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Diana Gehman has attended a countless number of Cymdeithas Madog Welsh courses over the years, and thus is very familiar with the dangers of mutations. Therefore, heed her warning!

Mutations And Their Side Effects

Mutations are one of the terrors of learning Welsh. Many of us have dealt with them for a number of years. Those of you who are beginning to study Welsh may have only touched lightly on the subject of mutations. What the teachers don't want you to know is that you are opening Pandora's box. So, just wait until next year when the box opens wider and the meanings of soft, nasal, and aspirate will no longer be associated with complications accompanying pneumonia and influenza. However, when one gets into the real meat of mutations, one may find a preference for pneumonia or influenza.

The good news is there are only nine letters ever involved in a mutation. These letters are: p, t, c, b, d, g, m, ll, rh. Another surprise! Some double consonants are considered one letter in Welsh. So, who said it'd be easy? Besides, think of the added challenge of filling in a Welsh crossword puzzle. Yes, it does bring a few cross words to mind. Well, back to those nine all-important letters. Here's a mnemonic device to help you remember them (courtesy of Lucinda Myers). "Put That Cow Back Down, Goober. Memorize LLama RHapsodies." It is important to remember these famous nine in order. It'll make things easier (yeah, right...) later on.

The first mutation is the soft mutation. Any word beginning with any of the nine aforementioned letters qualifies for the soft mutation. Of course, whether or not the soft mutation is used or not depends on certain rules, which will be discussed later. Application of the soft mutation will change the above-mentioned nine letters to: b, d, g, f, dd, - , f, l, r. Now, so far I have no mnemonic device for these letters in English, German, French, Spanish, or Russian as I can find no words beginning with dd or " - ". I'm sure one could be made in Welsh, but I've spent too much energy on mutations already. The thing I find beyond comprehension is, if a p mutates to a b, and a b mutates to an f, then why doesn't a p just mutate straight through to an f? The same could be said for t to d to dd and c to g to " - ". And why do both b and m mutate to an f ? The only relation I can see between a b and an m is that in the upper case, a b looks like an m on its side. Life must have been very boring early on to have nothing better to do than sit around the fire and think up mutations.

The second mutation is the nasal mutation. It is aptly named, as will soon be seen. It involves only the first six letters of the nine. The changes are: mh, nh, ngh, m, n, ng. How in Heaven's name does one pronounce these? Well, remember that last attack of hayfever -- that sound that's made when trying to stifle a sneeze or clear clogged nasal passages? That's just about how these are pronounced. See what I mean? Aptly named.

The third, and thank goodness, final mutation is the aspirate mutation. It also earns its name. Only the first three letters of the nine are used. The changes are: ph, th, ch. The first two are pronounced the same as in English. It's the last one that causes problems for some. Remember that last bout with the flu when the doctor gave that prescription for cough syrup with codeine to help clear the lungs? The sound that's made trying to accomplish the task of clearing one's lungs is the sound needed here.

The basic rule that I use is, "When in doubt, mutate!" There are set rules for mutations, but it'll take a lifetime and a half to get them all down. Here are a few basics.

  1. All feminine singular nouns take a soft mutation after the definite article. Does this sound sexist to anyone else? Why does it have to be the feminine singular nouns that cause a problem? And where is the logic when feminine plural nouns don't mutate under the same condition? And, wrth gwrs, why would there need to be a rule unless there was an exception? Ll and rh don't mutate here. Perhaps they are lazy.
  2. Connecting yn causes a soft mutation in anything but a verb-noun (does verb-noun sound oxymoronic? Oh, and, wrth gwrs, ll and rh are excepted, again), but yn meaning in causes a nasal mutation. The nasal mutation itself can cause yn to alter its appearance as well. It can change to ym or yng depending on the mutation of what follows it. Perhaps that is called a kickback.
  3. Here is a really terrific rule about inflected verbs in the negative. To make matters worse, two types of mutations need to be considered here. If the inflected verb begins with the first three of the nine, then it takes an aspirate mutation. If it begins with the other six, then it takes a soft mutation.

So far, I haven't found any rule that requires all three mutations, thank goodness. Their use might depend on such things as, "If it's Tuesday and raining (quite likely in Wales), Wednesday and snowing, or Friday and sunny." These seem about as reasonable as not.

I have had the joy, too, of finding a place where Welsh strangles itself on its own mutations. The words ban, man, and fan. They are all feminine. Therefore, the first two will mutate after y. They will now become y fan, y fan, and y fan respectively. Did I hear someone whisper, "You can tell what they mean by the context of the sentence?" Sure.

Please be advised that Welsh IS the language of Heaven. I expect God threw mutations into it to weed out the undesirables. After all, who -- without a strong faith that she or he could master such nonsense -- would continue the venture into the study of Welsh and the mastery of mutations?