Welsh, the language
of Wales, is spoken by about 600,000 people, or less than 25
percent of the Welsh population. Like Gaelic, spoken in Ireland
and parts of Scotland, it is one of the Celtic languages, which
constitute one of the many branches of the Indo-European family.
Celtic tribes entered Britain sometime after the 5th century B.C.
The Anglo-Saxon invasions many centuries later drove the Welsh
into the west, where they retained their Celtic speech and
remained a distinctive people.
The Welsh call
their country Cymru and their language Cymraeg. The alphabet
lacks the letters j, k, q, x, and z, while a number of other
consonants are pronounced quite differently from the English. The
letter w is a vowel, pronounced u as in "put," thus
giving rise to such words as gwr (man) and bwyd (food). Ch is
pronounced as in German (e.g., chwaer-sister). The letter f is
pronounced v (nef-heaven), the f sound rendered by ff
(ceffyl-horse). Two special Welsh letters are the dd, pronounced
as a voiced th (dydd-day), and 11, pronounced approximately thl.
The latter appears at the beginning of many Welsh city names such
as Llandudno, Llangollen, and Llanfyllin. Welsh towns bear some
of the most picturesque names of any in the world. A few examples
are Betws-y-Coed, Penrhyndeudraeth, and Pent-bont-rhyd-y-beddau.