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Welsh Dictionaries


The making of a good Dictionary
is a contribution of the highest order to the welfare of a language.
It clarifies and stabilises the pronunciation, orthography and meaning of its words;
garners and stores the varied wealth of its vocabulary.
To the farmer, his barn; to the manufacturer, his warehouse;
to all who use and value their native tongue, a dictionary.

— David Lloyd George

O bydded i’r heniaith barhau.
— “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau”


PRINTED DICTIONARIES

Even now, there are very few good Welsh bilingual dictionaries, though they are surprisingly numerous. For years almost the only choice was from the range produced by the firm of Christopher Davies of Swansea. They had their genesis in the 1950s and have been much reprinted, but not much revised, since then. There was also the venerable Collins Spurrell from HarperCollins, most of which dates from 1960. Things have improved in recent years, with Heini Gruffudd’s Welsh Learner’s Dictionary (1998) and Gareth King’s Pocket Modern Welsh Dictionary (2000), though there is still a long way to go, especially in meeting the needs of the advanced learner.

Below is a directory of Welsh dictionaries in print, mostly for learners, mostly English–Welsh–English, plus a few others not principally aimed at learners or involving languages other than English. This covers almost all the Welsh dictionaries currently available, and it seems to be a more comprehensive list than you can find anywhere else.

GEIRIADUR NEWYDD

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

Geiriadur Newydd FEATURES: xxxii/432pp; perhaps 30–35,000 references (i.e. 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. No indication of Welsh pronunciation. Same text available in miniature format as the Geiriadur Bach, see below.

ASSESSMENT: 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 learners’ needs. Contains some amazingly obscure stuff: sympetalous, testatrix, vaticination, wry-mouthed, zygomorphic. . . Very little in the way of subentered material on Welsh–English (phrases, idioms, compound nouns etc), and almost nothing 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 W. O. Thomas (1959) Y Geiriadur Bach: The Welsh Pocket Dictionary. Swansea: Christopher Davies, ISBN 0-7154-0629-9, 5.99 p/b.

Geiriadur Bach FEATURES: approx. 100×145mm; 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. No indication of Welsh pronunciation.

ASSESSMENT: The baby version of the Newydd (i.e., miniature format, same dictionary text, includes lists but not including the sections on history, pronunciation and grammar of Welsh, mutations and verb conjugations). Good paper but eye-poppingly tiny text; in newer impressions at least, the text is badly printed and far from clear. As with the Geiriadur Newydd and the Mawr, if you can get hold of a second-hand copy it may be more legible and more portable.


GEIRIADUR CRYNO new!

Lewis, Edwin C. (2001) Y Geiriadur Cryno: The Concise Welsh Dictionary. Llandybe/Ammanford: Gwasg Dinefwr, ISBN 0-9538554-5-7, 9.95 p/b.

Geiriadur Cryno FEATURES: 148×204mm; 408pp; tables of verbs.

Apparently a re-setting of the Geiriadur Newydd, with some added vocabulary.


GEIRIADUR MAWR

Evans, H. Meurig and W. O. Thomas (1958, revised 1968) Y Geiriadur Mawr: The Complete Welsh–English English–Welsh Dictionary. Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer, ISBN 0-85088-462-4 (or Swansea: Christopher Davies, ISBN 0-7154-0543-8), 17.50 h/b.

Geiriadur Mawr FEATURES: approx. 140×220mm; 874pp; 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. No indication of Welsh pronunciation.

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 [sic] to many Welshmen’. It is sometimes useful for looking up odd words – odd in all senses of the word! You will soon learn what sort of words are likely to be in and which 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 scrupulously back-translating everything and checking it against the other side of the dictionary to get a clearer idea of its meaning). Once you get to a certain level of Welsh, this dictionary is worth having around the place; but it 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, and it’s not cheap.

WEBSITES:
http://www.gomer.co.uk/english/englishbk/thecompw.htm (publisher’s hype)


GEIRIADUR CYFOES

Evans, H. Meurig (1981, revised 1992) Y Geiriadur Cymraeg Cyfoes: The Modern Welsh Dictionary. Swansea: Christopher Davies, ISBN 0-7154-0725-2, 12.99 p/b.

Published in the USA as the Hippocrene Standard.

Cyfoes FEATURES: approx. 215×135mm; 611pp; 48,000–50,000 references; separate lists of personal names, placenames, animals, prefixes/suffixes, proverbs, foreign terms; 20-page grammar section; rules of mutation. No indication of Welsh pronunciation.

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. You can see a sample of the text (notice the wordlist-style layout) at http://www.hippocrenebooks.com/images/d01362.gif, and a selection of scanned pages at Amazon.com.


HIPPOCRENE STANDARD

Evans, H. Meurig (1981, revised 1992) [Hippocrene Standard] Welsh–English English–Welsh Dictionary. New York: Hippocrene Books, ISBN 0-7818-0136-2, $24.95 p/b.

Hippocrene Standard American printing of the Geiriadur Cyfoes, above (different cover, same text).


COLLINS SPURRELL

Collins Spurrell Welsh Dictionary [a.k.a. Collins Spurrell Pocket Welsh Dictionary] (1960, revised 1991). London: HarperCollins, ISBN 0-00-433549-X, 6.99 vinyl.

Collins Spurrell (old cover) Collins Spurrell (new cover) FEATURES: approx. 150×110mm; 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. No indication of Welsh pronunciation. Revised 1991 in collaboration with D. A. Thorne. Also in mini 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 [no it doesn’t!] and, as such, should appeal to both.’ Nowadays the cover bears the logo of the ‘Bank of English’, Collins’ vast electronic corpus (database) of English language texts, which is used to help reflect more closely the reality of the way the language is used. This is little short of fraudulent: Spurrell has never been near a corpus in its life. You may also see the words ‘fully revised and updated’, for which you should read ‘superficially revised and slightly updated over ten years ago’.

old copy of Collins Spurrell ASSESSMENT: Though still widely used and often recommended, Spurrell is not a good dictionary for most learners’ purposes. 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 (very old copy of Collins Spurrell absent: car park/maes parcio, bike/beic, video/fideo, pub, hopefully, thirsty, thank you, no thanks). No fewer than four translations of hello, including the useless clyw! and gwrando!. 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 given for the Welsh translations, and no information in entries about mutations. In other words, all the usual faults. Well, at least the printing is clear and the price reasonable (unlike the Newydd and Bach), especially if you buy a second-hand copy, preferably post 1991.

Spurrell's Welsh-English Dictionary (detail of spine) NOTE: The Collins Spurrell Welsh Dictionary is a descendant of, but should not be confused with, Spurrell’s Welsh–English Dictionary (right), first published in 1848 (by William Spurrell of Camarthen) as A Dictionary of the Welsh Language, with English Synonymes and Explanations, and revised in 1914 by Sir Edward Anwyl and his brother J. Bodvan Anwyl. For more on Spurrell and his Welsh dictionaries, click here. 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 last two centuries and that it’s about time they brought out a proper brand-new Welsh dictionary, write to them!

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: 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. Whether or not Spurrell’s headword list is significantly better than that of Geiriadur Newydd/Bach, what really matters is that they are both so lacking in multi-word compounds, prepositional phrases, idioms and so on (no thanks, supposed to, etc.). Bear in mind that the information at http://www.fydd.org/scw/8.html is a very long way out of date; since then we have had the far superior Welsh Learner’s Dictionary (1998) and Pocket Modern Welsh Dictionary (2000).


COLLINS GEM

Collins Gem Welsh Dictionary (1992; text 1960/1991); London: HarperCollins, ISBN 0-00-470199-2, 4.99 vinyl (until recently 3.99).

Collins Gem (old cover) Collins Gem (new cover) FEATURES: 115×78mm; 384pp. Miniature version of the Collins Spurrell, see above (i.e. same text). Cheap paper but clearly printed, not hard to read. Very small and light, in fact genuinely pocket-sized, unlike Spurrell and Oxford.


TEACH YOURSELF

Lewis, Edwin C. (1992) [Teach Yourself] Welsh Dictionary. London: Hodder and Stoughton (Teach Yourself series), ISBN 0-340-78923-9, 9.99 p/b.

NOTE: Previous printings (ISBN 0-340-57212-4, 8.99 p/b) may still be found in shops.

Teach Yourself (old cover) Teach Yourself (new cover) FEATURES: 296pp; ‘over 16,000 entries’; grammar section (25pp); rules of mutation; pronunciation guide. 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. No indication of Welsh pronunciation.

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 nearly all the faults of the old guard. Very limited – really just 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/dysgwyr/adolygiadau/adolygu1.html.


ACEN

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

AVAILABILITY: Now permanently out of print, but will be found second-hand.

Gair i Gall FEATURES: approx. 125×185mm; 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. No indication of Welsh pronunciation.

BACKGROUND: Acen are the people behind the Welsh learning course “Now You’re Talking” that started some ten years ago on S4C, the Welsh–language television channel (see COURSES for details of their new 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 cross-references, 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 very unimaginative (not to say clunky) layout. Extremely basic, and, in spite of commercial sponsorship by South Wales Electricity, very expensive for what it is.


GEDDES AND GROSSET

Lewis, D. Geraint (1997) Welsh–English English–Welsh Dictionary. New Lanark (Scotland): Geddes and Grosset, ISBN 1-85534-795-4, 2.99 p/b.

AVAILABILITY: For some strange reason mainstream British bookshops find this book impossible to get hold of, even though it’s fairly recent and not out of print. Your only hope is to order it through The Works, the British high-street remainders outlet. Published in the USA as the Hippocrene Practical.

Geddes and Grosset FEATURES: approx. 100×150mm, 252pp, ‘over 20,000 entries, irregular forms of adjectives, verbs and plural nouns and an appendix of [five] irregular Welsh verbs’. Brief introduction with advice on how to use a Welsh dictionary. No indication of Welsh pronunciation.

ASSESSMENT: Similar to the Spurrell and Newydd, in the same limited ‘wordlist’ style, but with two important differences: it’s considerably less comprehensive – although much of what’s in Spurrell and Newydd is so obscure that it’s no great loss; and it shows the gender of the translations, a simple but important feature that makes the book much easier to use. Otherwise it’s just as primitive as the others, with the usual inadequate wordlist, unhelpful translations and almost total absence of subentered phrases, and no attempt to distinguish different meanings. If they published a mini version it would be a useful improvement on the Gem and Bach, though actually it’s not much more bulky as it is. If you find the (UK) price attractive, just remember that for another 96 pence you can now have the far more serviceable WLD in its new mini edition – though you will need good eyesight to read the photo-reduced print.


HIPPOCRENE PRACTICAL

Lewis, D. Geraint (1999) [Hippocrene Practical] Welsh–English English–Welsh Dictionary (Hippocrene Practical series). New York: Hippocrene Books (by arrangement with its British distributor The Works), ISBN 0-7818-0781-6, $12.95 p/b.

Hippocrene Practical Same as Geddes and Grosset, above. The text is a reasonable size, unlike the Geiriadur Newydd and Bach, but the poor standard of printing in the American edition makes the headwords (in a chunky sans serif font) hard to read, with i’s indistinguishable from l’s – and at $12.95 it’s not exactly a bargain.


WLD

Gruffudd, Heini (1998) The Welsh Learner’s Dictionary. Talybont: Y Lolfa, ISBN 0-86243-630-0, 6.95 p/b.

WLD (old cover) WLD (new cover) FEATURES: 148×210mm, 256pp (of which 229pp 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).

HAS BEEN REVIEWED IN: Llais Llyfrau/Books in Wales (Winter 1998); Taliesin (Summer 1999); International Journal of Lexicography (June 2000).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: http://www.ylolfa.com/awduron/heini-gruffudd.htm

ASSESSMENT: Easily the best of a bad bunch. [Until recently – see below.] 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 streets ahead of its predecessors. It contains words you will actually want to use, rather than obscure curiosities. It includes important Welsh idioms that have appeared nowhere else, and some good natural translations. Above all, it tells you, at the relevant entry, which mutation, if any, is triggered by which word: for example, gan (‘with’) causes a soft mutation in the word it precedes, while and gyda, also meaning ‘with’, are followed by an aspirate mutation, though rhwng (‘between’) involves no mutation at all. No other dictionary systematically does that, [apart from the new Oxford] and this book, which is reasonably priced, is probably worth the money for that 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 – if indeed there was any – and the improvised phonetic transcriptions of Welsh words just aren’t good enough to be useful. 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 such basic words as ers, bant, dydi/dydy and pls. For a fully adequate Welsh learner’s dictionary, we will have to wait a little longer.

For an in-depth review of this book, click here.

UPDATE: A third, ‘revised’ impression came out in 1999, in which the list of personal names is replaced with a more useful two-page section on numbers. Unfortunately this seems to be the sum total of the changes: no attempt has been made even to correct misprints and there is still no entry for speak. The text is now also available in a mini version, a bargain (at least for those with good eyesight) at 3.95.


WLD (mini version)

Gruffudd, Heini (2000) The Welsh Learner’s Dictionary. Talybont: Y Lolfa, ISBN 0-86243-517-X, 3.95 vinyl.

WLD mini FEATURES: 77×115mm, 256pp (of which 229pp dictionary). Miniature version of the Welsh Learner’s Dictionary (same text), above.

ASSESSMENT: By far the best of the three mini (i.e. genuinely pocket-sized) dictionaries (Bach, Collins Gem, and this one). Tiny print but better paper than the Gem, slightly cheaper, and much better content. Geiriadur Bach loses on all counts, price, content and even portability. WLD mini is therefore the one to get if either compactness or cheapness is your prime consideration. But then the far superior Oxford, see below, is only 10 or US$17.


OXFORD

King, Gareth (2000) The [Oxford] Pocket Modern Welsh Dictionary: A Guide to the Living Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-864531-7, 9.99 p/b ($16.95 in USA).

PMWD (old cover) PMWD (2003 cover) FEATURES: 196×129mm, 560pp (of which 529 dictionary and xxviii front matter), 572g. 20,000 references (headwords and phrases). Sections on: How to use the dictionary (5pp), Guide to pronunciation (2pp), Mutations (2pp), Grammar reference (7pp), Glossary of grammatical terms (4pp), Names of countries, regions and languages (2pp), Names of towns, cities, etc (3pp). Welsh pronunciation given where unpredictable.

HAS BEEN REVIEWED IN: The Linguist (Summer 2000); International Journal of Lexicography (Sept 2001).

ASSESSMENT: At last, a proper learner’s dictionary of English and Welsh, intelligently designed and packed with useful information you can’t find anywhere else. The pages are clearly laid out and full of authentic examples of real Welsh, the translations are idiomatic, and there is fuller treatment of mutations than in any other dictionary and many useful extra sections. The emphasis is firmly on providing the beginner and intermediate learner with as much help as possible, and the selection of headwords focusses on the essential core-language items you need most. There is lavish use of purely illustrative phrases to make things extra clear (as opposed to those whose purpose is show idioms that can’t be translated out of context). Advanced learners would feel the lack of a more extensive vocabulary if they used this as their only dictionary. Of course, fewer headwords is the price you pay for all this extra exemplification and guidance and such clean visuals (so many illustrative phrases and helpful language notes in boxes, so much white space). Just compare this dictionary with a traditional one like Spurrell or the Geiriadur Cyfoes, which is really little more than a list of headwords with literal one-for-one translations, but which will include a surprisingly large number of words, even if it gives you no idea how to use them. Then again, if you’re an advanced learner you’ll presumably you’ve got a traditional dictionary already, and combining the two will give you the best of both worlds. Perhaps the choice of headwords is not as systematic as it might be, especially on Welsh–English, and there are a few omissions, though none of the glaring lapses you find in the other dictionaries. But this book contains some basic Welsh (and English) items that are in no other Welsh–English–Welsh dictionary, not only new terms but the anglicisms others were too snobbish to include. And learners at any level will be interested to read the clear and helpful points about Welsh grammar and idiom made throughout the book in strategically-placed boxes. This dictionary contains so much interesting information that it is actually readable: you will find yourself browsing through it, as opposed to just consulting it when you need to know something specific. In short, this is by far the best English–Welsh dictionary there has yet been – and in fact its arrival changes much of what had previously been written in these pages. If you only buy only one dictionary, it must be this one. Whatever your level, it will have something to tell you; and if you are an advanced learner, well, perhaps you can contemplate owning more than one dictionary?

A selection of scanned pages from PMWD can be viewed at the Amazon.com site. Click here for a detailed review of PMWD from the International Journal of Lexicography. Meanwhile here is what the publishers have to say about their dictionary. And you may be interested to read an interview with the author, Gareth King, who echoes a number of important points about Welsh dictionaries made elsewhere on this site. Finally, here you can see PMWD’s entry for the word eisiau, compared with three other dictionaries costing under 10, and here a comparison of the headword lists of nine English–Welsh dictionaries including PMWD (a large page, takes a while to load).

One of the good things about PMWD was the fact that it was properly bound and printed on good, white, opaque paper. Regrettably, OUP have taken a step backwards by reprinting the book (see the nasty garish cover above right) on inferior paper, pages shoddily held together with glue. Why must they do this?? Get hold of a second-hand copy if you possibly can: the text is exactly the same, and it will last a lot better. The new printing is almost guaranteed to fall apart after a few months.


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© 1999–2003 Harry Campbell
Last updated: October 2003

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