Research and Translation — Iwan Wmffre
Chronological listing

view published appreciation of my work





2013a Dynamic Linguistics: Labov, Martinet, Jakobson and other Precursors of the Dynamic Approach to Language Description, Bern – Berlin – Bruxelles – Frankfurt-am-Main – New York – Oxford – Wien: Peter Lang (xxvi + 589 pp) ISBN 978-3-0343-1705-4 (£65/€81)

Analysis of language as a combination of both a structural and a lexical component overlooks a third all-encompassing aspect: dynamics. Dynamic Linguistics approaches the description of the complex phenomenon that is human language by focusing on this important but all-too-often neglected aspect.

This book charts the belated recognition of the importance of dynamic synchrony in twentieth-century linguistics and discusses two other key concepts in some detail: speech community and language structure. Because of their vital role in the development of a dynamic approach to linguistics, the three linguists William Labov, André Martinet and Roman Jakobson are featured, in particular Martinet in whose later writings – neglected in the English-speaking world – the fullest appreciation of the dynamics of language to date are found. A sustained attempt is also made to chronicle precursors, between the nineteenth century and the 1970s, who provided inspiration for these three scholars in the development of a dynamic approach to linguistic analysis and description.

The dynamic approach to linguistics is intended to help consolidate the understanding of functional structuralists, geolinguists, sociolinguists and all other empirically-minded linguists within a broader theoretical framework as well as to play a part in reversing the overformalism of the simplistic structuralist framework which has dominated, and continues to dominate, present-day linguistic description.

Reviews & Responses

2014 Deli Lara Peña on LinguistList website.

2015 Doug Trick on SIL Electronic Book Reviews 2015-001.

Since its publication in 2013, I am working on a second improved edition (to be published firstly in French then in English).




FORTHCOMING A Dynamic Description of Lampeter Welsh: The Traditional Language to be published by Catamanus (1,500+ pp).

The aim of this work is to provide a comprehensive description of the phonological, grammatical and syntactic sinews of the traditional spoken Welsh of Lampeter and its surrounding hinterland. This is an area geographically central to the Welsh-speaking districts of South Wales and constitutes the northernmost extent of many features typically considered as southern Welsh. The area lies west of the wide moorish expanse which constitutes the mountainous backbone of Wales and which, to some extent, has protected it from English influences.

Not only will the description deal with the main characteristics of the Welsh found in this area but attention will also be paid to variation (by register, by dialect, by age cohort) within local speech and an attempt to appraise the context of variation within it as a whole. Phonological, grammatical and syntactical variation will be analysed according to age, geographical provenance and literary influence.

This study is – in all likelihood – the first dynamic study of a Welsh dialect. It will be shown that there is not one system per se in the Welsh of Lampeter, but a multitude of linguistic systems existing side-by-side on different levels of the language perpetually engaged in a ‘struggle’ to systematise the speech of that area. The dynamic contours of Lampeter Welsh are investigated in order to establish which forms are recessive and which ones are expansive. The linguistic data, based on actual examples of speech, is analysed in a functionalist manner, and great care is taken to separate forms representative of the colloquial language from forms representative of the standard literary language.

In addition some attention is given to the English of the native inhabitants of Lampeter as well as to the related dialects of Welsh spoken east of the mountains in Breconshire and Radnorshire.


2007f Review of Martin J. Ball & Briony Williams (2001) Welsh Phonetics, Lewiston, NY – Queenston, Ontario – Lampeter, Wales: Edwin Mellen, in Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie vol.55 pp.301–07

to read review


2014 Review article of Stephen J. Hannahs (2007) The Phonology of Welsh, Oxford: Oxford University Press, in Journal of Celtic Linguistics vol.16 pp.119–39

to read review


2019 Review article of Sabine Asmus & Sven Grawunder (2017) Vowel Length in Welsh Monosyllables, its Interrelation with Irish and other related Problems: An Acoustic Study and its Didactic Implications Lampeter: Edwin Mellen. In Journal of Celtic Linguistics vol.20 pp.181–207

to read review


2013c Old Welsh Dialectal Variations preserved in Toponymy, Belfast: Appletree Press (33 pp) ISBN 978-1-84758-1518

By studying the origin of phonological variation in Welsh one tends to understand that there was less variation in past times. One understands, for example, that modern doi and day derive from the one form that was written dou in Old Welsh and that the contemporary distinction between the dou of the south and the dau of the north did not then exist. One could therefore be excused for thinking that dialectal variation did not exist in Old Welsh, however there is evidence that leads us to think that dialectal variations that existed in the past were lost: variations that survived fossilised only in a few place-names. The aim of this article is to discuss some of these old dialectal variations and the place-names in which they have been preserved.


2013b The Qualities and the Origins of the Welsh Vowel [ɨ], Berlin: Curach Bhán (xx + 172 pp) ISBN 978-3-942002-12-7 (€25)

The sound [ɨ] (the <u> and <y> of literary Welsh) is the most complicated phone to describe and to explain in Welsh. This work attempts to chart the incidence of this sound in Welsh dialects, the exact nature of its realisation and then to explain its historical development from its forerunners in Brittonic to present-day Welsh.

Original map showing distribution of [ɨ] (light green in the north) and [i] (dark green in the south) for the <u> and the monosyllabic and syllable-final <y> of literary Welsh.

to read publication

Reviews & responses

2015 Linus Band[-Djikstra] in Kelten vol.67 pp.16–17

2017 Pavel Iosad in Celtica vol.29 pp.315–26.


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

2004 Graham R. Isaac in Journal of Celtic Linguistics vol.6 pp.163–70 (Response to 2004 Isaac)

2005 Paul Russell in Welsh History Review vol.22 pp.588–90(Response to 2005 Russell)

addenda & corrigenda


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




2007a Breton Orthographies and Dialects: the Twentieth-century Orthography War in Brittany, vols.1–2, Bern – Berlin – Bruxelles – Frankfurt-am-Main – New York – Oxford – Wien: Peter Lang (Series: Contemporary Studies in Descriptive Linguistics) (xxviii + 782 pp) vol.1 ISBN 978-3-03911-364-4 & vol.2 978-3-03911-365-1

(Here one can see Peter Lang's awful cover concept which adheres to their thematic series and my own original cover design.)

This work attempts to trace the development of the spelling conventions of the Breton language and to chronicle the Breton language orthographic war of the twentieth century. Since the nineteenth century there has been a continuous search to find a satisfactory spelling for the language. The resulting earnest debates often polarised groups of writers between ‘laxists’ and prescriptivists. This debate reached a new paroxysm when a prominent group of political nationalists allied themselves to the German authorities of occupation and attempted in 1941 to force a particular orthography – commonly known as ZH – as the official language of a projected satellite state of the Third Reich. The changing course of the war quickly turned the tables and those who had supported the ZH orthography were forced to lie low after 1944 due to the unpopularity of their political activities. Due to these war activities the post-1945 Breton language movement was split into an acrimonious dispute which worsened after a new orthography – known as the university or H orthography – was inaugurated by a university professor in 1955. An orthographical ‘war’ developed between both sides which exarcebated Breton cultural life until, finally, the resulting deadlock was addressed in orthographical talks between 1971–75. The talks proved inconclusive except for the appearance of a new orthography – known as SS. The resultant failure to find a satisfactory solution to the spelling conventions of Breton means that there exist, at present, some three ostensibly 'standard' orthographies, each with their grammar-books and dictionaries, as well as a variety of the 'standards' of the Vannetais written tradition.

Apart from giving a historical background to this debate and charting developments in a chronological order, the aim of the book is to explain the technical differences behind each orthographical convention as well as the ideological motives and political reasons for the adoption of each ‘standard’ orthography.

The failure to establish one standard orthography for Breton during the twentieth century reflects as much a failure by Bretons to agree politically as to any inherent difficulties caused by dialectal variety or a weak literary tradition. As a consequence this book should prove to be of interest to political historians and linguists outside Brittany as an example of the difficulties involved in constructing an agreed national identity.

Reviews & Responses

2011 Britta Irslinger in Zeitschrift fuer celtische Philologie vol.58 pp.354–59

2012 Bohumil Vykypěl in Linguistica Brunensia vol.60 pp.291–94

2009 Albert Bock in Keltische Forschungen vol.4 pp.269–75

2009 Herve Bihan in Hor Yezh vol.257 pp.44–45

2008 Kevin J. Rottet in Journal of Celtic Language Learning vol.13 pp.104–10 (also in 2008 Bro Nevez vol.108 pp.19–21)


1998b (rep. 1999b) Central Breton, München: Lincom Europa (63 pp). ISBN 3-8958-6121-9 (€33)

Breton, spoken in France, is – alongside Cornish and Welsh – an uninterrupted continuation of the ancient Brittonic language of Roman Britain. As Celtic linguists are – by the nature of things – mostly English speakers, the study of Breton has understandably been somewhat neglected. Breton shares many traits common to the other Neo-Celtic languages, but it is of particular interest to the general linguist as it is the only Celtic language that has evolved wholly beyond the shadow of the influence of the English language.

Over the centuries the domination of French, the language of state since medieval times, steadily eroded the hold of Breton upon the higher echelons of society. This process cumulated dramatically with a general cessation of transmission of Breton to the younger generations in the period that immediately followed the 1939–45 war, with the result that Breton is at the present-day suffering a terminal exponential decline as the language of an homogeneous society. Its decline as a spoken language is almost the most dramatic seen in western Europe during the twentieth century.

The author, who is a native Breton speaker, gives a description of the spoken Breton of central Western Brittany, which is – paradoxically – one of the most representative of Breton dialects, but also one of the dialects most neglected in literary and scholarly works. The study contains chapters on phonology, morphology and syntax, as well as a text with interlinear translation.

addenda & corrigenda


1998a (rep. 1999a) Late Cornish, München: Lincom Europa (73 pp). ISBN 3-8958-6122-7 (€33)

Cornish, spoken in south-western Britain until the eighteenth century, was – alongside Breton and Welsh – an uninterrupted continuation of the ancient Brittonic language of Britain. Cornish was never as numerically important as the other two languages, so that its neglect by Celtic linguists is understandable, however, its position immediately between Brittany and Wales makes it particularly interesting from the point of view of the dialectal development of ancient Brittonic.

Since medieval times the domination of English, the language of state, steadily eroded the hold of the Cornish language upon the higher echelons of society, and led in the early eighteenth century to its disappearance as the language of an homogeneous society. In the twentieth century much interest has been shown in the language, an interest which has led to a revival of the language as a spoken medium amongst enthusiasts, though the precise relationship of the Cornish of learners in the twentieth century with earlier forms of Cornish remains a debatable issue.

The author, who is both a native Breton- and Welsh-speaker, gives a description of the spoken Cornish of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a period of the language condemned by many scholars – too peremptorily – as being degenerate, but a period which has left us the great majority of prose material in the language. The study contains chapters on phonology, morphology and syntax, as well as texts with interlinear translation.

addenda & corrigenda


2003b ‘The evolution of Welsh- and Cornish-English phonology in the Early Modern Period’ in Hildegard L. C. Tristram (ed.), Celtic Englishes III, Heidelberg: Carl Winter, pp.240-59.

This article discusses those phonological traits of English as spoken in Wales and Cornwall that can be specifically attributed to Welsh and Cornish (hereafter, for convenience’s sake, termed ‘Celtic-English’). It approaches the subject by looking at phonological features in the contemporary English of Wales and Cornwall that can be viewed as veering from contemporary mainstream English. Reference is made to evidence dating from the sixteenth century onwards which can be instructive as to the way in which English was taken up by the Celtic-speakers. Another source of evidence used are my own observations on phonological changes in progress in contemporary Welsh-English and Cornish-English (including analogical evidence from Breton-French).

It is hoped that the article will have demonstrated that:

  • one era’s Celtic-English is not identical to the next era’s Celtic-English.
  • many phonological features in Celtic-English are beyond exclusive attribution to purely Celtic or purely English origins.
  • some phonological features are not attributable to either the native Celtic speech or to the incoming English, but to an interplay between the two phonological systems as they came into contact.
  • the characteristic phonological features of Celtic-English have a mixed origin (that is in some cases they can be attributed to the preservation of an archaic English pronunciation, or in other cases to an underlying Celtic phonological value).

to read article




FORTHCOMING A Practical Phonetic Description of Ulster Irish Gaelic, to be published by Catamanus (500+ pp).

This aim of this work is to help learners, outsiders and teachers of the language by furnishing a description of the contemporary pronunciation of speakers of Irish Gaelic from the north-western extremity of County Donegal. More precisely, the area in question is that situated between the market towns of An Fál Carrach (Falcarragh) and An Clochán Liath (Dungloe) on the mainland, as well as the island of Toraigh (Tory), and it has recently acquired the name Na Trí Pharáiste ‘The Three Parishes’ (abbreviated TP). This is the largest remaining area in County Donegal – and indeed in the north of Ireland – in which the language preserves its vitality, being even now the everyday speech of each generation.

The Gaelic of this area is particularly interesting for a number of reasons:

  • it is a Gaelic whose character is exactly halfway between the Gaelic of Conamara and the Scottish Gaelic dialects, and whose features, more often than not, are just as likely to resemble Scottish Gaelic as the more southern Irish dialects;
  • the pronunciation of this version of the Irish language is that of the second largest number of contemporaneous speakers after those of Conamara (Co. Galway) and is nowadays the most prominent native variety of Ulster Irish that one can hear on audiovisual media;
  • as restricted as it is, the area of Na Trí Pharáiste contains within it distinct districts with their own dialect peculiarities; differences which are real and well perceived by the speakers but which also are showing increasing signs of interpermeation not only with each other but with the encroaching Northern Irish form of the English language;
  • there is evidence of important phonetic/phonological changes between the generations within the Gaelic of Na Trí Pharáiste, not only due to English interference but also within the native phonological parameters;
  • in light of its rather exceptionally considerable inventory of consonants and vowels, the varied and changing Gaelic of Na Trí Pharáiste is an ideally suited ‘dialect’ to show how the classical structuralist idea of establishing an agreed phonemic inventory on objective grounds is an illusory exercise which does not connect with the reality of that language as it is spoken and experienced by its speakers;
  • in spite of the many studies of Donegal Gaelic dialects since Quiggin’s pioneering work of 1906, no phonetic investigation has focused on the central core of this Gaelic heartland, namely the dominant semi-urbanised district of Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore). The upshot of this is that most of the many published descriptions of Donegal Gaelic are those of peripheral dialects and of a generation no longer representative of the language as it is commonly heard leaving outsiders with no useful written guidance on how to pronounce this variety of Gaelic.

After Brian Ó Curnáin’s Irish of Iorras Aithneach, Co. Galway (2007), this study is the second dynamic study of an Irish Gaelic dialect (although it does not aim to be as extensive as the former, restricting itself to the phonetic and phonological aspects of language). It will be shown that there is not one system per se in the Gaelic of Na Trí Pharáiste, but a multitude of linguistic systems existing side-by-side on different linguistic levels perpetually engaged in a ‘struggle’ to systematise the speech of the area. The dynamic contours of the Gaelic of Na Trí Pharáiste are investigated in order to establish which forms are recessive and which ones are expansive. The linguistic data is based on actual examples of speech analysed in a functionalist manner, and great care is taken to separate forms representative of the colloquial language from forms representative of the official literary language.

This work is likely to be important in advancing phonological theory by proving the superiority of a dynamic understanding of the phonological systems in play to the structuralist phonemic inventory which retains its status of dominant paradigm for understanding the sounds of language among most linguists. Preliminary findings suggest that the traditional and contemporary Gaelic of Na Trí Pharáiste, as spoken, can furnish many proofs, in objective terms, that the compilation of a discrete phonemic inventory of sounds lying within a single linguistic 'system' is misleading as far as representing the actually language spoken is concerned.


2012 Review article of Brian Ó Curnáin (2007) The Irish of Iorras Aithneach, County Galway, Dublin: Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, in Journal of Celtic Linguistics vol.14 pp.130–51

to read review




2004a The Place-names of Cardiganshire, Oxford: Archaeopress (cxxx + 1397 pp.) ISBN 1-8417-1665-0 (£105)

This is a 15,000 head corpus of place-names from Cardiganshire (Ceredigion), which covers approximately a tenth of the surface area of Wales, and which was collected over a period of fifteen years. It was submitted as part of a doctorate presented to the University of Wales in 1998 (Swansea) – the examiners being Prof. Brynley Roberts of the Univ. of Wales and Dr. Oliver Padel of the Univ. of Cambridge. It comprises 1533 pages (incl. 130pp introduction and bibliography followed by a 1403pp corpus).

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. The corpus is presented as a topographical dictionary, with the great majority of head-words placed under the relevant civil-parish (the exceptions being rivers and those stretches of land that encompass more than one parish). Each head-word is followed by:

  • an Ordnance Survey grid reference
  • a lexical analysis of the place-name
  • phonetic IPA transcription of the local pronunciation (when possible)
  • historical forms
  • a discussion of the meaning of the place-name (when called for)

Though The Place-names of Cardiganshire (PNCards) is roughly comparable to B. G. Charles’s The Place-names of Pembrokeshire (1992) published by the National Library of Wales, PNCards is more modern in its presentation as well as in its contents. A basic difference between the two books is that PNCards gives detailed information as to location as well as local pronunciations – two very important pieces of information for anyone interested in explaining obscure place-names.

Apart from the useful rich references to many fields that one expects of a toponymic work, PNCards is distinctly modern in Welsh toponymics in bringing new emphases and techniques to bear. The reason for this is that it presents new methods to analyse place-names, methods which are to be found – either in part or comprehensively – in a number of books on place-names published in the last few years, e.g. A. Watson & E. Allen (1984) and R. A. V. Cox (1987) in Scotland; S. Ó Catháin (1966, 1975) and B. Ó Ciobháin (1985) in Ireland; M. Madeg (1990–97) in Brittany; and G. Broderick (1994–95) in the Isle of Man. In general, the modern method is an improvement on the ‘traditional’ styles of toponymic research since the ‘traditional’ approach tended to study place-names only from a philological point of view and ignoring the obvious advantages of studying place-names from the point of view of geography, history, and even linguistics. At the present time [written 2004], as far as the place-name research is concerned, Wales lags behind, even though there are signs that the new developments in the field are beginning to take effect as can be seen in such pieces of research as I. Dafydd (1980) and H. W. Owen (1997).

However, voices in Wales have long aspired – since the 1930s to be specific – to attain the methodical pattern of publishing place-name research as established by the English Place-name Society, and though Wales lacks such a body of reference material as assembled by the EPNS, it is a wholly different matter to adhere uncritically to the presentation, methodology and other attributes of the EPNS as a pattern that cannot be improved upon. At the present time [written in 1990 and not necessarily so true by the time it was published on-line] the discipline of toponymic research in England is in turmoil with new developments and debates.

[ADDITIONAL COMMENT FROM 2015: The last two paragraphs transmit an idea that the discipline of toponymics would advance according to the publication of new research which would open the discipline to include more ambitious aims. Unfortunately, today, toponymics is still dominated by an agenda restricted to etymologising and which eschews a more holistic approach to understanding place-naming as a human phenomenon. And whilst it must be admitted that the methodical noting of the location of place-names has progressed fairly well in British toponymic circles, the incorporation of methodical fieldwork among local populations and methodical phonetic transcription is still largely ignored as of peripheral interest by most toponymists. The archetypal toponymist is a creature who lives in the shadows of libraries and archives and rarely ventures to harvest the more intangible – but nevertheless real – place-name heritage still to be found amongst local populations for some years yet.]

Reviews & Responses

2001 Anonymous reader’s report for the University of Wales Press (Response to 2001 Anonymous)

2005 Terry James in Carmarthenshire Antiquary vol.41 pp.182–83

2005 Richard Morgan in Welsh History Review vol.22 pp.778-80 (Response to 2005 Morgan)

2006 Simon Taylor in Archaeologia Cambrensis vol.153 pp.162–63

2006 Richard Suggett in Ceredigion vol.15 pp.123–26

addenda & corrigenda


2006b ‘The Welsh personal-name system: a survey of their evolution through the ages’, in Zunamen: Zeitschrift für Namenforschung vol.1 pp.147–74


2007c ‘Das walisische Personennamensystem’, in Andrea Brendler & Silvio Brendler (eds) Europäische Personennamensysteme: Ein Handbuch (Series: Lehr- und Handbücher zur Onomastik 2), Hamburg: Baar, pp. 816–34

A slightly curtailed version of 2006b.


2009b Review of Hywel Wyn Owen & Richard Morgan (2007) Dictionary of the Place-names of Wales. Llandysul: Gomer, in Archaeologia Cambrensis vol.156 pp.185–87

to read review


2007e ‘Casglu enwau lleoedd’ (E. ‘Collecting place-names’), on the website accompanying the BBC Wales 5-part series ‘What’s in a Name? / Beth sy’ mewn Enw?’ (2-language version), broadcast May–June 2007.

to read article

(For a while, two of my televised contributions discussing the place-names 'Betwsbledrwys' and 'Llanddewi Brefi were available on the BBC Wales 'What's in a Name?' website.)


2010 ‘Llefydd a lleoedd’ (‘Places and places’) on the original website of Cymdeithas Enwau Lleoedd Cymru (now unavailable)

to read article


2011 ‘Y tirwedd mud: tir heb enwau’ (‘The mute landscape: a land without names’), in Y Naturiaethwr (2nd series) no.28 pp.24–27


2009a ‘Toponymy and land-use in the uplands of the Doethïe valley (Cardiganshire)’, in Heather James & Patricia Moore (eds) Carmarthenshire and Beyond: Studies in History and Archaeology in Memory of Terry James, Carmarthen: Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society, pp.270–83

to read article


2004d ‘Transhumance in the British Isles: decline or transformation?’ D. Gwyn L. Jones & I. Ll. Wmffre (co-authors) in Robert G. H. Bunce & Marta Pérez Soba & Rob H. G. Jongman & Antonio Gómez & Felix Herzog & Ingvild Austad (eds) Transhumance and Biodiversity in European Mountains, Wageningen: IALE (International Association for Landscape Ecology), pp.69–89. The proceedings of the Transhumount Review Conference held at Alcalá-de-Henares, Spain, September 2003.

Seasonal oscillatory movements of livestock accompanied by their herders were common throughout large parts of the British Isles in the sixteenth century but by the beginning of the twenty-first century, movements of herders have ceased completely. Nevertheless, the extreme seasonality of growth on semi-natural pastures which underlies transhumance is still an important feature of grazing systems on those pastures which remain unimproved. The history of transhumance is discussed, the reasons behind its emergence and the factors that led to its transformation. Some gaps in knowledge about transhumance in the past are highlighted.

Present day transhumance can be split for convenience into short- and long-distance varieties. It is suggested that the latter may be a modern development. Examples of both types of transhumance are given from the Isle of Skye in Scotland.

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2018 Review article of Hywel Wyn Owen & Ken Lloyd Gruffydd (2017) Place-names of Flintshire Cardiff: University of Wales Press. In Ainm vol.14





A few words of explanation: The meaning of ‘linguosociology’ is the study of society according to linguistic criteria and can be opposed to ‘sociolinguistics’ which is the study of language according to societal criteria. The term ‘sociolinguistics’ is abusively used in English-language scholarship to cover both disciplines although they are quite distinct. If the distinction between them is not clear enough, then English-language scholars may understand when I say that ‘linguosociology’ is what Joshua Fishman does and ‘sociolinguistics’ is what William Labov does.


2006a ‘Ideology and the learning of Celtic languages’ in Fabio Mugnaini & Pádraig Ó Héalaí & Tok Thompson (eds) The Past in the Present: a Multidisciplinary Approach, Catania: Edit, pp.235–57. The proceedings of the conference ‘The Past in the Present: Tradition in a Changing World’ of the Coimbra Group held at the National University of Ireland, Galway, 23–25.09.2004

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2004c ‘Learners, native speakers and the authenticity of language’ in Ullrich Kockel & Máiréad Nic Craith (eds) Communicating Cultures, Münster: Lit, pp.149–75. The proceedings of the conference ‘Communicating Cultures’ held in Belfast in June 2002

The increase in the number of people acquiring Celtic languages through education seems to give the lie to the long and catastrophic decline of these languages as well as promising hope to many adherents of these languages. However, in many cases the increase in educational acquisition of the Celtic languages has led to the rise of a distinct ‘learner’ group, weakly connected to contemporary native speaker society.

This article focuses on the linguistic differences between learners and native speakers in Brittany, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, and discusses the implications of such linguistic differences between these groups. Another, forthcoming, article will deal with the conflicting ideologies, attitudes and viewpoints surrounding the ‘learner’ phenomenon.

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2001 ‘Is societal bilingualism sustainable?: reflections and indications from the Celtic countries’ in Helmut Eberhart & Ulrika Wolf-Knuts (eds) Migration, Minorities, Compensation: Issues of Cultural Identity in Europe, Brussels: The Coimbra Group Working Party for Folklore and European Ethnology, pp.121–42

In western Europe a consensus has established itself that bilingualism is not only good but desirable. It is the main thrust of this article to analyse and criticise this consensus. This is done by defining what is meant by ‘bilingualism’, a term open to ambiguity, as well as by presenting facts – both societal and historical – to illustrate the workings of ‘bilingualism’ in the Celtic fringe of north-western Europe (Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland).

It is hoped that the criticism implicit in this paper will be the means to come to a better understanding of the way two languages can coexist and will prove of use to those framing multilingual language policies by suggesting more effective and less wasteful courses of action.

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2002a ‘Urban Celtic subcultures 1700–1850’ in Raingard Esser & Thomas Fuchs (eds) Kulturmetropolen - Metropolenkultur: die Stadt als Kommunikationsraum in 18. Jahrhundert, Berlin: BWV, pp.29–58

The aim of this article is to highlight some developments pertaining to ethnic Celtic minorities in foreign city environments before the rapid onset of industrial growth that changed the character of Europe in the period following 1750. Due in part to the constraints of source material, but also to the fact that France felt the effects of the industrial revolution about a hundred years later than Britain, the testimony relating to the Bretons in Paris is taken up to 1900. It is hoped that despite being of a later date, the complementarity of the Breton experience to that which the other Celts experienced in Britain will outweigh strictly temporal considerations. The general scantiness of the evidence relating to the experience of the dominated Celts in adapting to the novel environment of the city means that evidence from all periods is useful. However I have chosen to study in more detail from 1700 to around 1850, justifying this somewhat subjective end-date by the establishment of the rail network, universal education, and the accelerating social effects of technological advance.

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2006c Review article of Sabine Heinz (2003, 2nd edn) Welsh Dictionaries in the Twentieth Century: a Critical Analysis, München: Lincom Europa, in Journal of Celtic Linguistics vol.10 pp.121–37

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1991 ‘Iwerddon a Chymru’ in Tafod y Ddraig n.231 pp.15–16.

A comparative study of the situation of the Irish and Welsh languages which emphasises that contrary to the common perception in Wales, the decline in the number of Welsh speakers was more accentuated than that of Irish speakers during the twentieth century.




2007b ‘Post-Roman Irish settlements in Wales: new insights from a recent study of Cardiganshire place-names’, in Karen Jankulak & Jonathan Wooding (eds), Ireland and Wales in the Middle Ages, Dublin: Four Courts Press, pp.46–61

This article resumes historical work and folk traditions concerning the Irish settlements in Wales during the fifth and sixth century. It then goes on to discuss the toponymic evidence in more detail. The conclusion is that there are no Irish place-names per se in Wales, and those place-name elements assumed to be Irish (such as cnwc and meudr) are not assuredly Irish. Furthermore, after having discussed the concept of ‘phonological coequivalence’ between languages in contact it is clearly demonstrated that cnwc cannot be contemporary with the period of Irish settlement, and if it is Irish, must be a substantially later loan. Thus, the overall conclusion is that the evidence of Welsh place-names cannot reveal the pattern of Irish settlement in the early Middle Ages.

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2004b ‘Penrhyn Blathaon ac amgyffred yr hen Gymry o eithafion gogledd Prydain’ (E. ‘the headland of Blathaon and the awareness of the northern extremities of Britain amongst the medieval Welsh’) in Studia Celtica vol.38 pp.59–68.

The theme of this article is the form and etymology of Blathaon, the name of the headland at the extreme north of Britain. It is argued that the form underlying this name is very ancient. It would seem that the original form of the name was Balawon (Balaon in ‘The Book of Taliesin’ p.70 l.22) and that this corresponded semantically to Scottish Gaelic Cataibh (E. Caithness) and, indeed, preceded it.

Additionally, the explanation for the form Blathaon casts more light on the way traditions made their way into the extant corpus of Middle Welsh literature, supporting suggestions that have already been advanced by other scholars such as Graham Isaac (1991) and Helen McKee (2000). The main argument of the article demonstrates how the Welsh traditions of the Middle Ages contain some genuine material that relates to the time when a more archaic form of Welsh was spoken throughout Britain.

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2002b ‘Mynydawc – ruler of Edinburgh?’, in Studi Celtici vol.1 pp.83–105

Along with a growing body of opinion concerning the poem of the Gododdin (1990 G. R. Isaac; 1993, 1997 J. T. Koch) this article questions the now traditional attribution of Mynydawc as a king or ruler of Edinburgh. But, contrary to those already cited above, the author would like to propose, as a possible explanation, the hypothesis that Mynydawc in the Gododdin is a reference to the Christian God. Whilst the derivation of Mynydawc (Modern Welsh mynyddog ‘mountainous’) is very simple, the semantics within the context of the poem are not. As Welsh literature of comparable date to the Gododdin is scanty, to say the least, the author thinks it not surprising that allusions to God as Mynydawc may be wholly restricted to the Gododdin in extant Welsh literature.

The article gathers material that the author hopes will enable firmer inferences or presumptions to be advanced as to the possible meaning of Mynydawc, a name coined in an era very remote from our own. In following the argument, the article highlights an aspect of early British inscriptions which the author feels has been ignored or at the very least has not been sufficiently emphasised; concerning namely, amongst others, the interpretation of the VOTEPORIGIS PROTECTORIS stone.

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2007g Review of Markku Filpulla & Juhani Klemola & Heli Pitkänen (eds) (2002) The Celtic Roots of English, Joensuu: University of Joensuu, Faculty of Humanities, in Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie vol.55 pp.308–14

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2004e Review of Dylan Foster Evans (2000) Gwaith Hywel Swrdwal a’i Deulu, Aberystwyth: Canolfan Uwchefrydiau Cymreig a Cheltaidd Prifysgol Cymru, in Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie vol.54 pp.290–93

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1998c Koroll an Ankou, Brest: Brud Nevez – Emgleo Breiz (141 pp). A translation into Breton of the Welsh Y Ddawns Angau (‘The Dance of Death’) (1940) by W. Ambrose Bebb.

William Ambrose Bebb (1894–1955), a founder member of the Welsh Nationalist Party, was an eminent man of Welsh letters during the interwar period who was familiar with both France and Brittany following a five-year stay in Paris in 1920–25. This formative period saw him become familiar with many leading lights of the reviving Breton cultural and political movement of the interwar period. He wrote numerous articles about the contemporary situation in Brittany including two books Llydaw (‘Brittany’) (1929) and Pererindodau (‘Pilgrimages’) (1941).

But it is another, shorter, book Y Ddawns Angau, published in 1940 which probably constitutes his most memorable contribution to Welsh literature. Within Welsh literature this book is groundbreaking both in being a ‘reportage’ of exciting contemporary European events as well as taking the form of a diary (albeit with literary pretensions). The subject matter is a short visit by the author to Brittany in the fortnight preceding the declaration of war against Germany in 1939. He completed a tour of Brittany, visiting prominent Breton nationalists and cultural activists (two of which fled to Germany four days after Bebb met them and were shortly to be condemned to death in absentia by the French government).

This translation into Breton contains a foreword detailing Bebb’s background and his involvement with Brittany since 1920, followed by an essay relating what happened to many of the people Bebb had visited. The war made communication between Wales and Brittany impossible until after the war but the years of German occupation had by then led to a split in the Breton movement that has not healed completely, even fifty years afterwards. Sadly, Bebb, aware of the tensions the war had unleashed within Brittany would never visit that land again. He had become seen as a traitor by a number of Breton nationalists because the contents of Y Ddawns Angau had been used to discredit the Breton Nationalists during the war and even as evidence against some of them after its end.

Despite all this the book is well-written with charming cameos of Brittany and France with frank and revealing portrayals of the way many Bretons (both activists and non-activists), Frenchmen and British reacted at the crucial juncture of the impending 1939–45 war.


2002c ‘Marwolaeth Awdur’ & ‘Llenor Llydaweg’, in the literary monthly Taliesin n.115 pp.48–65. A translation of the Breton ‘Maro eur Skrivagner’ (1998) by Mikael Madeg.

An inventive short story which reveals the difficulties faced by a creative writer when writing only to receive no reaction (whether positive or negative) and particularly apt for Breton writers such as Mikael Madeg who have to contend with a tiny literacy rate amongst the minority of Breton speakers in Brittany.

It is accompanied by a collated interview entitled ‘Llenor Llydaweg’ ('A Breton man of letters') which gives Madeg’s background and his opinion on Breton literature.


1988 ‘Ar zoner hag ar gornandoned’, in the literary monthly Brud Nevez n.111 pp.48–50. A translation into Breton of a Breton folktale originally published in French.


1987 ‘Ar Leo-Drez’ & ‘Gouel an Ollzent’, in the literary monthly Brud Nevez n.106 pp.40–44, n.108 pp.34–37. Translations into Breton of Breton folktales originally published in French.


FORTHCOMING Cyni’r Gwyddyl (‘The Hardships of the Irish’). A translation of An Béal Bocht (‘The Poor Mouth’) (1941) by Myles na gCopaleen (better known as Flann O’Brien, though his real name was Brian Ó Nualláin).

An Béal Bocht is a masterful comic expose parodying the romanticised picture of traditional life in the west of Ireland that surfaced with the Gaelic and Anglo-Irish literary revivals towards the end of the nineteenth century. In a series of nine chapters we follow the development of the miserable life of Bónapárt Ó Cúnasa and his ever-suffering society.

Though it has translated well into numerous European languages (mostly following the English translation of 1973 by Patrick Power) its humour and style is indelibly tied to traditional Irish language and culture so that, like poetry, it loses much in translation. In order to safeguard as much authenticity as possible this translation was made directly from the original Irish work.

An Béal Bocht is an ideal introduction for the novice into the rich debate concerning the preservation of native Irish culture in an increasingly anglicised world, for besides constituting a merciless series of humorous digs at romanticised ‘noble savages’, it also intimates searing criticisms of the way Irish-speakers were treated as animals by the English-only policies of the governments. An extended essay by Iwan Wmffre and Seosamh Mac Muirí discuss the author’s intentions as well as the historical, cultural and socio-economic background in which the Irish-speakers found themselves in an anglicised Ireland from the mid-nineteenth century onwards and which touches upon important questions relating to the Irish national identity.


2007d ‘An Béal Bocht: a critique of Irish nationalism, Irish-language literature and the people of the Gaeltacht?’ in Jan Erik Rekdal & Ailbhe Ó Corráin (eds) Proceedings of the Eighth Symposium of Societas Celtologica Nordica, Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, pp.275–84. Proceedings of a symposium held at the Norsk Norske Videnskaps-Akademi, Oslo, 06–07.05.2005.

A concise version of a longer Welsh original which accompanies the as-yet unpublished Welsh translation of An Béal Bocht (see Cyni'r Gwyddyl, above).

rev. THE BRAHAN SEER (2009)

2013d Review of Alex Sutherland (2009) The Brahan Seer: The Making of a Legend, Oxford: Peter Lang, in Anthropological Journal of European Cultures vol.22 p.133.