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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Something about Welsh

As you have no doubt noticed over the past months, I have a particular preference for any and all things Welsh. So, as a treat, I am going to give a short lesson on the Welsh language. I thought you might enjoy learning a few phrases to slip into your conversations when you visit this country so that you can impress your hosts.

One of my favorite idioms is dros ben llestri: literally, 'over heads of dishes'. When someone goes dros ben llestri, they've gone over the top. Pronounced pretty close to the way it looks: drohs ben llestri - double L is aspirated: put your tongue at the roof of your mouth just behind your teeth and force the L sound out in a hiss.

Another saying is cadw cwn a chyfarth ei hun: keeps dogs and barks himself. This describes someone who won't allow anyone to help him, has to be in control of situations. Sound familiar? This phrase is pronounced cah-doo coon ah chyvahrth eye heen - ch is as in loch - aspirated.

When it seems that all good things (or bad) seem to end up in someone else's life, you could say i'r pant rhediff y dwr: to the gully runs the water. Sounds like 'ear pant rhediff uh doer'. Rh is aspirated. In English, some of us say an H in front of the W in words like when, why, where. This is never a heavy sound, more like an exhaled sigh. It's the same in Welsh. A soft H in front of the R.

These days, a lot of people around the world are ar y clwt, literally, on the rag - destitute. Remember that W and Y are both consonants and vowels in Welsh. In this case, the pronunciation is close to what it looks like: ahr uh cloot.

Greeting people in Wales with Shw mae? is always acceptable. It's like asking What's up? or How goes it? Shw is a corruption of sut (sit) which means how. Mae is a form of the verb bod = 'to be'. Shw mae (shoo my) means 'how is'.

All Welsh vowels are Italianate - open and strong which is why Welsh is such a lovely language to sing. If you'd like to know more about Welsh folk music, the National Museum of Wales has a fantastic archive. You can also see examples of Welsh music at Cronfa. The American, Phyllis Kinney, has dedicated her life to Welsh folk music. She and her husband, Meredydd Evans, are renown for their academic work in Welsh traditional music.

People always ask me if I found Welsh hard to learn. Since I've now spoken it on a daily basis, I have to answer No, but in my first days and weeks, I couldn't get my tongue around words like rhwngwladol at all. One of the best ways to learn any language is to sing in it. In my forthcoming novel, The Gatekeeper, Gwennan teaches Jehan-Emíl to sing a simple song to help him learn her language. Learning Welsh for me was one of the most life-altering things I've ever done - for one thing, I would never have written Traitor's Daughter.

Trac is a good place to begin an exploration of Welsh traditional music and dance. This organization is also on Facebook so you can get to know the people who are promoting: The future of the tradition and the tradition of the future.

Thank you for reading. If you have any questions, please let me know.

4 comments:

marybelle said...

I am always in awe of the names for Welsh towns.

Terry Blain said...

Well, it would be great to learn Welsh, then I could give the commands to my Pembroke Welsh Corgi command in his native languge -- may be then he'd listen better :)

Lily Dewaruile said...

@marybelle

The names of towns are often associated with a saint: Llandysul: llan means belonging to the church; the saint's name is Tysul. Llan is feminine noun so Tysul is mutated to Dysul. Llandeilo? Have a guess. Llanfynydd? Mynydd is not a saint but a landscape feature = mountain. Thanks for commenting.

Lily Dewaruile said...

@ Terry Blain

You'll be lucky! Corgis are not called "superior dog" (cor = splendid/superior; ci = dog) for no good reason. Thank you for reading and commenting.