Os treisiodd y gelyn fy ngwlad dan ei droed,
Mae hen iaith y Cymry mor fyw ag erioed,
Ni luddiwyd yr awen gan erchyll law brad,
Na thelyn berseiniol fy ngwlad.
(Though the enemy have trampled my country underfoot,
The old language of the Welsh knows no retreat,
The spirit is not hindered by the treacherous hand
Nor silenced the sweet harp of my land.)
[Land of my Fathers – translation taken from http://www.wales.com ]
Image by texas_mustang (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
La versione Italiana è disponibile qui.
Hi 🙂 !
I am on holidays in sunny Italy for a little while and I am taking this chance to write an article that is very important for me.
Today I will talk about language, which is one of the most fascinating things in the world for me. More in specific, we’ll talk about what happens to the language of an expat, (or at least what happened to me) and about language in Wales. And it’s important, how could it not be?
Language gets you by everyday for so many things, and language creates part of your identity and of your attachment to a land.
What does this really mean?
Your mother tongue (or tongues) might be the one with the deepest roots into your mind, the one you’ll always be able to untangle at best, but the languages you learn and use create connections and help you to shape new parts of you.
I’ve seen people struggling to learn and appreciate a language and then suddenly becoming fluent and fascinated by it when it started creating attachment to places, people, situations. This is what it is about. After years in another country, its language is not just practical words, it’s the sound of friends and loved one, of first discoveries, of favourite places, of flavours and music, of whatever your memories shaped them to be. Part of who you are.
Languages are all different, so people who are bilingual often not only feel they have multiple identities but also different ways to express themselves at best, according to the register and the situation. Some languages are more structured, more polite or louder, cryptic, charming, funnier, and they convey us in different ways. Translation is not always possible and you can just try and adjust the meaning.
This is the reason why I write in English first; Italian might be deeper rooted in my brain, but English makes me feel free to express myself and use a more concise logical structure at the same time. English is my adult life language, while Italian was used during my younger life, so all I got to know, realise and mature in the past few years has had an English form. I interchange the two languages according to the context and often think mixing the two with no distinction. If you embrace it, that’s what bilingualism does, it gives you more tools to express yourself and reshapes your personality.
Language in Wales
Once you arrive in Wales, you’ll notice something straight away: the country is bilingual. The signs on the road are translated and so are the announcements in the train stations, the information in the leaflets and so on.
Welsh is infact still spoken, particularly in the North and in some areas of the South of Wales, and a lot of work has been put into ensuring that the language is being kept alive as much as possible. The language is still taught in schools (and some primary schools and nurseries are bilingual), there are tv and radio channels dedicated to it, language books and translations more or less everywhere and Welsh is even required in some job descriptions, particularly in the public administration sector.
As I mentioned, the language of a country is important to its identity and cultural heritage, so let’s have a look to the history of Welsh language in the past centuries, to better understand the importance that it has for the people who speak it.
When the Romans conquered Britain, they respected the languages and traditions of the Celtic population, however after the decline of their Empire and following the Germanic invasions, the celtic tribes moved to the most peripheral areas bringing their languages with them.
After the Norman conquest of Britain, Wales started being progressively anglicised especially after Edward II became prince of Wales. In 1535 the Union Act imposed English as the official language, helped by different economic and social factors that pushed the country into becoming more and more subject to the English influence.
Another important factor for the transformation of the language used was the Industrial Revolution, since at that time many young people moved to England for new job opportunities and at the same time many English people came to Wales following the discovery of the coal resources and the opening of the coal mines in South Wales.
At this point, almost half of the Welsh population still had Welsh as their mother tongue, but kids risked corporal punishment if they were to use it at school, which brought to a dramatic decrease in the number of speakers.
As mentioned, nowadays a lot is being done to try and keep the language alive and encourage people to learn it. The Welsh Language Act, in favour of the language, was issued by the Government in 1967.
The Welsh English is close to the Standard British English, but obviously, the Welsh language that came before it has a strong influence on the way English is spoken in Wales, in terms of accent, grammar and vocabulary.
I won’t go on and describe all the characteristics of the language (you can write me or comment if you wish to know more), but let’s see some of its main features (if you’re not THAT much into linguistic, this is the time to wave the nerd alert flag 🙂 ):
- It is a non rhotic variety, but Welsh speakers can easily pronunce the /r/ in every position.
- There are some consonants and combinations not found in Standard British English. Some of them are: rh /r̥/ (Rhwd), bh /x/ (Bach), ll /ɬ/(Llanelli), dd /ð/ (Caerddyd) and ff /f/ (Fforest).
- Some letters are pronunced differently, like that is pronunced like /ʊ/ (Bws).
- The intonation is raising-decreasing at the end of the sentence, creating the sing-song effect.
- The words “like”, “then” and “now” are often used in the sentences even when there is no grammatical need for them.
- Inversion between object and verb in order to emphatise a sentence (“Going away, he is”).
- “Isn’t it” used at the end of the sentence even when different pronuns would be needed “I think she is feeling better, isn’t it” (instead of “isn’t she”).
- Some of the words from Welsh are used in everyday sentences, like cwtch (hug, cuddle), ach y fi (expression of disgust), while other words from the English language are used with a different meaning, like tidy (cool, nice).
If you like this topic as much as I do, I highly recommend you read this article, which is very humorous and gives some every day life examples.
Learning the language
In terms of actually learning the language and getting used to it, if you are from outside Wales, it might take time. I suggest that you don’t get scared before trying. If you feel that your level of English is not up to the challenge, you could take a course that can help you improve (there are several in Swansea and probably in Cardiff too). Other than that, speaking and listening as much as possible will make you more and more familiar to the language and the slang. As mentioned in some previous post, Youtube, Skype and watching films are your best friends in this if you’re still outside the UK.
If you are interested in courses in the area, the University of Swansea and Gower college offer some of them. Some further links can be found below:
This is all for now, if you wish to let me know your approach to language or how you live the language change as an expat, I would love to hear about that.
Diolch (thank you!) 🙂