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Information on Welsh Dictionaries


BACKGROUND

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USEFUL ADVICE:


GEIRIADUR NEWYDD

Evans, H. Meurig, and Thomas W. O. (1953) Y Geiriadur Newydd [a.k.a. The New Welsh Dictionary]. Swansea: Christopher Davies, ISBN 0-7154-0438-5, £9.95 p/b.

FEATURES: xxxii/432pp; perhaps 30-35,000 references (=source-language items); short sections on history, pronunciation and grammar of Welsh, mutations and verb conjugations; separate lists of personal names, placenames, animals, technical terms, numbers etc. Same text available in miniature format as the Geiriadur Bach, see below.

ASSESSMENT (the following applies to all the Christopher Davies dictionaries): Extremely archaic in appearance and content. Synonyms in Welsh before the English translation. Headword list is small but still includes many obscure, archaic or literary words and very little to do with the everyday world or students' needs. The Newydd contains some amazingly obscure stuff: sympetalous, testatrix, vaticination, wry-mouthed, zygomorphic. . . Little subentered material on Welsh-English, almost none on English/Welsh. No gender or plurals on target, no marking of regional variants, and no information about which words cause mutations. Almost nothing to mark (in)formality or to distinguish translations of different senses. Half a century on, Newydd ('New') is hardly the word! Long overdue for retirement.


GEIRIADUR BACH

Evans, H. Meurig, and Thomas W. O. (1959) Y Geiriadur Bach [a.k.a. The Welsh Pocket Dictionary]. Swansea: Christopher Davies, ISBN 0-7154-0629-9, £5.99 p/b.

FEATURES: viii/406pp; perhaps 30-35,000 references; map of the counties of Wales; separate lists of personal names, placenames, animals, birds, fishes, plants, fruits, technical terms, numerals.

ASSESSMENT: The baby version of the Newydd (i.e., miniature format, same core text including lists but not including the sections on history, pronunciation and grammar of Welsh, mutations and verb conjugations). Tiny print, but eminently portable. I take mine everywhere! Unfortunately, the newer impressions are not well printed, as well as being less compact and probably less durable.


GEIRIADUR MAWR

Evans, H. Meurig, and W. O. Thomas (1958 revised 1963) Y Geiriadur Mawr [a.k.a. The Complete Welsh-English, English-Welsh Dictionary]. Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer, ISBN 0-85088-462-4 (or Swansea: Christopher Davies, ISBN 0-85088-462-4), £17.50 h/b.

FEATURES: xii/812pp; perhaps 60,000 references; sections on Welsh prefixes and suffixes, and foreign terms; separate lists (Welsh-English and English-Welsh) of personal names, placenames, animals, birds, fishes, plants, fruits, addenda.

ASSESSMENT: GM is avowedly obscure, and not aimed particularly at Welsh learners, who were after all pretty thin on the ground in the 1950s. The Preface states that 'we felt that the publication of a [ . . . ] volume containing obsolete words and the latest technical terms would be an acquisition to [??] many Welshmen'. It is sometimes useful for looking up odd words -- odd in all senses of the word! You will soon learn what sorts of words are likely to be in and which words stand no chance of being present (the headword list includes purview, quadrangular, quietus, quittance, yours respectfully, but not yours sincerely, faithfully, boyfriend, bike, computer, motorway, pub, no thanks), and if you are good with dictionaries and can spare the time and effort, you can sometimes achieve good results (by religiously back-translating everything and checking it against the other side to get a clearer idea of its meaning). Once you get to a certain level of Welsh, it's worth having around the place; but the dictionary will do nothing to make life easy for you, not even to the extent of supplying gender on the English-Welsh side. Recent impressions are very shoddily printed.

WEBSITES: http://www.wales-direct.co.uk/llyfyr/geirfa.html
http://www.gomer.co.uk/english/englishbk/thecompw.htm


GEIRIADUR CYFOES

Evans, H. Meurig (1981, revised 1992) Y Geiriadur Cymraeg Cyfoes [a.k.a. The Modern Welsh Dictionary]. Swansea: Christopher Davies, ISBN 0-7154-0725-2, £12.99 p/b. (Available in USA as Welsh-English English-Welsh Dictionary. New York: Hippocrene Books (Standard series), ISBN 0-7818-0136-2, $24.95 p/b.)

FEATURES: approx 21.5x13.5mm; 611pp; perhaps 50,000 references; separate lists of personal names, placenames, animals, prefixes/suffixes, proverbs, foreign terms; 20-page grammar section; rules of mutation.

ASSESSMENT: Modernised version of the Christopher Davies product, between the Newydd and the Mawr in scope, and with the same sort of faults; however it differs in not defining the Welsh words in Welsh before translating them into English, making this more like a normal bilingual dictionary. According to the cover, this is a book 'containing over 100,000 words and definitions', but this is strange claim: for a start there are no definitions, only translations, and this figure is no use for comparing it with other dictionaries, which more helpfully tell you how many references (source-language items) they contain, rather than lumping them together with the translations. The wordlist of the Cyfoes is not as up-to-date as one might wish, and it has the usual limitations in terms of dubious translations and lack of subentered phrases, but it's certainly less archaic than the other two, and contains in a more compact and affordable form most of the headwords in Geiriadur Mawr (the less abstruse bits). On those grounds, it's perhaps the most useful of the Christopher Davies titles.


COLLINS SPURRELL

Collins Spurrell Welsh Dictionary (1960, revised [in collaboration with D. A. Thorne, Lampeter] 1991). Glasgow: HarperCollins, ISBN 0-00-433549-X, £6.99 vinyl.

FEATURES: approx 15x11cm; xii/372pp; '35,000 references and 50,000 translations'; separate lists of personal and place names; 2-page account of the history of Welsh; brief notes at the front on pronunciation and mutations. Also available in smaller Gem format, see below.

PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 'This dictionary has been expanded and updated to provide increased contemporary coverage of Welsh and English. This bi-lingual, pocket-sized book offers vocabulary and usage relevant to both the school and the general user [who he?] and, as such, should appeal to both.' Even in the latest printings, the cover still bears the words 'fully revised and updated', for which you should read 'superficially revised and slightly updated some eight years ago'. It also bears the logo of the 'Bank of English', the vast Collins electronic corpus (database) of English language texts, which is little short of fraudulent: Spurrell has never been near a corpus in its life.

ASSESSMENT: Though still widely recommended, Spurrell is not a good dictionary. For a start it contains almost no phrases or idioms, as opposed to single headwords, and almost no adverbs and phrasal verbs on English-Welsh. Many obscure English items (ammaneuensis [sic], bedew, calcine, caudle, zenana) and dubious translations (milofyddiaeth, anyone? and just try back-translating gwragedd-dy, gwreicty) appear at the expense of useful vocabulary (absent: car park/maes parcio, bus stop/safle bws, bike/beic, video/fideo, pub, hopefully, thirsty, thank you, no thanks). Style, formality and regional variation is almost never marked, and there is nothing to distinguish different senses (e.g.: mint -- the herb, or the place where they make money? tick -- the noise a clock makes, a stroke of the pen, or a sheep parasite?). No gender or plurals on target language, and no information in entries about mutations. In other words, all the usual faults. Well, the at least the price is reasonable and the printing is clear (unlike the Newydd and Bach).

NOTE: The Collins Spurrell Welsh Dictionary is a descendant of, but should not be confused with, Spurrell's Welsh-English Dictionary, a one-way Welsh-English dictionary first published in 1848 (by William Spurrell and Son of Camarthen) as A Dictionary of the Welsh Language, with English Synonymes and Explanations, revised in 1914 by Sir Edward Anwyl. If you think that HarperCollins, one of the world's foremost dictionary publishers, have probably done pretty well out of this old warhorse over the years and that it's about time they brought out a proper brand-new Welsh dictionary, write to them! (and me, if you like).

SECOND OPINION: a more enthusiastic review, by Theo Brueton, can be found at: http://www.fydd.org/scw/8.html, though possibly his faint praise is just as damning as my more robust criticisms! To save you going there, here it is: Quite small -- it fits the pocket of a jacket or coat. Cheap enough to throw out when the pages get dog-eared. Number of words: Although "Y Geiriadur Bach", with its synonyms, is more useful for crosswords and creative activities, very few "general reading" words are missing from the Collins-Spurrell (unlike "Y Geiriadur Bach"). Clearly printed.. (The point of disagreement here is really whether the Spurrell headword list is significantly fuller than that of the Newydd/Bach, and that's without mentioning multi-word compounds, idioms and so on: no thanks, supposed to, etc.)


COLLINS GEM

Collins Gem Welsh Dictionary (1992; text 1960/1991); Glasgow: HarperCollins, ISBN 0-00-470199-2, £3.99 vinyl.

Miniature version (approx 11x7.5cm) of the Collins Spurrell, see above. Cheap paper but clearly printed, not hard to read.


TEACH YOURSELF

Lewis, Edwin C. (1992) [The Teach Yourself] Welsh Dictionary. London: Hodder and Stoughton, ISBN 0-340-57212-4, £8.99 p/b.

NOTE: Ties in with the Teach Yourself course, q.v..

FEATURES: 256pp; '16,000 headwords'; 20-page grammar section; rules of mutation. Gender and plurals shown on target, also information on lexical mutations and regional forms. Mutated forms of all verbs shown are listed in their own right and cross-referred to citation form, as are irregular plurals.

ASSESSMENT: Seems to have been the first dictionary to include mutated forms of verbs and irregular plurals of nouns, cross-referred to the citation form, a technique which may be reassuring for absolute beginners but takes up a lot of space. Does the already low headword count include all those mutation cross-references? Despite its recent genesis, and the commendable ambitions outlined in the forword, TY shares most of the faults of the old guard. Limited in scope -- little more than another wordlist -- and something of a missed opportunity.

SECOND OPINION: a more enthusiastic review, by Thomas W. Powell, can be found at: http://www.madog.org/tchdict.html.


ACEN

Evans, Bethan W. et al. (1993) Gair i Gall: Geiriadur Sylfaenol i Ddysgwyr ['A Word to the Wise: A Basic Dictionary for the Learner'; a.k.a. The Acen Dictionary for Learners]. Cardiff: Acen Cyf., ISBN 1-874049-21-1, £9.99 p/b.

FEATURES: xviii/250pp; genders on English-Welsh; mutation cross-references, inflections of irregular verbs and some comparative adjectives shown; short sections on alphabetisation, pronunciation and mutation; tables of irregular verbs and cardinal/ordinal numbers; lists of placenames and personal names.

BACKGROUND: Acen are the people behind the Welsh learning course "Now You're Talking" that started on S4C (Welsh-language television) some ten years ago (see COURSES for details of their forthcoming online Welsh course). Here is their dictionary, one of the most basic you can buy.

ASSESSMENT: Very restricted headword list, probably less than 10,000 references. Perhaps the wordlist comes from vocab used in the TV course? Minimalist presentation, barely more than a glossary, but still missing much basic vocabulary. The English/Welsh side gives the impression of being a reversal of the Welsh/English, a somewhat crude technique which may help explain the eccentric choice of headwords: conquest, diocese and penitent are in, but much learner's core vocab like both, got and bored is missing (the point being that these words don't have simple one-word translations in Welsh). Much of the Welsh/English seems to be taken up with mutation xrefs, reducing the 'real' text to probably half its apparent size. Almost no subentered material, no distinction between adjective and adverb, and nothing to distinguish different senses. Little advice on mutations. Clearly printed but unimaginative (not to say crude) layout. Extremely basic, and, in spite of commercial sponsorship by South Wales Electricity, very expensive for what it is.


WLD

Gruffudd, Heini (1998) The Welsh Learner's Dictionary. Talybont: Y Lolfa, ISBN 0-86243-6300, £6.95 p/b.

FEATURES: 148x210mm, 320pp (of which 256pp dictionary); 'over 20,000 words and phrases'; 15pp grammar summary; separate lists of placenames and personal names; Welsh pronunciation shown on Welsh-English (re-spelling not IPA).

ASSESSMENT: This is by far the best of the learner's titles currently available. While it's not nearly as good as it could have been -- you can still find mistakes or inadequacies on every page -- it's still far better than any of the others. It contains important Welsh idioms that have appeared nowhere else, and some good natural translations. Above all, it tells you, as no other dictionary systematically does, which mutation, if any, is triggered by which word: for example, gan ('with') causes a soft mutation in the word it precedes, while ā and gyda, also meaning 'with', are followed by an aspirate mutation, though rhwng ('between') involves no mutation at all. The book is reasonably priced and probably worth the money for this feature alone. If only there had been a higher level of rigour and scrutiny, and some kind of teamwork, this might have been the dictionary we've been waiting for for so long. Instead, it's a solo effort involving no consultation with anyone with any expertise in lexicography: inconsistent, unsystematic, hit-and-miss. The translations are sometimes inaccurate, the proofreading leaves a great deal to be desired and the improvised phonetic transcriptions of Welsh words aren't good enough to be helpful. There are some frankly embarrassing errors (squash is confused with badminton, and briefs amusingly rendered into Welsh as 'short trousers') and some truly astonishing omissions: hungry, bored, certainly, luckily, CD, motorway, TV, video, ours, yours, even speak! On Welsh-English there is no sign of ers, bant, shw, dydi, plīs. For a fully adequate Welsh learner's dictionary we will have to wait until the next century.

HAS BEEN REVIEWED IN: Llais Llyfrau/Books in Wales (Winter 1998); Taliesin (Summer 1999). Please mail me if you know of any other reviews!

WEBSITES:
http://www.ylolfa.com/catalog/dysgwyr/index.htm (catalogue)
http://www.swan.ac.uk/adran_gymraeg/pwy.html (about the author)


GOMER

D. Geraint Lewis (1994) Geiriadur Gomer i'r Ifanc ['Gomer's Dictionary for Young People']. Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer, ISBN 1-85902-161-1, £15.95 h/b (reduced from £25.00); prices including postage: £16.95 (UK); £21.42 (Europe); £28.35 (Rest of world).

FEATURES: 774pp; illus.; '22,000 words defined in Welsh including sample sentences, idioms, place-names & abbreviations; appendices listing money, numbers, weights and measures, and a full list of words causing mutations; irregular forms of plurals, verbs and adjectives listed under separate headings'. WELSH-ENGLISH ONLY.

NOTE: Not principally a bilingual dictionary, and not specifically for learners, but it does have English translations as well as Welsh definitions. Don't be put off by the 'young' bit in the title -- people of all ages say they find it useful.

WEBSITE: http://www.gomer.co.uk/english/englishbk/gomerdic.htm


GYA

Griffiths, Bruce (ed.) and Dafydd Glyn Jones (assoc. ed.) (1995) Geiriadur yr Academi [a.k.a. The Welsh Academy English-Welsh Dictionary]. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, ISBN 0-7083-1186-5, £40.00 h/b. Third impression with minor emendations (i.e. errata and a few additions) 1997.

FEATURES: lxxxii/1710pp; detailed sections (59pp!) on orthography and pronunciation, mutations, prepositions, verbs; select bibliography. ENGLISH-WELSH ONLY.

BACKGROUND: The Academy Dictionary began many years ago under the direction of Bruce Griffiths, Lecturer in French at the University College of North Wales (Bangor). The aim was 'to gather together and coordinate all the small technical vocabularies that had been published, especially since 1950, filling the gaps as well as possible; [ . . . ] at the same time the wish was to cover the whole range of registers of both languages [ . . . ] -- the colloquial, everyday, vulgar register as well as the technical and literary. We would include idioms, similes, proverbs, even quotations from Shakespeare and the Bible, and names of people and places. Where possible, the richness of Welsh dialects would be demonstrated' [Bruce Griffiths, Llais Llyfrau Winter 1998]. An ambitious project indeed! The editors took as their starting-point the English-French side of Harrap's Shorter French and English Dictionary (the 1975 edition) and added Welsh translations. While the Academy dictionary goes only from English to Welsh and not vice versa, its remit was if anything wider than the Harraps text and the team's lexicographical connections seemingly tenuous; one wonders if they had any idea what they were taking on! However, they have now finished chewing what they bit off: the results of this Herculean labour were published in 1995. An online version will soon be available, currently covering only letter A: see below.

ASSESSMENT: Enormous, ambitious, arcane, unwieldy, largely archaic in both form and content, almost excessively comprehensive in some areas and definitely inadequate in others. The scale of the work is staggering: truly a magnum opus. It's an impressive achievement in terms of scope alone: 16 types of bitter-cress and 39 species of vetch, not to mention the 23 milk-vetches! However, the depth impresses more than the detail. The translations are multifarious and largely undiscriminated; useful everyday idiom takes second place to obscure terminological detail; genuine translations are not distinguished from coinages (which are useful things, but not the same as translations); entries adhere to an arcane, counter-intuitive set of conventions not fully explained in the front matter; and the haphazard presentation of the material makes it painully hard to negociate -- just try finding your way around the solid columns of dense text at the larger entries. How are we supposed to choose between 16 translations of puffball? Is there really an established Welsh term for puff-adder (an exotic poisonous snake, though it's not made clear exactly which species), or is it just a suggestion? The tone is set from the start; with a mammoth list of some four hundred abbreviations and subject fields, including such out-of-the-way areas of vocabulary as Cavalry, Conchology and Ropemaking, and with terminology as archaic as 'Domestic Economy' and 'Mohammedan', we see that this is going to be a determinedly traditionalist dictionary. The typography too is years behind its time, and high-quality printing and paper are marred by a cheap, flashy binding unlikely to withstand serious use for long. Contrary to what you may have seen opined elsewhere, this is not really something you're likely to want to own yourself, unless you're extremely keen. But the scope being so vast, you will find things here that you will not find in any other dictionary, especially if you have a good level of Welsh and are prepared to work hard to find what you want. It's well worth trying to get a university library to buy it.

WEBSITE: http://www.swan.ac.uk/uwp/1186.htm (but don't believe all the hype!)

ONLINE VERSION: http://www.swan.ac.uk/uwp/wa_index.htm

FOOTNOTE: I feel I should point out that several people disagree strongly with the above assessment, and insist that GYA is indeed essential for the serious learner. [When I get the chance I will add some more detail to illustrate my argument, which I hope will be useful if you're not in a position to judge for yourself by going into a bookshop and glancing through a copy, or aren't sure what points to look for.] Of course I have absolutely no wish to discourage anyone from buying this book if they feel like it, and know what they're getting. My point is that, while the depth of its terminological coverage is truly impressive, the treatment of the core language, which is what really matters for the learner at any level, is disappointing for a book of this scope -- and this price, since after all £40 is still quite a lot of money. As ever, Gwybodiadur relishes constructive criticism and informed debate!


GPC

Thomas, R. J., Gareth E. Bevan et al., eds. (1950 onwards): Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru ['The University of Wales Dictionary'; a.k.a. A Dictionary of the Welsh Language]. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. 3 vols, 195x272mm: Vol. 1 (a-ffysur) xx/1366pp, ISBN 0-7083-0504-0, £55.00 h/b; Vol. 2 (g-llys) xxxii/925pp, ISBN 0-7083-0981-X, £45.00 h/b; Vol. 3 (m-rhywyr) xxxvi/859pp, ISBN 0-7083-1530-5, £45.00 h/b; Parts 37-52 (m-silicat) in 202x280mm fascicles, £8 each. WELSH-ENGLISH ONLY.

This is more or less the Welsh equivalent of the 20-volume OED (Oxford English Dictionary): a huge, scholarly endeavour to map the language in its historical entirety. As with the Geiriadur Mawr etc, English translations follow the Welsh definition. The work began in 1948 and is still ongoing, published periodically in uncut fascicles, but is at last nearing completion. They're currently working through S, which leaves T, U, W and Y. This is a book for the academic or serious enthusiast, not one that learners should consider buying unless they are taking things extremely seriously and have plenty of money to spend, but you can always try persuading a university library to buy it. The GPC website (below) is well worth a visit, and you may also be interested in filling in their online questionnaire, about what future products you would like to see from the GPC team.

ADDRESS: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth SY23 3HH (tel: +44 (0)1970 627513, fax: +44 (0)1970 627066)
E-MAIL: gpcwww@aber.ac.uk or gpcwww@wales.ac.uk
WEBSITE: http://www.aber.ac.uk/~gpcwww/index.html
QUESTIONNAIRE: http://www.aber.ac.uk/~gpcwww/gpcffur4.htm


ONLINE DICTIONARIES

There is only one complete Welsh dictionary on the Web: Mark Nodine's famous Searching Lexicon, sometimes known as GMN (Geiriadur Mark Nodine). It's a decent-sized work, and growing; currently the figures are as follows: English-Welsh: 15,034 references (including 1,452 phrases); Welsh-English: 22,192 references (647 phrases, 919 cross-references, and 41 obsolete words). Only 15,239 of the words on the Welsh-English side have definitions or cross-references so far. Speed of lookup is excellent, at around two seconds (quicker than any printed dictionary!). It comes as part of Mark's online Welsh course, q.v., and includes a Spellchecker, a Metadictionary (tracing inflected and mutated words back to the citation form), a Glossary of Grammatical Terms, and a section on Stress in Welsh Pronunciation by Briony Williams, the author of a PhD on the subject. This truly exceptional site (awarded 3 stars by Magellan) is also available in a lower-tech setext version.
http://www.cs.brown.edu/fun/welsh/LexiconForms.html. (needs forms support)
ASCII versions are also available:
http://www.cs.brown.edu/fun/welsh/LexiconEW.html (English-Welsh)
http://www.cs.brown.edu/fun/welsh/LexiconWE.html (Welsh-English)

NOTE: The Academy Dictionary (GYA) is in the process of going online. more

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NOTE: If you have any comments to make on what you like or dislike about existing dictionaries and what problems you have had using them, or what you would like to see in a new dictionary, I would be interested to hear your views: please mail me at gwybodiadur@bigfoot.com. You are welcome to link to this page, especially if you let me know you are doing so.


© 1999 Harry Campbell
Pages last updated: November 1999

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