)

Ti a'e ceffi.
You shall have it. (CO)

Ti nas ceffi.
You shall not have it.

Hawdd yw genhyf gaffel hynny, cyd tybycych na bo hawdd.
It is easy for me to get/accomplish that, though you would think it is not easy. (CO)

Hawdd yw genhyf.
It is easy for me. (CO)

Mi a baraf.
I will arrange [it]. (PPD)

Minheu a baraf.
I myself will arrange [it]. (MFM)

Minnheu a wnaf hynny yn llawen.
I will do that gladly. (PPD)

A chwari di wyddbwyll?
Will you play 'gwyddbwyll'? (BR)

A chwari di chwarae?
Will you play a game?

Chwariaf.
Yes, I will play. (BR)

Chware, os mynni.
Play, if you wish. (BR)

Fighting

Teg oedd i'r gwr a wnaeth y cam, dodi y gorff yn fy erbyn.
It is right for the man who did the wrong to fight me. (adapted from MFM)

Ni chymellaf inheu ar neb fyned i ymladd.
I will not compell anyone to fight. (MFM)

Mi a dodaf fy nghorff yn erbyn yr eiddo yn llawen.
I will fight him gladly. (Lit. "pit my body against his") (MFM)

Mi a dodaf fy nghorff yn erbyn yr eiddot yn llawen.
I will fight you gladly. (MFM)

Y rhwng yll deu y mae yr oed hwnn.
This meeting is between you two. (adapted from PPD)

A segur y digon pawb ohonoch fod.
And let all (the rest) of you stand back. (PPD)

Y deuthum i i chwarae a'th teulu.
I have come to play with your war-band. (PE)

Gwaharddd dy wyr, os da gennyt!
Call off your men, if you please! (BR)

Och arglwydd, dy nawdd! A thi a geffi a fynnych.
Alas, lord, mercy! And you shall have what you wish. (GE)

Ti a geffi nawdd.
You will get mercy (literally "protection"). (GE)

Arho, mi a diosglaf yr arfeu.
Stay, I will take off the armor. (PE)

Briwedig wyf.
I am bruised. (PPD)

Enain ysydd raid imi.
I need a bath. (PPD)

Lesson Three: Interjections and General Questions

Interjections

Some of these are fairly content-free, swear-to-God types of phrases. Characters are constantly prefacing statements with Yrof a Duw! for emphasis. [Note: The traditional translation of this phrase is "Between me and God!" which makes little sense to me. I have developed a theory that this phrase should actually be translated as "For my sake and Godís!", which theory I presented in a conference paper, and I have used that translation here.

Dioer.
God knows! (PPD)

Y rof i a Duw.
For my sake and Godís (PPD)

Oy a duw.
Oh God. (PPD)

I Duw y dygaf fy gnhyffes.
I make my confession to God. (I confess to God.) (PPD)

Diolwch y Duw.
Thanks to God. (PPD)

Oi a fab Duw.
Oh, Son of God. (BFL)

Dial Duw arnaf.
God's vengeance on me. (PPD)

Duw a dalho it dy gydymdeithas.
God will repay you for your friendship. (PPD)

Duw a dalho it dy ymgeledd.
God repay you for your loving care. (MFM)

Duw a fo nerth it.
May God be your strength. (PPD)

And a few that don't take the name of God in vain ....

Yn llawen.
Gladly. (PPD)

Na chapla di fyfi.
Don't blame me. (PPD)

Llawer damwein a digawn bod.
Many a chance may yet befall. (PPD)

Diryfedd oedd hynny.
That wasn't strange. (PPD)

Meuyl im.
Shame upon me. (PPD)

Gwae fi o'm ganedigaeth.
Woe that I was born. (BFL)

Mefyl ar fy maryf i.
Shame on my beard. (BFL)

General Questions

Many of these questions may be used rhetorically.

Paham?
Why? (PPD)

Pa ystyr yw hynny?
What does that mean? (MFM)

Ae diogel hynny?
Is that certain? (MFM)

Beth ysydd yma?
What is this/here? (PPD)

Beth ysydd yna?
What is that/there?

Beth yw hynn?
What is this?

Beth yw hynny?
What is that? (BFL)

Beth a ellir wrth hynny?
What can be done in the matter? (PPD)

Pa gyfranc fu hynny?
What tale was that? (What was the story behind that?) (PPD)

Beth a wnant wy yna?
What are they doing there? (BFL)

Beth dybygi di yw hynny?
What do you suppose that is? (BFL)

Beth ysydd yn y boly hwnn?
What is in this bag? (BFL)

Beth ysydd yn a cawl hwn?
What is in this stew?

Beth ysydd yn y diod hon?
What is in this drink?

Pwy biewynt wy?
Whose are they? (MFM)

Pwy bieu hynn?
Whose is this?

A oes gennwch chwi chwedleu?
Do you (pl.) have news? (BFL)

A chwedleu genhwch?
Do you (pl.) have news? (BFL)

Mae genhym ni chwedleu ryfedd.
We have strange news. (BFL)

A welewch chwi ddim namyn hynny?
And did you see anything besides that? (BFL)

And General Answers

Llyma oll.
Here is the whole (of it). (PPD)

Llyma fy atteb i iti.
Behold my answer to you. (PPD) [A preface to a longer tale.]

Mynagaf.
I will tell (you). (PPD)

Ie, mi a dybygaf.
Yes, I suppose so. (BFL)

Llyna beth eres.
That is something marvellous. (BFL)

Mi a baraf.
I will arrange [it]. (PPD)

Minheu a baraf.
I myself will arrange [it]. (MFM)

Minnheu a wnaf hynny yn llawen.
I will do that gladly. (PPD)

Nag ef.
Not so. (PPD)

Naddo.
No. (only for past tense questions)

Na wn.
I don't know. (GE)

More Specific Questions and Answers

Pa achaws na ddywedy di wrthyf i?
Why aren't you speaking to me? (PPD)

(Possibly because you're asking the question in Welsh!)

Ae felly y mynnu di, arglwyd?
Is that your wish, lord? (PPD)

Ae cyscu yd wyt ti?
Are you asleep? (PPD)

(I take no responsibility for the result if you actually use this.)

Nac ef, mi a gyskeis, a phan doethost ti i mewn mi a deffroeis.
Not so, I was asleep, but when you came in I awoke. (PPD)

A was, pa deryw iti?
Lad, what happened to you? (What's wrong?) (MFM)

Paham? Beth a weli di arnaf i?
Why? What do you see on me? (What seems wrong?) (MFM)

Meddylio yd wyf.
I am thinking. (MFM)

Mi a wn dy feddwl di.
I know your thought. (I know what you're thinking.) (MFM)

Exasperation

Taw, enaid, a'th ucheneidaw.
Be silent, friend, with your sighing. (MFM)

Nyt o hynny y gorfyddir.
It may not be overcome that way. (That won't do any good.) (MFM)

Mi a dynghaf dynghed iddaw.
I will swear a destiny/curse on him. (MFM)

Aed a'i mynho, nyd af i.
Let him go who will, I will not go. (PPD)

Bibliography

Abbreviations

PPD = Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed

BFL = Branwen ferch Llyr

MFL = Manawydan fab Llyr

MFM = Math fab Mathonwy

BR = Breuddwyd Rhonabwy

CO = Culhwch ac Olwen

GE = Gereint fab Erbin

PE = Peredur fab Efrog

Texts

Bromwich, Rachel & Evans, D. Simon. Culhwch ac Olwen. Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1988.

Evans, J. Gwenogvryn ed. Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch. Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1973.

Jones, Gwyn and Jones, Thomas. The Mabinogion. London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1974. ISBN 0-460-11097-7 "MJ"

Richards, Melville. Breudwyt Ronabwy. Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1980. ISBN 0-7083-0270-X

Thomson, Derick S. Branwen uerch Lyr. Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advance Studies, 1961.

Thomson, R. L. Pwyll Pendeuic Dyuet. Dublin: The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1957.

Williams, Ifor. Pedeir Keinc y Mabinogi. Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru (University of Wales Press), 1982.


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