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Dialects - much more than a simple north/south divide

There are many posts mentioning the differences between 'north' and 'south'. There are many more dialects and accents than these, however, and it can never be easy for any course to steer a path through them.

For examples of the actual complexity on the ground, look at examples such as these, which, although they cover only the vocabulary and not local variations in pronunciation and grammar, give the lie to a simple north-south split:

  • http://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/13242
  • http://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/13243

There are similarly local dialect words for such things as girl, boy, hedge, farm lane and so on. Milk can be llaeth, llâth, llefrith. Large/big is usually mawr, but pronounced mowr in much of the south-west. 'To home' is often adra in the north-west and the south-east, adre elsewhere, but sometimes tua thre (pronounced sha thre) in the south and south-east.

-au endings (eg dechrau, cefnau) are often pronounced -a, ( dechra, cefna) in the north-west and south-east, but -e (dechre, cefne) in the north-east, mid-Wales and the south-west.

Cael might be heard as câl in the south-west and ciêl in mid-Wales.

Etc, etc.

There is a useful, fairly recent book, part dictionary and part grammar, on varieties of Welsh - 'Dewud eich Dweud: A Guide to Colloquial and Idiomatic Welsh' (2001/2013, Ceri Jones) - which is a treasure trove of colloquial and dialect usages. In one appendix it refers to dialects in particular and identifies five main dialect areas covering:

  • North-west Wales (Gwendodeg)
  • North-east and northern mid-Wales (Powyseg)
  • Pembrokeshire Welsh (Iaith Sir Benfro)
  • Southern mid-Wales (Dyfedeg)
  • South and south-east Wales (Gwenhwyseg).

At £20 it is a bit expensive for idle curiosity, but probably worth getting hold of through a local library.

February 8, 2016


  • 1929

It may be worth pointing out that whilst English began to be standardised in writing with the creation of the first dictionary, widespread spoken standardisation within the UK only really commenced with the start of the BBC in the 1920s. The two World Wars also contributed by bringing people from different areas and classes together in a way that had not really occurred before. Prior to that dialects were very-much stronger and distinctive, people in the South of England would have great difficulty understanding people from the North of England and vice-versa. Once the BBC was formed a 'standard' English known as RP (Received Pronunciation) came to dominate.

However, it was only with the wide-spread adoption of television in homes and the arrival of commercial television (ITV) in the 1950s, which was regionally based, that local dialects and accents began to heard more frequently nationally across the UK. Gradually all the nations and English regions of the UK began to become familiar with the English spoken by all the others.

A separate but similar effect occurred with understanding of American speech and (often weird) ways of their regions due to the increasing exposure to American TV programmes particularly on ITV at first. Also a significant number of American writers and producers worked with ITV during its first decade, often due to them escaping the fervour of 'McCarthy Witch-hunts' where they were no longer able to work in the US. Often, British people have a better understanding of the regional differences between the various states and regions of the US than many Americans. One reason why so many British actors have achieved success there playing Americans with most American viewers being completely unaware.

It would seem, as an English outsider, that Welsh is now going through its own period of standardisation. Although it appears it starts from a position of greater variation than English ever had. The wide variation in Welsh dialects and usage occasionally produces some odd effects whereby what was once a relatively rarely used word in a small pocket of, most often, South Wales becomes the 'standard'. An example is given in this 1m 47s clip from the BBC's 'Share Your Welsh' website: regarding the adoption of 'pili-pala' for butterfly. In many cases this is a result of the greater population of the South, but possibly in this particular instance simply because it sounds better or is easier to remember. I discovered this resource from the following Duolingo topic: BBC #shareyourwelsh. I've noticed that most European languages have a pleasant-sounding word for butterfly, with the possible exception of German!

Please be aware, BBC iPlayer and other content may not play or be reachable to people outside the UK due to UK TV licence conditions and rights restrictions. However, audio/radio/educational content may often be less restrictive.


What is "pleasant-sounding" is relative :D

  • 1929

I found a map illustrating the different dialect regions, which I thought people might find interesting:

Map of Welsh dialect areas

I think this is a fairly close match to ibischris' excellent description in the original post. The most significant difference is that Pembrokeshire is omitted/included within 'Y Ddyfedeg'. The following map from Wikipedia showing the historical counties of Wales may help identify its location:

Historical counties of Wales

Much of Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro) has been English speaking for many centuries. Sir meaning 'shire' or 'county' in English.

Linguistically the county is split between English-speaking southern Pembrokeshire, 'English Pembrokeshire' (Sir Benfro Saesneg) and northern Welsh-speaking Pembrokeshire (Iaith Sir Benfro), 'Welsh-language Pembrokeshire'. It is this region that ibischris refers to in his original article.

Southern Pembrokeshire is sometimes referred to as Little England beyond Wales with the boundary between the two known as the Landsker Line.

Wikipedia also has an article detailing the present day counties and county boroughs of Wales.

Something American readers, in particular, might find surprising is that cities in the UK are not automatically granted city status based upon size. A town has to be bestowed with city status by the reigning monarch by a means of Letters Patent. Historically this was based upon whether the town possessed a cathedral. A city may also have its city status revoked. St Davids in Pembrokeshire being a case in point. It was first granted city status in the 16th century but this was revoked in 1888. St Davids was restored to city status by the present Queen in 1994. It is the UK's smallest city.

  • 1929

Wikipedia has a map showing the proportion of Welsh speakers from the 2011 census:

Map of proportion of Welsh speakers

  • 1929

I just found an alternative version of this map on Wikipedia breaking down the proportion of Welsh speakers by 'principle area':

Proportion of Welsh speakers by principle area.

  • 1929

I discovered this article concerning the spread of Welsh dialects that I found interesting and thought others might also: Wales online.

Be warned: this is one of an increasing number of sites, especially newspapers and want-to-be newspapers, that employ the sneaky and underhand auto-play video adverts, out of sight, midway down the page. So you may wish to avoid this if using mobile data. Even more sneakily, at least one of the adverts has a false close button that instead simply launches the advertiser's site in a new window, whilst leaving the original video still running!

  • 1929

The Museum Wales website has an interesting article regarding the different dialects, along with distribution maps of sample words and audio recordings of real people speaking in these dialects. The English version of the site provides limited details but the Welsh version has substantial write-ups of the story behind each recording.

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