1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: Welsh
  4. >
  5. Colloquial Welsh


Colloquial Welsh

Before I begin, I must say that I am ecstatic to begin this course. The Welsh Team did a marvelous job with this language course, and I am very proud of the Duolingo Community for jumping right in and accepting the language with open arms.

However, something is quite strange about the Welsh language, and not just the consonant mutations or the word order. As I do with most languages I learn, I will often search a language's conjugations or etymology of a word to get a better understanding of how it falls align together with other languages. Well, ever since I started the Welsh course, I noticed that there are two very distinct conjugation patterns for the same verb; some in the "literary form" being entirely different from the "colloquial form". And this got me wondering about it. What's the difference between the two forms?

Well, with enough research, this is what I have found. If I am not mistaken, this course is written in the Colloquial Welsh register - an informal and dialectical form of the language used in modern everyday conversation. Basically this register - the form of a language spoken depending on the context and personnel - is the equivalent of the English one would use normally. It's essentially the casual form of the language.

But that got me thinking. Why then is there the second form of the language? More research was needed to find this answer. The Literary Register originates out of Middle Welsh - the form Welsh language underwent during the 12th to 14th centuries. Today, it is used in very formal and written text, although it is hardly ever used contemporarily. The English equivalent of it would be like using the obsolete second-person singular pronoun Thou in a sentence rather than You, I suppose.

Either way, it is a very interesting; seeing how the historical components of a language will still be maintained after the language itself has moved on and continued to develop.

January 27, 2016



Yes, you are quite right. Welsh literary forms are much more different from spoken forms than in other languages. I am not sure the conjugations are totally different. Once you understand a range of pronunciations, and some contractions you can see how you get from one to the other.

This, incidentally, shows why Google translations can be very obvious when translating from English to Welsh. Google works by taking hundreds or thousands of parallel texts. Any text that is available in both English and Welsh is used and they then search for patterns and translations in one language to produce the translation from the parallel passage. They then apply a weighting algorithm to take the best consensus translation from various texts.

The problem is that the greater corpus of Welsh scanned literature is in literary Welsh. I am not sure if modern novels, which tend to use a more natural Welsh are included in their search algorithm, but more often than not the consensus translation from Google favours something that can sound very formal.


My daughter in law used to run a cafe and used Google translate to put up the menu Welsh speakers soon came in to correct her it was totally wrong quite funny apparently


I love learning the history of languages and how they change over exposure to other languages and form spoken to written.,

I love the Welsh language, it is beautiful, like Irish. And finding it here on Duolingo has been a blessing.

When people find out I am learning Welsh, or Cymraeg, they immediately want to know where I found a course, period, let alone free!!

I share Duolingo with everyone who wants to learn any language. It is a great tool.


Shwmae, TonyMintz. You're correct - the Welsh taught on the course is the kind of Welsh you'd hear on the street - informal at most times. The difference between literary and colloquial Welsh can be huge sometimes, with the literary and colloquial registers looks completely different even if they mostly say the same thing.

For example, the course teaches dw i ddim yn hoffi coffi but this can be dydw i ddim yn hoffi coffi (a little more formal, the kind of Welsh expected in Welsh language schools) and even nid wyf yn hoffi coffi which is even more formal.

Hope you're enjoying it! Keep it up :D


In school I was taught the 'nid wyf' form which had no practical use. People looked at me funny when I tried to talk and I didn't understand why. I love the DuoLingo course, it is the Welsh I heard spoken around me (for the most part)


I was wondering why the southern form "dych" is used instead of "ydych" in the course? I find "ydach" most natural when speaking in the north, but "ydych" would seem the most natural neutral form in my experience. Llongyfarchiadau ar y cwrs a gadewch i mi wybod os oes modd i mi gyfrannu :)

  • 2538

'dych' is standard in Welsh for adult courses, and a bit more standard throughout Wales than dach, but dach is accepted as an answer


The very simplistic answer goes something like this. Certain religious groupings within Wales deliberately set out to translate the bible and other religious literature into Welsh, probably with a view towards making the Welsh-speaking inhabitants a slightly more god-fearing lot. There was probably also some thought of preserving the language. I'd say it was successful. Go into a church and chapel in Wales these days and you will invariably find a very large old Welsh language bible open on the lectern, full of some rather florid, yet formal Welsh. My guess is that some of that formality was deliberately engineered, but it obviously struck a chord with the population over some centuries; even if they continued to mostly speak colloquial Welsh at home and at work. Formal Welsh was Sunday Welsh, in effect. It was probably quite entertaining to hear your language delivered formally on at least one day of the week. I'm saying they deliberately set out to enoble the Welsh language by creating a formal register.

I've forgotten quite a bit of the detail, but I'm sure Wikipedia has some further evidence on this.

One thing I do know is that one of my supposed ancestors, Blanche Parry, became Chief Gentlewoman of the Queen's Most Honourable Privy Chamber and Keeper of Her Majesty's Jewels to Elizabeth 1st. Blanche was bilingual from an area of Herefordshire where Welsh was then spoken. She was with Elizabeth for many many years and was possibly her closest confidante.


If you wanted Elizabeth to agree to some empire-building expedition, you got Blanche to talk to HM first. And Blanche was not the only Welsh-speaker in court. Blanche was supportive of work to write a Welsh version of the Bible, had friends and relatives who were involved and almost certainly gained the support of Elizabeth for that cause. Elizabeth was obviously looking for ways to strengthen her hold on the country after all the religious issues with her father and her sister.

When I first started learning some Welsh back in the 60s, the Welsh being taught was significantly more formal than that seen on Duolingo today. I still tend to use slightly more formal forms, because I find them more engrained; but I also believe that the language should be allowed to develop with more colloquial forms and neologisms.


If it's any help, my husband - who is a welsh speaker from this region (South Wales) says i sound like Yoda when I speak the sentences, he says that they don't say things that way, but then ... he says that they speak a form of 'Winglish' down here.


Duolingo appears to teach mainly colloquial, rather than literary Welsh. I support that! It is plain unnatural that modern people should use essentially the same language as people from hundreds of years ago.


Absolutely right. The Welsh we speak today is not the same as it was in the 18th century, for example, and neither is English. Grammar / pronunciation are so important as they are the backbone to language learning; yet, there are many people I know say "should of" instead of "should have" that I start to think may be I'm the one in the wrong. I'm not, am I?


What form of Welsh is normally used in ordinary newspapers, in novels, in academic litterature - on wikipedia?


The Welsh being taught on Duolingo is close to what you will generally find in print. There are some distinct Welsh dialects (mainly North and South), and a book may be written in dialect - indeed it generally has to choose one - but it is very rare to find the literary forms in novels or newspapers.

I used to subscribe to "Barn" and "Golwg" and there was a marked difference between them. Barn was more academic and gave you a thorough introduction to some passive voice forms that you rarely hear spoken. Golwg was much more like the spoken "Cymraeg Llafar". However neither used the full literary register.

You are best off with Cymraeg Llafar, and honestly, once you understand that reasonably well, the literary forms become less scary.


Thanks for your good reply


Welsh has a range of registers from the very colloquial ( as heard in soap operas such as Pobol y Cwm and Rownd a Rownd) to the old-fashioned biblical (as seen in the 1955 version of the Welsh bible, say). The BBC Cymru news site uses a middle of the road register common in the media. Novels range around the registers depending on the author and the audience, although many will use a colloquial register and vocab for quoted speech and a more formal register for narrative. Academic work tends to use a more formal register than media articles.

There are 4-6 main dialect areas, depending on how you define them.


How about the 1988 version of Y Beibl?


Would be interested to hear a comparison of the two varieties of Welsh with the two varieties of modern Greek, the kathourevosa and the demotiki.


Hi, I'm a native Welsh speaker. Nobody speaks the formal written language, it is only used for writing. When people read, they even change their pronunciation, for example a Northerner would pronounce "bore" as though it was spelt "bora" unless they were reading. I don't change pronunciation myself and find it annoying, but it is what it is. The closest you would get to hearing the formal language spoken would be on a news bulletin, but that isn't completely formal. The formal written language is standard and has no regional variations.


Thanks for the helpful overview!

Related Discussions

Learn Welsh in just 5 minutes a day. For free.