The vowels in Welsh are a, e, i, o, u, w, y. In pronouncing these, none should ever be slurred or neutralized, as in English one neutralizes the final e in little, or the a and the o in attention: each must always have full value. A, when long, has the sound of a in father; when short, it has the sound of a in fat. So e varies between the sound of ai in pain and that of e in pen; i, between ee in feel and i in fill; o, short, is as o in hot; the long sound of it is between the a of all and the ow in know. U has the sound of the French u in une or the German u modified; those who know not this sound can pronounce it in the same way as the Welsh i taking feel and fill as key words. W varies between the sounds of oo in fool and u in full: we should write either word fwl. Y, in final syllables or monosyllables is commonly the equivalent of the u (feel, fill); in other places it varies between the u in burn and the u in bun; as a word by itself, meaning the, it has the sound of u in fur.
It will be seen that the two sounds given for each vowel are in reality the same in kind; they differ only in quantity. Of course all rules given for the pronunciation of any language in terms of another language can only be approximate; so here one may say that in pronouncing any Welsh vowel the safest plan will be to steer a middle course between the long sounds and the short ones as given above; making your a's neither so broad as the broad English a in father, nor so short as the one in fat. Then one should remember that the accent falls always on the last syllable but one — except perhaps in such words as Penclawdd, Penbardd, Prif-fardd, in which two words are joined together, and the accent would tend to fall equally on either.
Of the consonants, b, d, 1, m, n, p, t, are pronounced as in English. C is always equal to English k; ch is pronounced as in Scots loch, it is something like the German ch, or the Spanish j. Dd has the sound of th in that, thy, this or breathe. F is the English v; ff is the English f; the two words of and off are keywords for these two consonants; though English words they are written with Welsh letters. G is always like g in gave, give, or get. Ng is always like ng in sing; never as in singe or finger. H is always well aspirated. LI is simply an aspirated l; there is no th in it, no sh in it, no sort of splurge or splutter in it; it presents no difficulty until one tries to pronounce it by twisted and sidelong motions of the tongue. So mh and nh are aspirated m and n respectively; ph is f (as in English) ; rh is an aspirated r, and r is well trilled on the end of the tongue as in Spanish or Italian; it is not a guttural r, as in the American pronunciation of English; nor a knock-kneed nonentity as in the English pronunciation of it. S has never the sound of z, always that of English ss; when followed by i and another vowel, however, the si becomes equal to English sh; thus Moel Siabod we pronounce (nearly) Moyle Shab'-od. Th is like the English th in breath, thigh; breathe we might write in Welsh letters bridd; but breath we should write breth.
Of the diphthongs: ai, ae, au, ei, eu, ey, may all be pronounced like the i in fine, quite or pile; there are of course differences between these diphthongs, but there is no English sound, except in dialects, that will express them. Aw is like wo in cow; ew is a combination or unification of the sound of ay as in day as the first part and the sound of oo as in fool as the second; make one sound, a true diphthong, of these two, and you have it. (This sound is common enough in the cockney dialect). Iw is eeoo — like the ew in new. Wy is ooee — but made one sound, not as in coo-ee. Oe, oi, ou may be pronounced as oy in boy. Lastly, w becomes a consonant generally when it follows g; i, when it precedes another vowel: thus Gwyn = Gwin; Taliesin is Tal-yes'-in, not Tally-esin.
Perhaps it will make this clearer if we give approximate pronunciations for the chief proper names in the book.
DYFED: the dyf is equivalent to the English dove; it rhymes with love, above, shove, and so on. Also the accent falls on it. The ed is equivalent to English head, when once the initial h of that word has been dropped.
PWYLL: Pooeelh; there is no better way of writing it in English characters.
GWRI GWALLT EURYN: Goor'-ee Gwalht Eye'-reen.
DIENW 'R ANFFODION: D'-yenn'-oorr Anfod'-yon.
HU GADARN: Hü Gad'-arrn (or one may call it Hee, if necessary).
CERIDWEN: Kerr-id'-wen (Ceridwen Ren ferch Hu: Kerrid'-wen Rain vair — rhymes with fair — kHee). .
TEULU: tilee; it rhymes (more or less) with Smiley or highly.
AB, FAB, MAB. Son, youth, the son of.
ABRED. The Cylch yr Abred or Circle of Inchoation was the lowest of the three circles or planes of existence according to Druidic philosophy. In it the host of souls go through the cycles of incarnation, passing from the mineral to the vegetable, thence to the animal and finally to the human kingdom; in which last they have the power of choosing good and warring against evil (cythraul), and at last attaining godhood or immortality. The four stages of Abred are: Annwn, Obryn, Cydfil, and Dyndeb.
AFANC. A monster that dwelt in the Lake of Floods (Bala Lake), and caused the water to rise till the land was drowned. Hu Gadarn, when he led the Cymry into the Island of the Mighty, dragged the Afanc out of the lake with his two oxen, Nynnio and Peibio; thus saving the land from the oppression of waters.
ANNWN. The Underworld, the lowest plane of Abred.
AWEN. The muse, the inspiration of the poets. Tydain Tad Awen, Tydain father of the Muse, according to the Iolo MSS., the founder of Druidism.
BACH. Little, used commonly as a term of endearment.
BENADUR (PENADUR). Chieftain.
BENBARDD (PENBARDD). Chief of Bards.
BRIF-FARDD (PRIF-FARDD). Primitive Bard, a term applied to Plenydd, Alawn, and Gwron, the three disciples of Tad Awen. (see Iolo MSS.)
BYD. The world.
CAER. Castle, stronghold. Caer Hun, the Castle of Sleep; Caer Drais, the Castle of Violence; Caer Hedd, the Castle of Peace. Caer Sidi, Caer Ochren, Caer Fedifyd, have their mention in Taliesin's Preiddieu Annwn (The Spoils of the Deep).
CANTREF. A division of the land; there might be two or three to six or seven of them in a modern county. A commote is a smaller division than a cantref. See the History of Wales by Professor Lloyd of Bangor; also for the location of the various cantrefi mentioned; and for explanations of the duties, etc., of the various officials of the Welsh court, such as the Distain, Chief Judge, Penteulu.
CEUGANT. The highest of the three druidic circles of Existence: the World of the Absolute.
COELBREM. The ancient alphabet of the Druids, according to the Iolo MSS. It bears a close resemblance to the alphabet of the Celtiberian inscriptions found in Spain.
CYTHRAUL. The principle of evil; nowadays, the devil.
CYMRAEG. The Welsh language. Cymru, Wales. Cymry, the Welsh; traditionally, the first of the three races that occupied Britain by peaceful invasion and consent. The other two were the Brythons and the Lloegrwys. Science also speaks of the Ancient Britons as composite of three racial stocks, calling these Iberians, Gaels, and Brythons.
CYNGHANEDD. The system of consonance used in certain of the Welsh meters, e.g.:
Yr alarch ar ei wiw lyn
ABid galch fel aBad gwyn. — Dafydd ab Gwilym
DISTAIN. An official of the king's court, according to the Laws of Hywel Dda.
DRWG, GWAETH, GWAETHAF OLL. Bad, worse, worst of all.
FAB. See Ab.
FERCH (MERCH). The daughter of.
GAWR (CAWR). Giant.
GOREU. The Best. Goreu fab Ser, the Best One, the son of the Stars. The Caer of Gwydion ab Don was the Milky Way.
GORSEDD. Primarily a throne, in which sense it is used in the term Gorsedd Arberth. Secondarily, the throne or Chair (somewhat in the sense of a chair at a University) of a bard; thence, a School of Bards, as the Gorsedd of Glamorgan; thence, an assembly of Druids and Bards for the carrying out of sacred rites.
GWENT ISCOED. A kingdom in the neighborhood of Monmouthshire.
GWERDDONAU LLION. The Green Places of the Floods, the Islands of
the Blessed in the West of the World.
GWINIONYDD. A cantref on the north bank of the Teifi in Cardigan. G.
GWYDDEL. Goidhel, Gael or Irish.
GWYDDON. Scientist or philosopher. Here used as an adjective, with the meaning of pertaining to the Gwyddoniaid, according to the Iolo MSS., a school of predruidic sages and enchanters.
GWYNFYD. The second of the three circles of Existence, the Circle of Bliss. At the time when the Deity, waking in Ceugant from the Universal Night (which had been preceded by other universal days and nights) sounded His own Threefold Name — the Tair Gwaedd or Three Shouts of the story — in order to waken the Universe from latent into manifested being, so that the stars and suns and systems "flashed into manifestation more swiftly than the lightning reaches its home"; the Blessed Ones or Gwynfydolion, who are ourselves, awoke in Gwynfyd, and looked forth over the gulf of Abred, the Great Deep; and saw the heights of Ceugant unattained; and determined to ride forth through space and take Ceugant by storm. On that expedition we still are traveling; for passing through Abred we were unable to withstand its tempting hosts, and fell into matter and incarnation; and it is with the gathered spoils of the deep, the experience of ages upon ages, that we shall come at last to the peaks of Ceugant, victors. (See Barddas, Iolo MSS., and other writings of the Glamorgan School).
HAI ATTON. Literally, Heigh to us! The bugle call for gathering the hosts. (See Allen Raine's Hearts of Wales, our sole authority for the use of this term. We have much to be thankful to Allen Raine for; and still more if she invented this glorious phrase.) Hai is pronounced like English high.
HIRLAS. A drinking-horn; literally, "long blue."
HU GADARN. According to Richards' Dictionary, hu means "the all-pervading."
HWYL. The method of chanting used in Wales for poetry and rhetoric. The word means "sail"; the idea being that the inspiration drives and fills the spoken words with a certain vibrant, singing quality of sound, as the wind fills and drives and swells the sails of a ship.
MABWNION. A cantref in Cardigan.
MYNYDD. Mountain. Mynydd Amanw, the Black Mountain in Carmarthenshire.
O FOROEDD AC O FYNYDD, etc.
"Out of the seas and the mountain,
And the waves of the rivers,
Comes a God with gifts for the fortunate." — Taliesin, Dyhuddiant Elphin
PAIR DADENI. The Cauldron of Reincarnation, the Cauldron of Ceridwen.
PEN. Head, Chieftain.
PENBARDD. See Benbardd.
PENDEFIG. Prince, Chieftain.
PENTEULU. The Chief of the Teulu.
PRIF-FARDD. See Brif-fardd.
TEULU. In modern Welsh, Household; but here it has the old meaning of the standing army or bodyguard of the Welsh Princes. The teulu consisted generally of a hundred and twenty men of the noble class, whose duty it was to be exterminated in battle before the king should be slain. (See Professor Lloyd's History, to which we are indebted for this and much other information.)
YNYS. Island. Ynys Prydain, Ynys Wen, Ynys y Cedyrn: the Beautiful Isle (or Island of Prydain ab Aedd Mawr, an ancient king), the White or Sacred Isle, the Island of the Mighty: names of Ancient Britain. I suppose that the phrase "the three Islands of the Mighty," used in the Mabinogion, would be really the equivalent of "the threefold or three-divisioned Island of the Mighty," and would refer to the three divisions of that island, ancient as well as modern: Cymru, Lloegr, and Alban; Wales, England, and Scotland.
YSTRAD TYWI. Part of Carmarthenshire.