Question about Welsh (OT) Re: Pratchett in Welsh!

Philip.Belben at Philip.Belben at
Mon May 13 07:48:06 EDT 2002

Interesting question about Welsh from Lizzie.  Two interesting answers, too, to
which I can't resist adding my bit...

Starting with Deborah, on the subject of alphabets:

>|and if our alphabet is roman, what are
>|our numbers derived from?
> Just a quick answer because I can't use my dictation software at
> the mo': our numerals are Arabic.  Our alphabet is called "Roman"
> though you can see the phonecian/semitic origins of many of the
> letters in their shapes.

OK.  Our alphabet _is_ Roman.  It is the alphabet used by the Romans in
Classical times to write Latin, with the addition of three extra letters, J, U
and W.

The shapes of the letters are indeed borrowed from earlier alphabets - mainly
pre-classical Greek I think, which in turn gets its shapes from Phoenician.  The
shapes can be traced further, right back to ancient Egyptian forms, but it is
generally considered to have been the Semitic peoples who first used them as an
alphabet in the modern sense.

That said, all the letters of the classical Roman alphabet that we have have
much the same sounds (Welsh deviates a bit more on the sound); in that sense it
is the Roman alphabet that we use.

Numbers, on the other hand, are Arabic - with a difference.  They are quite
different from those used in modern Arabic, or even (I think) in classical
Arabic.  As I understand it, once Arab civilisation spread out across N Africa
and into Spain, ways of writing diverged.  Europe got the Spanish forms of the
numerals, and changed them further to get our modern numerals.  The Arabs were
driven out of Spain, and presumably Spanish Arabs went back to the Eastern way
of writing.

Ania is talking about Welsh:

> Welsh is written in Roman alphabet and has never been written in anything
> else. Some early Celtic inscriptions are in Greek letters, or in ogham, but
> that actually predates Welsh, i. e. Welsh as such had not evolved yet.
> The Welsh alphabet does not have K, Q, V, X or Z; it does include several

Nor does it have J except in words borrowed from English, I think.

> extra letters to represent Welsh sounds, but they are just 'ordinary'
> letters combined or doubled. These are: CH, DD, FF, LL, NG, RH. If you look
> in a Welsh dictionary, words beginning with these letters will be listed
> separately (ch will not be between ce and ci, but in its own section after
> all other words beginning with c)

It's worse than that - and this fooled me when I first tried looking up Welsh
words.  NG comes in the alphabet straight after G.  Don't go looking for it
after N...

(Czech has similar difficulties with CH, which in their alphabet follows H)


I've often wondered whether the "twig-shaped" writing in Power of Three was
derived from Ogham.  I'm guessing that the Moor people didn't use a
Roman-derived alphabet, since they couldn't make any sense of printed books in

Any thoughts?


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