Summer Surmises: Thoughts About Counting in Welsh
Summer Surmises: Thoughts About Counting in Welsh
Dydd Llun, y 18fed Gorffenaf / Monday, July 18, 2022 / Yom Sheni, 19 Tammuz, 5782.
David Orenstein, Toronto, Canada
Last week I said that “I should learn how to count in the six modern Celtic languages: Manx, Cornish, Breton, Welsh, Gaelic, Erse. Maybe even in Scots.”
This week I’ll start on “Celtic Counting” by doing it in Welsh. On my trip to the University Library to look for Celtic language grammars, my best find was Gareth King’s Modern Welsh: A Comprehensive Grammar.
There’s a whole chapter “Numerals and quantifiers” running from page 135 to page 160, Sections 160 to 197. Section 179 is “Days of the Week”, which I’m using to build on last week’s look at this topic in Hebrew and English.
English = Hebrew = Welsh = <Literal Transl.> = “Fluent Transl.”
Monday = Yom sheni = Dydd Llun = <Day Moon> = “The Moon’s Day”
Tuesday = Yom shlishi = Dydd Mawrth = <Day Mars> = “Mars’s Day”
Wednesday = Yom revi’i = Dydd Mercher = <Day Mercury> = “Mercury’s Day”
Thursday = Yom chamishi = Dydd Iau = <Day Jove> = “Jupiter’s Day”
Friday = Yom shishi = Dydd Gwener = <Day Venus> = “Venus’s Day”
Saturday = Shabbat = Dydd Sadwrn = <Day Saturn> = “Saturn’s Day”
Sunday = Yom rishon = Dydd Sul = <Day Sun> = “The Sun’s Day”
As you can see, these day names are neither mathematical (as in Hebrew) or a deity ratatouille (as in English). In fact, they are rather like the days in French (or many other Romance languages, but not all):
Lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi, vendredi, samedi, dimanche.
While the structure of the Welsh days is <Day [deity]> the French name reverses the order: <[deity]day>. The exception is Dydd Sul = dimanche = Sunday, where the Welsh is like the English, and not the French. The Latin word “Dominus” = Lord is the basis for Dimanche = The Lord’s Day.
With no numbers here, it’s time to get back on topic: Counting in Welsh. So, here are the cardinal numbers from 1 to 20:
- trih /tair
- undeg un / un ar ddeg
- undeg dau / deuddeg
- undeg trih / tri ar ddeg
- undeg pedwar / pedwar ar ddeg
- undeg pum(p) / pymtheg
- undeg cwech(ch) / un ar bymtheg
- undeg saith /dau ar bymtheg
- undeg wyth / deunaw
- undeg naw / pedwar ar bymtheg
- dauddeg / ugain
From 1 to 4 the alternatives are masculine/feminine. From 11 to 20 they are decimal / vigesimal systems. That is base 10 and base 20. Ugain (20) is recommended for learners because of the similarity of the sounds of deuddeg (12) and dauddeg (20).
All the cardinals from 1 to 10 are non-composite; you just have to learn them. In the decimal system there’s a very clear pattern from 11 through 19. For 20, you wonder why deg, 10, becomes ddeg. Already we’re dealing with the renowned Celtic consonant mutation. After a vowel <d> -> <dd> is one such example.
The decimal system pattern is: “one-ten <number>” = 1(10) + x, e.g. undeg un = “one-ten one” = 1(10) +1 = 11. So, undeg saith =1(10) + 7 = 17. Dauddeg can be understood as “two-tens” = 2(10) = 20. After 10, you’re already into combined operations, multiplication and addition, and in a specific order.
Looking at the numbers 11 to 20, in the vigesimal system, there’s a greater variety of patterns. Thus, you’re beginning to get a feel for number theory.
For 11, 13, and 14, it’s “<number> and ten” = x + 10. Deg becomes ddeg after <r>. E.g., pedwar ar ddeg = “four and ten” = 4 + 10 = 14.
Twelve is deuddeg = “two-ten” = 2 + 10 = 12, unlike dauddeg, 20. Similar to deuddeg is pymtheg = “five-ten” = 5 + 10 = 15, with more sound changes.
For 16, 17, and 19, pymtheg (15) serves as the base in the mutated form bymtheg: “<number> and fifteen” = x + 15. E.g. dau ar bymtheg = “two and fifteen” = 2 + 15 = 17.
Deunaw (18) introduces yet another pattern. Deunaw = “two-nine” = 2(9) = 18.
The cardinal numbers keep going beyond 20, and also there are ordinal numbers. Also, there are comparable systems in the other Celtic languages, Manx, Cornish, Breton, Gaelic, and Erse.
But that’s (at least) another story!
Lewis Glinert (1994) Modern Hebrew: An Essential Grammar, 2nd ed. Routledge, London, U.K. xvi + 176 pp., incl. 2 pp. index.
Georges Ifrah (1987) Lowell Bair, transl. From One to Zero: A Universal History of Numbers. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England. xvi + 503 pp., incl. 4 pp. biblio.
Kenneth Katzner (1986) The Languages of the World, 2nd ed. x + 378 pp., incl. 6 pp. index.
Welsh Language References:
Janet Davies (2014) The Welsh Language: A History. University of Wales Press, Cardiff. incl. 2 pp. ref., 16 pp. index.
Gareth King (2016) Modern Welsh: A Comprehensive Grammar. Routledge, Oxford, xxiii + 519 pp., incl. ref. 2pp., index 15 pp.
Thomas Parry, (1955), H. Idris Bell, transl., A History of Welsh Literature. Oxford University Press, Oxford. xii + 534 pp., incl. 3 pp. ref., 81/2 pp. Author index, 24 ½ pp. Subject index.
T.J. Rhys Jones (1977) Teach Yourself Living Welsh. Hodder and Stoughton, Sevenoaks, Kent 445 pp.
Related BSHM blog posts:
Easter / Passover Calendrics.
First «Summer Surmises» blog post.
Welsh Language Links:
Government of Wales Plan for “A Million Welsh Speakers by 2050”.
BBC Wales menu for Cymru Fyw.
University of Wales.
Online Dictionary of Welsh.