Old Welsh

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Old Welsh
Hen Gymraeg
Native to Wales
Era Evolved into Middle Welsh about the 12th century
Early forms
Language codes
ISO 639-3 owl
Linguist list
Glottolog oldw1239[1]
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Old Welsh (Welsh: Hen Gymraeg) is the label attached to the Welsh language from about 800 AD until the early 12th century when it developed into Middle Welsh.[2] The preceding period, from the time Welsh became distinct from Common Brittonic around 550, has been called "Primitive"[2] or "Archaic Welsh".[3]

Many poems and some prose have been preserved from this period, although some are in later manuscripts, for example the text of y Gododdin. The oldest surviving text entirely in Old Welsh is probably that on a gravestone now in Tywyn church, thought to date from the 7th century. A text 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.[4][5]

Old Welsh texts

Surrexit Memorandum


Words in italics 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/, /ʊ/ and /v/, which became u, w and f, v 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. It is not clear to what extent they had developed in the spoken language.
  • 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
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 texts appears to have been erased. No translations or transcripts have yet been offered for this 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. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Old Welsh". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Koch, p. 1757.
  3. Willis, p. 1
  4. Encyclopaedia Wales; University of Wales Press; main editor: John Davies; page 577
  5. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Koch, John T. (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links