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Old Welsh

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Old Welsh
Native toWales
EraEvolved into Middle Welsh about the 12th century
Early forms
Ogham, Latin
Language codes
ISO 639-3owl
Glottologoldw1241  Old Welsh
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Old Welsh (Welsh: Hen Gymraeg) is the stage of the Welsh language from about 800 AD until the early 12th century when it developed into Middle Welsh.[1] The preceding period, from the time Welsh became distinct from Common Brittonic around 550, has been called "Primitive"[1] or "Archaic Welsh".[2]



The phonology of Old Welsh is as follows.[3]

Consonant phonemes
Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m̥ʰ m n̥ʰ n ŋ̊ʰ ŋ
Stop p b t d k ɡ
Fricative ɸ β θ ð s x h
Approximant w r̥ʰ r j
Lateral l ɬ
Vowel phonemes
Front Central Back
Close i ɨ ʉ u
Mid e (ə) (ɵ) o
Open a
  • Older /ɔ/ was diphthongized into /aw/ in (stressed) final syllables, but it was retained elsewhere. In the modern language, it was almost completely reverted back to /o/ following the stress shift to the penultimate, except in monosyllables.
  • [ə] and [ɵ] were allophones of /ɨ/ and /u/ in non-final syllables, respectively. Later, the latter allophone merged with the former as [ə].
  • Old Welsh /ei/ and /eʉ/ became /ai/ and /aɨ/ in Modern Welsh final syllables.



The oldest surviving text entirely in Old Welsh is understood to be that on a gravestone now in Tywyn – the Cadfan Stone – thought to date from the 7th century, although more recent scholarship dates it in the 9th century.[4] A key body of Old Welsh text also survives in glosses and marginalia from around 900 in the Juvencus Manuscript and in De raris fabulis. Some examples of medieval Welsh poems and prose additionally originate from this period, but are found in later manuscripts; Y Gododdin, for example, is preserved in Middle Welsh. A text in Latin and Old Welsh in the Lichfield Gospels called the "Surrexit Memorandum" is thought to have been written in the early 8th century but may be a copy of a text from the 6th or 7th centuries.[5][6]

Surrexit Memorandum




Words in bold are Latin, not Old Welsh.

surexit tutbulc filius liuit hagener tutri dierchi tir telih haioid ilau elcu filius gelhig haluidt iuguret amgucant pel amtanndi ho diued diprotant gener tutri o guir imguodant ir degion guragon tagc rodesit elcu guetig equs tres uache, tres uache nouidligi namin ir ni be cas igridu dimedichat guetig hit did braut grefiat guetig nis minn tutbulc hai cenetl in ois oisau



Tudfwlch son of Llywyd and son-in-law of Tudri arose to claim the land of Telych, which was in the hand of Elgu son of Gelli and the tribe of Idwared. They disputed long about it; in the end they disjudge Tudri's son-in-law by law. The goodmen said to each other 'Let us make peace'. Elgu gave afterwards a horse, three cows, three cows newly calved, in order that there might not be hatred between them from the ruling afterwards till the Day of Judgement. Tudfwlch and his kin will not want it for ever and ever.


  • The text shows many of the early spelling conventions of Welsh, when the basic Latin alphabet was used to represent the phonology of Old Welsh. At this stage, the use of ⟨ll⟩ to represent the lateral fricative /ɬ/ (liuit > Llywyd) and ⟨dd⟩ to represent /ð/ (did > dydd) had not been developed. The Latin letter ⟨u⟩ was used to represent the diverse sounds /ʉ/ and /ʊ/, which became ⟨u⟩ and ⟨w⟩ respectively, by the medieval period.
  • Initial mutations, a major feature of all Insular Celtic languages, as well as internal consonant changes, do not appear to have been represented orthographically at this point.
  • In some cases, the language used in the Memorandum has become obsolete, but other words are relatively unchanged in modern Welsh:
Old Welsh Modern Welsh English
tir tir land
lau llaw hand
haluidt a llwyth and (the) tribe
diued diwedd end
ir yr, y the
nouid newydd new
guetig wedi after
cas cas hatred
hit hyd until
did dydd day
braut brawd judgement
in ois oisou yn oes oesoedd for ever and ever

Page 141 (on which the text is written) also appears to hold more text written in Old Welsh below Latin, and a mysterious section where text appears to have been erased. No translations or transcripts have yet been offered for the text.

It is also unknown why the particular page was used for the glosses, as little or no text appears to have been added to any other of the Lichfield Gospels. It is possible that the page was chosen to conceal the later added information.

See also



  1. ^ a b Koch, p. 1757.
  2. ^ Willis, p. 1
  3. ^ Old and Middle Welsh, David Willis (PDF).
  4. ^ Edwards, Nancy. 2013. A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales. Vol. III: North Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, p. 430.
  5. ^ Encyclopaedia Wales; University of Wales Press; main editor: John Davies; page 577
  6. ^ Medieval Vision: The Visual Culture of Wales. University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 2003, pg. 25.
  • Price, Glanville (1985). The Languages of Britain. London: Edward Arnold. ISBN 0-7131-6452-2.
  • Koch, John T. (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO.