An introduction to Welsh

An introduction to Welsh. By Phylip Brake. (LINCOM language coursebooks 8.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2004. Pp. 161. ISBN 3895865869. $52.80.

Reviewed by John D. Phillips, Yamaguchi University

This is a textbook designed to take beginning students of Welsh, working on their own, to a stage where they can begin to gain fluency by actually using the language. The author is an experienced organizer and teacher of intensive Welsh courses for adult learners, and one assumes that the book is built around material that he has found to work well in his own classes.

The book concentrates on spoken Welsh, presenting what Brake calls ‘written spoken Welsh’, which differs from traditional written Welsh in that the assimilated and abbreviated verb forms typical of colloquial speech are represented in the spelling (Y’c’n do the same sort o’ thing in English).

The style of presentation is traditional, organized around the grammar. On the whole, explanations are clear, and there are tables of paradigms where appropriate, and plenty of examples and exercises (with answers). After working through these, a student with a dictionary should be able to start reading newspapers and novels.

There is no accompanying tape or CD to demonstrate pronunciation, but all vocabulary items and many longer examples are given IPA transcriptions; and since Welsh spelling is phonemic, pronunciation need not be a problem. However, B’s brief explanations of phonemes (e.g. ll as ‘a voiceless l, /ɬ/’ or rh as ‘a voiceless r, /r̥/’) will not be much use to the average reader.

The first lesson begins with a detailed explanation of the Welsh system of initial consonant mutations, then moves on to gender and to the complexities of plural formation in nouns. It seems like a good idea to get these most irregular and difficult parts of the grammar out of the way first, but students might just give up under the (false) impression that Welsh is an unusually difficult language. The remaining eleven lessons work through the language at a comfortable pace.

Unfortunately the book is replete with errors. There are two English misspellings in the first line, and every subsequent page has several errors, often half a dozen or more to the page. There are spelling errors, sentences that do not parse, wrong cross-references, and wrong typefaces; some words and phrases are given wrong translations and wrong IPA transcriptions; a word will appear with one IPA transcription here and a slightly different one there; and though I am not a speaker of the author’s dialect, the IPA seems to be used inconsistently. Most mistakes in the translations and IPA will just confuse students, but plenty are not obvious from the context and will result in acquisition of incorrect Welsh.

In conception and design this is not a bad textbook. A proofreader and editor could have made it a useful addition to the range of Welsh texts, though it is expensive at two or three times the price of comparable books.  As it stands, I cannot recommend it. One hopes the publisher will arrange for a properly edited new edition.