LANGUAGE AND PLACE-NAMES IN WALES
2003a Language and Place-names in Wales: the Evidence of Toponymy in Cardiganshire, Cardiff: University of Wales Press (xii + 447 pp). ISBN 0-7083-1796-0 (£60)
This book deals with the development of the Welsh language from the Medieval period to the present-day and complements K. H. Jackson’s Language and History in Early Britain (1953) and J. Morris-Jones’s A Welsh Grammar (1913), neither of which dealt methodically with the development of Welsh after the Medieval period. It was accepted as the argument of a doctorate by the University of Wales in 1998 (Swansea) – the examiners being Prof. Brynley Roberts of the Univ. of Wales & Dr. Oliver Padel of the Univ. of Cambridge.
The main intention of the work was to chart and explain – where possible – the what, how, and why of the phonological development of Welsh since the twelfth century (and in some cases before). The author believes that since place-names are anchored both in time and space an emphasis on place-names rather than literary texts gives a different – and a more reliable – standpoint from which to chart phonetic developments in a language. At the very least the study of place-name forms offers a more balanced picture of the evolution of language than studies which concentrate solely on the literary evidence. Nonetheless the literary evidence has not been ignored, and the synthesis of both types of evidence can only enrich our understanding of the complexities and dynamics of language development. Towards the end of the book the author forwards some conclusions as to the relationship of the medieval literary form to contemporary Welsh speech.
For those interested in Welsh history the book should prove useful, firstly, to toponymists attempting to elucidate obscure place-names in other areas of Wales, and, secondly, to anyone attempting to locate the provenance of otherwise unattributed manuscripts by the internal features of the Welsh therein. Thirdly, for those interested in the general problems concerning language development the book provides readily accessible material for comparative purposes. And, finally, for the purposes of the exact transcription of the phonetic features of Welsh in IPA (International Phonetic Association), the varying conventions adopted by Welsh phoneticians of the past century and a half are discussed and compared, as a result of which improvements to the IPA transcription of Welsh are suggested.
The conclusions arrived at are primarily based on a 15,000 head corpus of place-names from Cardiganshire (Ceredigion) – which covers approximately a tenth of the surface area of Wales – with extensive reference being made to place-name evidence from throughout Wales. The author conducted an intensive program of field-work interviewing aged local informants as well as gathering all evidence of place-name documentation in the historical record.
Reviews & Responses
G. R. Isaac 2004 (Response to G. R. Isaac 2004)
P. Russell 2005 (Response to P. Russell 2005)
addenda & corrigenda
THE WELSH DIALECT SURVEY
2000. Alan R. Thomas (ed.) The Welsh Dialect Survey, Cardiff: University of Wales Press ISBN 0-7083-1617-4 (£40, out of print)
EXPLANATORY NOTE: It should be explained that although the Survey of Welsh Dialect Phonology (SWDP) project which led to this book was indeed the brainchild of Professor Alan Thomas of Bangor, it is a fact that I was employed as his right-hand man from start to finish as fieldworker and editor and was responsible for many of the editorial and transcriptional decisions, although this is not made clear in the publication itself. Despite this prejudicial omission to mention the scope of my contribution – prejudicial for I was then in my early academic career stage – I thoroughly appreciated Alan Thomas’s character and management of the project and remember him fondly as a friend as much as a director. His untimely death in 2005 meant the original field transcriptions were mislaid and subsequently lost despite them having been triplicated, thankfully one set of tape recordings (again there were triplicates!) have been preserved at the Welsh Folk Museum of Saint Fagans near Cardiff.
The SWDP had been conceived in the 1970s by Alan Thomas immediately following the publication of his Linguistic Geography of Wales (LGW) in 1973 which had assembled its data by posting questionnaires and had focused on lexical variation, thus not returning data with the phonological precision to which modern linguists had become accustomed. Aware of the gaping insufficiency in phonetic/phonological knowledge which remained after LGW’s publication, Alan Thomas set about planning for a new dialect survey, the SWDP, which would be carried out by full-time dialect researchers. In fact a project for a phonetic/phonological atlas of Welsh dialects had been envisaged as long ago as the mid 1950s by T. Arwyn Watkins, Welsh lecturer at Aberystwyth, and had begun to take shape witness Watkins’s articles: ‘Linguistic atlas of Welsh’ (1955), ‘Background to the Welsh dialect survey’ (1962) and ‘Dialectology’ (1963). Watkins was one of Alan Thomas’s lecturers at Aberystwyth in the 1950s and directed the latter’s MA research on the dialect of Crai (Breconshire) so one can see that the SWDP had been mooted in one form or another within the University of Wales for over 35 years before the University’s Board of Celtic Studies dispensed the money to enable the project to be established.
The Survey of Welsh Dialect Phonology became active in 1991 and continued until 1997. The two researchers employed – Esther Rees and myself – were directed by the Board of Celtic Studies’ Welsh Dialect sub-committee under Alan Thomas which included other Welsh lecturers of the University of Wales who had an interest in dialectology: David Thorne (Lampeter), Robert Owen Jones (Swansea), Peter Wynn Thomas and Glyn E. Jones (both of Cardiff). After a short period of preparation the researchers were soon sent to interview and record 726 items from different areas throughout Wales which, in the end, came to 117 localities distributed fairly evenly throughout Wales (Libanus, a locality on the language border near Brecon, would also have been included, but the informant Brychan Williams died before my third visit and further enquiries revealed no more local speakers of Welsh in that area).
The items sought were most usually individual words arranged according to phonological criteria such as vowels, consonants, consonant clusters, provection, mutations etc. The phonological criteria came up in a number of separate items and the number and selection of items enables linguists to discern the basic phonological systems of a 117 geographically distinct variants of Welsh. The informants were all local and born between 1900 and 1938 (mostly between 1910 and 1930):
- 1900–09 20 informants
- 1910–19 47 informants
- 1920–29 42 informants
- 1930–39 8 informants
The original cassette recordings used for transcription were supplemented for each locality by an additional cassette of an hour, or so, of conversation with the informants. A morphological questionnaire was also carried out in some 26 localities, evenly, though more thinly, spread throughout the Welsh-speaking areas. Unpublished, it was not considered part of the remit of the SWDP but was carried out nevertheless because it was thought that such an opportunity to gather comparable data on the morphology of dialectal variants of colloquial Welsh might not arise again.
The bulk of the field-work was carried out between late 1991 and 1994. Transcriptions of the data and preparation of the published text occupied most of the period from 1995 till 1997, with a few pieces of fieldwork being completed or revised in this period. The computer data-base used for SWDP was devised by Cathair Ó Dochartaigh, then at Bangor, and was broadly similar to that used by him in editing the five volumes of The Survey of the Gaelic Dialects of Scotland (SGDS) between 1994–97. Alan Thomas had plans to carry out quantitative surveys of the phonological data inputted into the data-base along the lines described in his 1980 publication Areal Analysis of Dialect Data by Computer: a Welsh Example. Both his death and that the onset of dementia which forced Ó Dochartaigh to resign from Glasgow University in 2004 left the original data-base files unusable. A useful phonological classification of WDS items according to positional context was requested of me by Alan Thomas but he never got to make use of it: I thought it well to provide it through a link on this website for whoever might want to make use of it (see below).
I was employed by the SWDP the greater part of the period between 1991 and 1997 (except for a period when I was collecting material for a sociolinguistic survey in Pontardawe in late 1993 for a project initiated by Mari C. Jones for the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies in Aberystwyth which remains unpublished and probably unfinished). I was responsible for collecting material for the SWDP throughout central Wales, from Saint Davids to Brecon, from Barmouth to Flintshire and from Llanelli to Llanelian-yn-rhos near Llandudno. Esther Rees was the collector elsewhere, but I also carried out some revisions in Anglesey, Caernarfonshire and Glamorganshire (where I collected the material for Glynogwr).
link to WDS phonological classification