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Sut mae, unwaith eto!

It’s been a while, but today the day has come to write about Welsh dictionaries. With the new term starting soon, there will be numerous new students of Welsh asking themselves what / which dictionary to buy. The dictionary lover in me wouldn’t hesitate to answer, “Buy them all!”, but in most cases this is neither realistic nor particularly helpful. Instead let’s take a look at old and new favourites on my shelf, while trying to keep in mind the learner’s perspective.

Two short remarks before we get started:

  1. This blogpost is about dictionaries on paper. Real books. I may write about dictionary apps / online dictionaries some other time.

2. I can only write about the dictionaries I know / own / use. There are others, and the fact that I don’t mention them in this article does not mean that they are no good.

So here are my personal “Top Six”:

1. Modern Welsh Dictionary

Author / editor: Gareth King

Languages: Cymraeg – English, English – Cymraeg

Scope: 20,000 words and phrases, 30,000 translations (sample sentences)

Format: Paperback, 536 pages

Additional content (grammar, wordlists etc): Yes! Yes! Yes!

Price: £10.99

What would Cymraeg-newbie-me have given for this book in the early 1990s!!!!! It would have made my Welsh-learning efforts so much easier from the beginning (insert: ochenaid hir = a long Welsh sigh!). This is the dictionary I would heartily recommend to every learner. My students (and they are usually complete beginners) love their King dictionary (“Geiriadur y Brenin”).

Instead of just listing the usual headwords and their translations, this book gives you an abundance of additional information which you would normally expect to find in a grammar book.

In the detailed “How to use this dictionary” section you will find the order of the Welsh alphabet, and some basic information about the mutations and pronunciation. Plus there is a short (7 pages) summary of Welsh grammar.

The sample sentences are very useful, and throughout the book mutated forms are clearly marked (° for every soft mutation, n for nasal mutation, and h for aspirate mutation). This will save you a lot of time and nerves.

Headwords come with usage notes and ample cross-referencing that will send you dictionary surfing in no time. For example, when you look up annioddefol (“insufferable, unbearable”), a little arrow will point you to its mother-word dioddef (“to suffer”). So I suppose you could say that this is a dictionary with an in-built surfing mode! Very cool.

On top of that you will find extra articles about important topics like “Telling the Time”, “if-clauses”, “Welsh numbers” or “Yes and No” as well as detailed entries about the various Welsh particles (a, y, mi, fe) and their usage. There are two word-list attachments, one with geographical names and (which came as quite a surprise to me) one with political and administrative terms (titled “Cynulliad Cenedlaethol / National Assembly”). As a passionate word-field farmer I can only approve of that!

Limitations: This is a dictionary for learners and as such it concentrates on the most common words and their most common meanings. For a wider range of Welsh words and meanings, my students like to complement this dictionary with the Collins Spurrell (see below), an online dictionary or a dictionary app.

2. The Welsh Learner’s Dictionary

Author / editor: Heini Gruffudd

Languages: Cymraeg – English, English – Cymraeg

Scope: over 20,000 words

Format: Paperback, 256 pages (pocket version)

Additional content: Yes!

Price: £6.95

According to the cover, this is “The definitive dictionary for Welsh Learners”. Well, it most definitely is ONE option, still.

Was this the first Welsh dictionary especially written with learners in mind? I think so. My 1998 first edition died a slow death a long time ago, so I now own the most recent pocket version. It is indeed very pockety and handy, and that is one of its great advantages. Something to carry around with you, to consult quickly should the need arise, or to browse in in an unexpected free minute.

What can you expect from this little book?

It starts with 22 pages of important basic information on Welsh numbers, the alphabet, pronunciation, mutations, plurals and gender, exemplary verb tables (bod, gwneud, mynd, dod) and other bits of grammar. There also is a separate list of geographical terms.

To go with the headwords in the actual dictionary, you will find many additional phrases, expressions and sample sentences to show you the language at work.

Many of my students in the Welsh taster courses (one-day introductions to Welsh) buy this pocket dictionary to accompany them on their holidays in Wales.

3. Y Geiriadur Mawr

Author / editor: H. Meurig Evans, W.O. Thomas

Languages: Cymraeg – English, English – Cymraeg

Scope: ? (Don’t know and refuse to count.)

Format: Hardcover, 374 pages

Additional Content: Yes – word lists.

Price: £19.99

This is a good old friend that has been around since…. (quick peek) …. wow, 1958! My 30-year-old copy recently started shedding its pages, so when considering to buy a more recent edition the question arose whether this dictionary would still be updated in any way. I was advised that it hadn’t changed for decades. Oh well.

What we have here is a traditional, no-nonsense hardcover dictionary. The Cymraeg – English section gives you not only the Welsh headword and its English equivalent, but also a short Welsh definition and / or a synonym. Every now and then there is a phrase or idiom thrown in, but on the whole they are few and far between.

The main advantage of this dictionary is that it includes a great number of old and obsolete words (all marked with an asterisk). So if you want to read poetry, older texts, hymns etc or translate elements of place names, this comes in useful. (You can also have a lot of fun with this book: Try and fit in as many asterisked words as possible into one sentence! )

Being a general dictionary, it doesn’t offer anything in the way of grammar, but there is a great section about prefixes and suffixes. As a word-list junkie and word-field farmer, I also appreciate the word collections in the appendix. Choose from personal and place names, animals / birds / fishes, plants and fruits, and foreign terms.

So yes, this book is still relevant. But for beginner learners and everyone with their minds on contemporary, up-to-date Welsh, there are better dictionaries today.

4. Collins Spurrell Welsh Dictionary

Languages: Cymraeg – English, English – Cymraeg

Scope: 52,000 (Really? Wow..)

Format: Paperback, 434 pages (pocket edition)

Additional content: Yes!

Price: £8.99

Here’s another classic, first published in 1960 – but regularly updated and added to!

I have two pocket versions of the Collins Spurrell. The old one has a very durable, wipeable plastic cover which used to double up as a coaster – before the pages started falling out. So last year I bought the latest (pocket) edition. I found it had lost its coaster qualities but grown other advantages instead.

This is a great pocket dictionary: Small, compact, to-the-point and as comprehensive as such a little book could possibly be. So once you’ve outgrown the Welsh learner’s dictionaries and want more, yet portable scope, this is the dictionary to turn to (unless you prefer an app).

Having said that, do remember the Collins Spurrell can only have so many headwords because it doesn’t offer much additional information in the dictionary section. This is a traditional dictionary: English word – Welsh word, Welsh word – English word, with only a few phrases thrown in here and there. There are no sample sentences, cross-references etc. It’s ideal for quick reference.

Apart from the notes on pronunciation and mutations at the beginning, the new Collins Spurrell now has a 20-page grammar section in the middle. It gives you a brief introduction to Welsh numbers, dates, days and months, word order, the present and past tense, adjectives and prepositions, plus one page of rather random miscellaneous idiomatic expressions.

5. Geiriadur yr Academi: The Welsh Academy English – Welsh Dictionary.

Author / editor: Bruce Griffiths, Dafydd Glyn Jones

Languages: English – Cymraeg (NOT Cymraeg – English)

Scope: Epic.

Format: Hardcover, 1790 pages (!)

Additional content: YES!!!

Price: £55

What do you call the opposite of a pocket dictionary? Geiriadur yr Academi! This is heavy stuff: 1790 pages, 2.5 kg. Nothing you would want to carry around with you all day.

This is not a book for Welsh newbies. As a beginner you will be totally overwhelmed by this. For everyone else this book is a real gem. You will see the language at work, the words in action and in all their different contexts. There is an abundance of idioms, sample sentences, quotations, synonyms, specialist terms, very very special specialist terms…. You name it, “Geiriadur Bruce” has it. Well, very nearly almost always. But bear in mind that this is an English-Welsh dictionary. It does NOT have a Welsh-English section.

It comes with 60 (sixty!) pages on Welsh morphology (orthography and pronunciation, mutations, adjectives with comparative forms, prepositions, and verb, verbs, verbs) and a 14-page appendix with additions of new words and phrases.

Important: If you don’t want to spend £55, you can use Geiriadur yr Academi online (https://geiriaduracademi.org/) – for free!

6. Geiriadur Cymraeg Gomer

Author / editor: D. Geraint Lewis, Nudd Lewis

Languages: Cymraeg – Cymraeg /English

Scope: 45,000 Welsh definitions, 38,000 English words, 12,000 technical terms

Format: Hardcover, 1342 pages (!)

Additional information: An English – Welsh glossary (250 pages)

Price: £35

Another heavyweight (2.6 kg)! You may need this to counterbalance Geiriadur yr Academi on your shelf.

Recently I witnessed a few misunderstandings about this (still very new) book. A couple of beginner students had ordered it online, thinking that they would get an especially comprehensive Welsh-English, English-Welsh dictionary for their studies, and were very confused and disappointed when it arrived. After all, the title does say that it’s a Welsh dictionary!!!

Yes, this is a Welsh dictionary alright. But it’s a WELSH Welsh dictionary. Although it does give you the English equivalent of every Welsh headword, the focus is on Welsh definitions of Welsh words. So unless you already speak Welsh, this is not for you (yet).

For Welsh speakers, proficient learners, uini students and the like, this is a very comprehensive and up-to-date reference book. It’s full of Welsh idioms and phrases, specialist terms from various subject areas, sample sentences, and notes on the correct usage of words.

There is an English-Welsh glossary of 200 pages at the back of the book, if only to provide access to the main Welsh dictionary from a different angle. But once again: This book does NOT contain a fully-fledged English-Welsh dictionary section.

Two “ifs” to close this article:

If you’re still not happy about any of the existing dictionary options, why not write your own? Make a list of all the words you’ve learnt so far, put them in alphabetical order (remember the WELSH alphabetical order?), add some useful phrases and sample sentences, and keep updating as you continue learning.

If you want more ideas about what to do with your dictionaries, take a look at my article on Dictionary Surfing.

Pob hwyl,

Siw

2 Replies to “My Top 6 Welsh Dictionaries”

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