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Preface: How to Use this Book

This book comes from materials and methods used over many years at the University of Texas at Austin. It introduces and practises the forms and structures used in the first story of the Mabinogi and culminates in a reading of that story (complete and unchanged) in a standardised spelling close to that of Modern Welsh. Then it tells you something about medieval spelling and opens the gate to reading the published text of this story, and the rest of Middle Welsh literature. Experience suggests that a class will get to the reading of the original text in about twenty to twenty-five one-hour periods. As to the individual -- who knows? One enthusiast might gobble it all up in a week: another might use a year of his morning commuting on bus or train.

If you are using this book with a teacher, you can pass over some of this section. A teacher, or even a friendly Welsh speaker with no particular expertise in Middle Welsh, can lead you through Chapters 2 and 3, on pronunciation, much more effectively than any written word. Later on, he can encourage you to read every word of Welsh aloud as you try to understand it. The ear helps the eye.

The same principle applies even if you do not have a teacher or Welsh friend. Say everything you try to understand. Then, when you have understood it, say it again, in Welsh and in English, to fix the achievement.

Don't be put off by the long list of "First Words" in Chapter 4. They're not meant for immediate learning, but just to give a first basis for practice. By the time you come to read the real Mabinogi in Chapter 28, you will have met most of these words time and time again in exercises, and absorbed them in their context -- something much easier than list-learning.

Many of the people who want to learn Middle Welsh already have some knowledge of other languages. That is why parallel words (cognates) in Latin or German or other languages are given in an extra column of the Vocabulary. For people with this sort of knowledge, the parallels can help to fix words in the memory. But do not think that this sort of training is essential. Even if the only tongue you know is English, you can still learn Middle Welsh from these pages.

In the old days, it would have been counted disgrace and shame to use a translation ("crib", "trot", "pony") to find your way through a foreign text. Now it is encouraged. Read the first part of the Mabinogi in English -- the Bibliography (Chapter 30) will give you some suggestions. The sentences you meet will be based on the real text -- but BE CAREFUL. They won't necessarily be exactly the same. You have to find the exact meaning of the Welsh sentences, and not just assume a vague correspondence with what you see in the translation.

You can profit from this book without the use of an academic grammar. To go further, and to get a fuller understanding, you will need D. Simon Evans' A Grammar of Middle Welsh (Dublin 1976). In these pages it is abbreviated as GMW.

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