Pronunciation model: Welsh English

View the key for Welsh English here.

The British Principality of Wales has its own distinct Brittonic Celtic language, but aside from the inevitable borderland interactions from the end of the 8th century, the major language shift was sparked between the 11th and 13th centuries as the Norman invasion brought a wave of Norman French and, even more strongly, the English of their followers. Dialects of Welsh English arose in areas of south Wales from the 12th century onwards. In the 1500s, English was formally instated as the sole language for governmental and legal purposes. Yet Welsh language has maintained a firm grip in at least some (largely rural) areas of Wales, even though the 20th century saw the last of the monolingual Welsh-speaking areas. Devolved powers over education and language policies and several regional authority policies have aided the increase of schoolchildren learning Welsh and the upkeep of Welsh in community life, even as far as Gwynedd turning to Welsh as its administrative language (though bilingual in public interactions) and at least one other authority planning similar. But just as Welsh has distinct north and south dialects, so also there are broadly two main forms of ‘Welsh English’ (though this term is not without controversy) spanning many of the 3.1 million population of Wales.

The description of Penhallurick (2008), based on Parry’s (1999) rural Welsh English data collected for the Survey of Anglo-Welsh Dialects, forms the basis of OED’s Welsh English (WLE) model, though the OED aim is to represent the speech of educated urban speakers of standard English and therefore there are several notable deviations from the rural model. Nevertheless, readers are directed to Penhallurick’s chapter for further detail on the key features described below.

Although both /ɔ/ and /ɒ/ are heard in LOT words, the latter is less common. Some words with a e.g. wasp, quarry may have /a/ in WLE. Words such as ONE, with o, are either pronounced as STRUT or as LOT depending on the region. The centralization of the STRUT vowel compared with England’s modern RP is quite strong and may reflect the lack of a more open central vowel in Welsh. Wells refers to the ‘STRUT-schwa merger’, and there is similar variation in unstressed syllables. However, Penhallurick notes how in STRUT the movement is towards schwa, while in LETTER the movement is away from it, so letter may be more accurately represented as /ʌ/. But since Wells describes (p.381) a large untidy room and a large and tidy room as usually homophonous, it would seem inappropriate to represent these vowels differently. Given the distinctiveness of this raised STRUT vowel relative to other varieties of British English, the OED model reflects STRUT, LETTER, and AGO as /ə/, though the quality in letter may not be quite so central. Unstressed vowel reduction is less wide-ranging than in some other varieties of English, however, hence words such as cromlech retain /ɛ/ as the vowel in the second syllable.

There is considerable length variation on BATH, and in long form is similar to PALM and START vowels. The NURSE vowel in the southern form of WLE is described by Penhallurick as a ‘long, rounded, centralized-font, half-open [œː]’, with /əː/ widespread. This vowel also appears after /j/ in words such as ears, here. GOOSE is sometimes /ʊ/ in words such as tooth. HAPPY is not commonly reduced.

Close final elements are common in closing diphthongs PRICE, CHOICE, and MOUTH, though the initial elements are either more centralized (southern region) or more open (elsewhere). The more widely-used version is the symbol in OED. In what would be triphthongal contexts in some varieties, such as fire and power, a more pronounced glide is found in WLE (e.g. fire /ˈfaijə/). However, this also applies to CURE, which is more similar to the TUESDAY vowel /ɪu/. The TUESDAY vowel is likely influenced by both the Welsh language vowel commonly represented as , and influence from neighbouring west English accents. Penhallurick also notes the tendency for BOAR words to deviate from other FORCE words in having a raised quality followed by a central sound.

For the complexities of the FACE/STAY and GOAT/SNOW vowels see Penhallurick (2008), but there is a clear separation for many speakers in the south of Wales to demonstrate a difference between the first and second of each pair. For many in the north of Wales the vowel in the first of each pair will also be found in the second. OED opts to reflect the distinction, such that the default is /eː/ for FACE and /oː/ for GOAT but spellings of ai, ay, ei, ey, and eigh are of STAY form, and ou, ow, ol are of SNOW form.

The most distinctive WLE consonant sound, despite its relatively limited occurrence, is /ɬ/ (denoted by ll in spelling), the voiceless alveolar lateral fricative. It is borrowed from the sound system of the Welsh language itself, along with /x/ (ch), which is found in other several varieties of English and particularly those with a Celtic root (Manx, Scottish, Irish). Syllable-initial /h/ is often dropped.

Another distinctive consonantal feature is the gemination (doubling) of consonants /p, b, t, d, k, ɡ, v, θ, s, ʃ, tʃ, m, n, ŋ, l/ in word-medial position after a stressed vowel (e.g. jetty /ˈdʒɛtːiː/). Although widely acknowledged between vowels, Penhallurick describes how it also occurs with postvocalic word medial consonants before a consonant (e.g. thimble /ˈθɪmːbl/). OED indicates such lengthening in both circumstances.

There are two Welsh /r/-like phonemes, the main impact on Welsh English being a trilled (‘rolled’) /r/ which is now more commonly a tapped/flapped version. However, an approximant form is now more widespread than either the tap or trill, particularly amongst younger speakers. These three forms are regarded as allophones (different possible realizations) of the same phoneme /r/, though differences may be noted in the audio. Rhoticity is a feature of the Welsh language that is transferred into WLE, sometimes leading to vowel changes such as /hɛrd/ for heard. However, for the majority of urban WLE speakers the variety remains non-rhotic and this is the form represented by OED except for words which are of Welsh language origin, in which the postvocalic /r/ is more likely and is represented by a bracketed form /(r)/. Word-final /r/ after a consonant is also possible, as in amobr. In connected speech, linking and intrusive /r/ are both features of WLE.

Several features of WLE may be observable on the audio recordings, depending on context and speaker, but which are not salient for the transcriptions. These include the pharyngealization of some vowels (contraction of pharyngeal arches during production), strongly aspirated /p, t, k/, and dentalized /t, d, n/.

More regional features such as lack of voicing on some word-medial and word-final /d, z/, word-initial voicing of /f, θ, s, ʃ/ to /v, ð, z, ʒ/, and dropping of initial /w/ in some words do not form part of the model for transcription or audio.

Key Source

Penhallurick, R. 2008. Welsh English: phonology. In: B. Kortmann & C. Upton, eds. Varieties of English 1: the British Isles. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp.105-121.