All entries for Thursday 01 March 2007

March 01, 2007

Morris Jones. ‘The Present Condition of the Welsh Language’

Y Wyddfor

The point of this essay is to consider any changes occurring in the linguistic structure of the Welsh language. Jones lists a number of these to begin consideration of the subject:
• subjunctive paradigms of verbs are used less often now, e.g. Agorwch y drws fel gallwyf ddod I mewn becomes Agorwch y drws fel y gallaf ddod I mewn;
• the forms for adjective in terms of gender and number are curtailed in spontaneous speech;
• and ‘a major difference in the forms of various words’, e.g. yr wyf i becomes rydw i etc.
The emphasis seems to be more on spoken language than written due to ‘the approach of modern linguistics’ and ‘pedagogical needs to teach Welsh as it is spoken’ (111).

The influence of English also has an effect on Welsh in terms of sound, orthographic symbols, syntax and semantics.
1. Sound. There are now three new sounds in the Welsh language: the ‘ch’ sound in ‘chips’ and cheque’ which is expressed in Welsh as ‘tsh’, ‘ts’ or the softer ‘si’; the ‘j’ sound in ‘jam’ and ‘garage’ that demanded the introduction of ‘j’ into the Welsh alphabet; and the ‘sh’ sounds in ‘shop’ and ‘brush’ also represented by ‘si’, ‘s’ or ‘sh’.
2. Syntax. ‘Verb + participle’ constructions have developed to mimic English phrases including adverbs that could be left out, e.g. ‘mae John wedi’I syrthio I lawr’ – ‘John has fallen down’. There are some Welsh constructions like this already (‘mae John wedi mynd yn ôl’ – ‘John has gone back’), so the new development is more of an extension.
3. Orthographic Symbols. The spelling of words is also a concern in relation to influence of Englsih on Welsh. Jones notes that some Welsh words have adopted a similar means of pluralising words as English so that chwaraelwyr (quarrymen) becomes chwaraelwrs from the singular chwaraelwr. There are also many improvisations for English words where English words are used within a Welsh sentence. There are established borrowings where loan-words, ‘form a regular part of the Welshman’s vocabulary’ e.g. bacon or bil (115). Another influence comes when, ‘new concepts are initially presented to the Welsh speaker through English’ e.g. astronot or gwasanaeth (117).

To conclude, Jones notes that, ‘English is a major world language whose use is not confined to the English side of Offa’s Dyke’ (119). The aim now is to create a standardised version of spoken Welsh to match the written one. Syntax and vocabulary vary around different parts of Wales:
• mae yna ddyn yn yr ardd, or, mae dyn yn yr ardd;
• mae gan John bres, or, mae pres gyda John;
• mae eisiau diod ar John, or, mae gan John eisiau diod, or, mae John eisiau diod, or, mae John yn moyn diod;
• buasai, or, byddai;
• efo, or, gyda;
• allan, or, mas;
• i fyny, or lan;
• llaeth, or, llefrith;
• bwrdd, or, bord;
• ffwrn, or, popty;
• gwyrch, or, shetin, or clawdd, or, perth, or claw.
Jones wants to see a standardisation of spoken speech by filtering dialects and judging the spoken and written forms to decide which is better. This is needed according to Jones if Welsh is to have a higher status.

Morris Jones. ‘The Present Condition of the Welsh Language’. The Welsh Language Today. Ed. Meic Stephens. Llandysul: Gomer, 1973. 110-126.

Roland Mathias. ‘The Welsh Language and the English Language’.


Mathias begins by discussing the beginnings of Welsh or Cymraeg in around 500 BC, its development into a more recognisable form of the language and its wars with other languages on its borders (Offa’s Dyke, the South Wales coast and Pembrokeshire). As I have ancestors in Pembrokeshire, I find it fascinating that Henry I settled a body of refugee Flemings there in 1108. Could this be where my Noot ancestors come from? Many English people settled in Pembrokeshire and the Gower too.

The real problem for the Welsh language came though after the Acts of Union of 1536 and 1542, since although these acts allowed Welsh subjects the same rights as English ones, the Welsh would have to give up their language to be allowed into the club. However, Mathias is aware that, the Welsh language, ousted from commerce, education, law and administration, had identified itself with religion’ (42). Individuals also had an effect on the language’s longevity; for example, William Salesbury’s translation of the Prayer Book and the New Testament into Welsh in 1567 and William Morgan’s translation of the Bible in 1588. As Mathias notes, ‘the purity of the language was more seriously preserved by dictionary-makers and manuscript collectors’, yet ‘the identification of Welsh as the language especially fitted for religious observance, for theological discourse and argument, was not, and could not easily be, unmade’ (42-43).

The South Wales Valleys were a particular hotspot for immigrants and the Welsh language waned here during the nineteenth century.

South-east Wales, increasingly as the nineteenth century progressed, was an industrial Klondyke attracting tens of thousands of workers in every decade. At first most of these came from Welsh-speaking regions farther west. […] But in the later developed coalmining areas and in the eastern valleys of Monmouthshire the cast hoards of incomers undoubtedly included far more English-speakers, even if a few of them were Irish or Scots. (30)

Mathias continues:

The language of the bosses was English: the commercial language was English. And fro their children the language of the school was English too. Many streets were wholly English-settled and no other language was ever spoken there. […] Against this incoming army Welsh had no champions except the chapels and the Iforites, the only benefit society [sic] to make a point of using the Welsh language and encouraging Welsh tradition. (51)

This is all true and fair, yet Mathias is snobbish about the incoming English workers and the miscegenation between them and Welsh communities to create English-speaking Welsh people. He writes of the situation of Welsh who lost the Welsh language as a ‘tragedy’ as if the language could have somehow solved all of their problems (53). He recognises why English-speaking Welsh rejected Welsh, yet he seems to dislike the desire, ‘to escape […] into the broader vistas of a world language’ (54).

Yet Mathias does call for reconciliation in a back-handed manner. He suggests on the one hand that, ‘English-speakers in Wales have for centuries depressed and deprived the Welsh’, but adds that this, ‘is not something that can be allowed to provoke its simple opposite’ (56). He then goes on to suggest that the ‘English-only majority is […] culturally deprived’ and suggests that further insult should not be added to injury (56). As if the English speakers did not feel Welsh already, Mathias magnanimously recommends that, ‘steps must be taken to associate the English-speaking majority spiritually and culturally with Wales in terms other than those of language’ (56).

Mathias is also rather narrow in writing about which languages writers should use: ‘It seems to me not at all undesirable that writers who have learned to speak Welsh and even to write in it should still retain English for the body of their work and that, occasionally at least, those who normally write in Welsh should provide a little insight into their attitudes by writing in English’ (58). Native Welsh speakers can use English, but those who have learned Welsh are prohibited from writing in two languages. Mathias also describes Welsh-speaking Wales as ‘Welsh Wales’, a rather ambivalent term.

Roland Mathias. ‘The Welsh Language and the English Language’. The Welsh Language Today. Ed. Meic Stephens. Llandysul: Gomer, 1973. 32-63.


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