Middle Welsh Vowels and Diphthongs

Consonants | Vowels

Vowels with Circumflex Accent

The Modern Welsh alphabet uses the "circumflex accent" (the pointy triangle) to mark "long vowels". In Welsh, a "long vowel" literally is pronounced for a longer duration than a short vowel. For example:

AUDIO NOTE: Click on the link next to the speaker graphic to hear the audio file. This is not a native speaker, so it's an approximation only.

tân 'fire' Speaker Icon tân 'fire' dan 'under' Speaker Icon dan 'under'

Table of the Welsh Vowels - a e i o u w y

This table is organized with the letter in the first column, a phonetic symbol in the second column (if the phonetic symbol doesn't mean anything to you, feel free to ignore it), links to audio files in the third column and a description of how to pronounce the sound in the fourth column.

NOTE: Some Welsh words have had their vowels modified to match Middle Welsh pronunciation.

Letter
Phonetic
Audio Description
a
/a/

Speaker Icona.wav

Speaker Iconcath 'cat'

Always pronounced as the "a" as in "pasta" or "papa".

It is NEVER pronounced as the English "long a" of "paste".

e
/e/

Speaker Icone. wav

Speaker Iconhen 'old'

Between the "e" of "mesa" or "paté" and "short e" of "bet", "fell".

It is NEVER pronounced as English "long e" of "keep", nor is it ever "silent e".

i
/i/

Speaker Iconi. wav

Speaker Iconci 'dog'

Between the "i" of "pita" or "spaghetti" and "short i" of "bit", "rich". However, when Welsh "i" precedes a vowel (an "iV" diphthong), it sounds like English "y".

It is NEVER pronounced as the English "long i" of "bike".

o
/o/

Speaker Icono.wav

Speaker Iconbod 'to be'

Between the "o", "taco" and the "o" of "coffee" (East Coast US) or "hot" (British English).

For this vowel it is important to approach a Spanish or Italian pronunciation because some varieties of English "long o" is closer to the Welsh diphthong "ew".

It is NEVER pronounced as the American English "short o"of "hot".

u
/u/

Speaker Iconu.wav

Speaker Iconun 'one'

MIDDLE WELSH: This is the only vowel which has significantly changed from Middle to Modern Welsh.

Technically a central rounded vowel similar to French "u" or the "long u" found in some North American dialects. To make it

  1. Pronounce the "long u" as in "Peru, then push your tongue halfway forward.
/i/
/i/

Speaker Iconibar.wav
Speaker Iconi.wav

MODERN WELSH: Letter "u" is identical Modern Welsh "Obscure y".
w
/u/

Speaker Iconw.wav

Speaker Icondwr 'water'
Speaker Icongwen 'white'

  1. Vowel - The long "u" of Peru (aim for a Spanish pronunciation). If "w" is not before another vowel, this is how it's pronounced. But see Welsh"gw" for an exception to uses #1 and #2
  2. Consonant - To represent English "w".
y
Schwa-Upside Down e

Speaker Iconschwa.wav

Speaker Iconyn 'in'

In this case, one letter "y" represents to vowels:

REDUCED VOWEL - To represent "schwa" of "short u" as in "uh", "us".

/i/
/i/

Speaker Iconibar.wav

Speaker Icondyn 'man'

OBSCURE Y

Middle/Modern (North)- This is a non-English sound, technically a "high unrounded central vowel".

To pronounce it, start with English "long e" as in "feet", then pull back your tongue WITHOUT rounding your lips.

Alternatively, start with English "long u" as in "Peru and UNROUND your lips.

Modern South- In modern dialects of the South, "obscure y" now rhymes with Welsh "i". (or the "i" of pizza.)

Diphthong Chart

NOTE: Some Welsh words have had their diphthongs modified to match Middle Welsh pronunciation.

Letter
Phonetic
Audio Description
ae
/ay/

Speaker Iconae.wav
Speaker Icon caer 'fort

This is similar to English "long i" as in "pine", "sign".

NOTE: English "long i" is in fact a diphthong, not a vowel.

au
/aü/

Speaker Iconau. wav
Speaker Iconglanhau 'to clean'

MIDDLE WELSH - Not found in English, it's a combination of Middle Welsh "a" and French "u". It will sound somewhat similar to Welsh "aw" BUT with the tongue pushed forward.
aw
/aw/

Speaker Iconaw.wav
Speaker Iconllaw 'hand'

This is similar to English "ow" as in "cow", "pow". It is NEVER pronounced as the "aw" in "raw".

ei
/ey/

Speaker Iconei.wav
Speaker Iconnei 'nephew'

MIDDLE WELSH - Pronounced as a combination of Welsh "e" plus English "y". To English speakers, it will sound like a drawled "long a" as in "same". This diphthong is also found in Spanish in words like seis "six".

MODERN WELSH - This now rhymes with Welsh "ae" or English "long i". For instance, English "right" is spelled reit in Welsh. But assume the Middle Welsh pronunciation for this course.

eu

/eü/

Speaker Iconeu.wav
Speaker Iconeur 'gold'

MIDDLE WELSH - Not found in English, it's a combination of Middle Welsh "e" (or English "long a") and French "u". It will sound somewhat similar to Welsh "ew" BUT with the tongue pushed forward.

ew

/ew/

Speaker Iconew.wav

Speaker Icontew 'fat'
vs.
Speaker Icon ton
'wave'

This diphtong exists in some dialects of English. It's a combination of Welsh "e" (or English "long a") plus English "w". To English speakers it will resemble a "flat o".

People in British English or some dialects of the Southern U.S. actually prounounce English "long o" as THIS diphthong.

For example in the Baltimore (US) dialect, "How 'bout them O's (Orioles team)!" is actually pronounced "How 'bout them EW's!" (I speak from native Baltimore experience).

Similarly, British "Oh my!" is "EW my!".

i+V

/y+V/


Speaker Iconlliw 'color'
Speaker Iconiach 'healthy'

When Welsh "i" comes before any vowel ("V"), it's pronounced as an English "y".

oe

/oy/

Speaker Iconoe.wav
Speaker Iconoedd 'was'

This is similar to the "oy" of "boy".

wy

/uy/
or
/wi/

Speaker Iconwy1.wav
Speaker Iconwyth 'eight'
vs.
Speaker Icongwyn 'white'

  1. A combination of English "long u" and English "y". Some Welsh words with this diphthong are wyth '8' and pwy 'who'. It's similar to English "oy", EXCEPT that the first vowel is "long u".This is also found in the Spanish word muy.

  2. A combination of English "w" plus Welsh "y". Almost all instantances of Welsh words spelled with "gwy" are this type.

yw

/yu/

Speaker Iconyw.wav
Speaker Iconyw 'is'

In Modern Welsh, this sounds like a combination of English "y" and English "long u". Welsh yw 'is' rhymes with English "you".

Audio, graphics, text, © Elizabeth J. Pyatt, 2002, 2003. All Rights Reserved.