One of the more daunting things about Welsh which is common to all the Celtic languages is the concept of mutations: consonants that change to a different letter, or even group of letters, depending on context.

As an English speaker and someone who has learnt German and French in the past, this is a truly alien concept. German may have given us some pretty monstrous words, but at least they're always spelt the same way whenever you encounter them. The French may be sloppy when pronouncing the ends of their words, but at least the beginnings don't go changing.

In Welsh, however, certain initial consonants of words change to other consonants. This is a mutation, and exists in all the Celtic languages of the British Isles in various forms. Welsh has three types of mutation: soft, nasal and aspirate (which I won't go into here). The most common of these is the soft mutation. What this means, in practical terms, is that in certain circumstances the following letter changes occur at the start of a word:

c becomes g

p becomes b

t becomes d

d becomes dd

b and m become f

ll becomes l

rh becomes r

and g vanishes entirely!

One of the occasions these mutations occur is when a singular feminine noun follows the definite article "Y". So "cath" (a cat) becomes "y gath" (the cat). "Mam" (Mother) becomes "y fam" (the Mother). And so on. This change also occurs when we are going "from" or "to" somewhere. If we go "to Wales", for example, it's "i Gymru" with the usual C replaced by a G. I'm still getting accustomed to the various reasons for the soft mutation, and there are lots of them.

Then we have the nasal mutation. This is much less common, and comprises the following consonant changes, which I had to look up because they're not all yet very natural to me:

p -> mh

t -> nh

c -> ngh

b -> m

d -> n

g -> ng

I've principally encountered this mutation when saying I am "in" somewhere. As with the Cymru -> Gymru change above when we go to Wales, we change C to Ngh when we are in Wales. So one can like Cymru, go to Gymru, but be in Nghymru... argh! Still, all languages have their quirks, and the world would be a very boring place without these differences.

The purpose of mutations, so I've been led to believe, is to improve the flow of the language. I kind of buy that. Kind of. I can see that the words trip off the tongue a little better in the case of the nasal mutation ("my car" would be "fy car" ("vuh car") without the change but becomes "fy nghar" ("vunghar") with it), but I can't really see how abitrary changes to feminine singular nouns help the flow.

Still, it is what it is, and it's all part of language's rich tapestry!