Blog Article

The Welsh language and its origins

The Welsh language and its origins

Date: 29th April 2022

Documenting people's life stories involves delving into their personal heritage, where they started, and how their experiences have shaped who they are as a person. As a company based in South Wales, learning about Welsh heritage is important to us as Wales is a place with a rich history.  

We have explored Welsh heritage in one of our previous blogs where we looked at the ancestry of 7 common Welsh surnames. Here, we examine the origins of the Welsh language and how it has developed and evolved over time.  

The Welsh language originally stems from the Celtic language spoken by Britons long before the Roman occupation. The Celtic language that evolved in the British Isles provided the foundations for not only Welsh, but Breton and Cornish too.  

Notable dates in Welsh language history 

Some notable dates that influenced the Welsh language:  

500AD – Welsh emerges as a distinct language, evolving from Brythonic, which was the main language spoken in across Britain preceding that.  

800AD – As the language advanced and developed over time, ‘Old Welsh’ became the dialect of the language that was spoken across Wales for around 400 years. 

1200 – The evolution of the language continued and resulted in what is now referred to as ‘Middle Welsh’. The prominence of Middle Welsh was aided by the literary work of Aneirin and Taliesin. Both Aneirin and Taliesin were notable bards whose stories were passed down between generations and helped preserve the survival of Welsh language and cultural heritage. 

1350 – 1410 – One of Britains earliest prose stories are created. The Mabinogion are a collection of 11 texts that are based on Celtic legends and mythology, and delve into genres such as romance, tragedy, fantasy, and comedy.

1536 - Henry VIII’s Act of Union signified a period of great change for the entire British Isles as Wales was incorporated into England and was forced to adopt English as its official language within legal documentation and public administration.  

1546 – The first Welsh book is published, titled ‘Yny Lhyvyr Hwnn’ which translates to ‘in this book’.  

1549 – Act of Uniformity introduced which demanded that acts of public worship had to be carried out in English 

1588 - Bishop William Morgan translated the Bible into Welsh. The language was promoted by preacher Griffith Jones and his travelling Sunday Schools. This ensured that Wales remained one of few European countries to have a literate majority in the 18th Century.  

1792 – Iolo Morgannwg established the Gorsedd y Beirdd, an association of writers, poets, musicians and artists who collectively contribute to the promotion of Welsh language and culture. 

1865 - 160 Welsh settlers arrived in Argentina in order to protect the language and native Welsh culture. The settlers colonised an area called Y Wladfa, which is in the Province of Chubat, Argentina and still remains a Welsh speaking area.   

1911 - The highest number of Welsh speakers were recorded in the 1911 consensus. There was a total of a total of 977,366 Welsh speakers which represented 43.5% of the Welsh population at the time. It is said that the first World War accelerated the decline of Welsh speakers as an estimated twenty thousand Welsh speakers died in conflict 

1977 - BBC Radio Cymru was established. An important milestone in the survival of the language and exposure within Wales.  

1982 - S4C- The Welsh language TV Channel was established as an alternative channel for Welsh speakers.  

2017 - The Welsh Government introduces plans to increase the number of Welsh Speakers to one million by 2050. 


Share your origin story 

At My Story Told, it's your heritage and origin story we are eager to learn about. We want to help you share your story with family, friends or colleagues. Whether you want to share your expertise or a life-changing event, get in touch so we can help you preserve your memories for generations to come. 

You can contact us by calling 02033 283357 or email us on [email protected] .