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5  Vowel Changes

5.1  One of the most important things in beginning to learn Welsh is to grasp the way in which vowels and consonants can vary. There are three principal vowel variations. This chapter describes them in the following order:
  1. the Y/EI affection
  2. "centering"
  3. the I affection
5.2  Affection is "the phenomenon in which a vowel is drawn part of the way towards a vowel in a following syllable".

5.3  The Y/EI affection has a limited scope. The most obvious use is in the second person singular of verbs whose base contains the sound a -- like canaf (sing), caraf (love). Under the influence of the -y in the ending, the a becomes e. The same change occurs in the second person plural, because the suffix was originally not -wch, but -ych. So the present tense of caraf (which is the model verb given in most grammars -- GMW 114ff) will be
Practise by forming the present tense of canaf, talaf. All the second persons will contain the vowel e.

5.4  This affection can be illustrated by the traditional vowel-diagram. (If you have not used this before, all that you need to know at this point is that it shows the conventional positions of the vowels in the mouth. The front of the mouth is always on the left, the back of the mouth on the right. In accordance with this diagram, vowels can be described in various ways as "high", "middle", "low", "front", "back", "central".)

insert vowel diagram here?

5.5  Centering affects final y, w, and aw. If one of these occurs in the last syllable, then a suffixed form of the word will move the vowel to a more central position in the mouth:
high ybecomesmiddle y
wbecomesmiddle y
We have met this already, whether we realised it or not, in the present tense of edrychaf. The third person singular, edrych, has no suffix. So its final syllable is pronounced with the high y. All the other forms have a suffix, so that the y is a middle y. But in the verbs dygaf ('lead') and cysgaf ('sleep') the third person singular is dwg, cwsg. This shows that w is the original vowel in the base. And in verbs like holaf, holi ('claim'), the third person singular is the original hawl.

Practise reciting the conjugation of these verbs: edrychaf, dygaf, cysgaf, holaf.

The same principle applies in other parts of speech. Compare marchawg (horseman) with marchoges (horsewoman)

5.6  The I affection produces these changes:

5.7  One of the old (Brythonic) third person singular endings was -it. After the general loss of final syllables, many verbs which had this ending now show only the affection that was produced by it. So, *archit has become eirch. The present tense of archaf starts:
archaf'I ask'
erchy'you ask'
eirch'he/she asks'
Complete the paradigm by adding the plural. Then follow the same pattern for gallaf ('can'). With the appropriate changes conjugate these words, which also show I affection in the third person singular:

5.8  Now look at Appendix E. This covers in more detail what you want to know about the third person singular, which is the only major difficulty in the present tense. It will give you most of the the third person forms you will meet in this book.

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All text copyright © 1996 by Gareth Morgan. Online layout copyright © 2001 by Daniel Morgan.