We begin Welsh-English week with a guest post by Paul Harrington, a blogger and podcaster based in Gilwern, South Wales.
You know that a language or dialect is alive and well when it suddenly springs into life – such is Wenglish (Welsh-English) having lain dormant for a few years since Goldie Looking Chain slipped from our consciousness, in 2007 the phrase ‘Oh…… what’s occurin’ ?’ issued from the mouth of ‘Barry Girl’ Nessa Jenkins (aka Ruth Jones) in G&S, Gavin and Stacey not Gilbert and Sullivan! The phrase of course means – ‘Excuse me, what’s going on?’ In one movement the language and Welshness was reborn.
As a South Walian it is natural to recognise the phrase as it fits easily into the range of other Wenglishisms that occur from Cardiff and the surrounding valley areas. Other useful terms that you may need if visiting the south of the principality:
Hiya but! – this appears odd at first as one would tend to reply – But what? It is of course a common welcome meaning ‘Hello there!’ It is usually but not exclusively used male to male. It is odd that many people who move away from Wales and develop a very different accent and way of speaking almost instantly slip back into this phrase when they come back home and ‘go down town’ and will respond ‘Aright, an’ ew?’ even though they would never use the phrase when living away from Wales.
You may be also asked ‘Is that ’ew by there?’ or ‘What are ew doin?’ The ‘ew’ in thes cases does not derive from any linkage with sheep as far as I am aware…
A primary teacher’s life in the Welsh valleys!
There is also the curse of the loss of the final ‘g’ in many verbs – doin’, walkin’, listenin’. This used to and to a large degree still does grate with me; it has reached pandemic proportions in South Wales – more particularly around Cardiff and Newport. Many years ago other local phrases also caused problems for a new teacher in a valleys school. I had great fun trying to work out the full meaning of news entries similar to the one below from my 7- and 8-year-olds:
‘On my way home from the bars I played football down the ’stute with my friends.’
Once I had had the opportunity to discuss the news item with the child concerned all became clear(er) and my worries about underage drinking were assuaged. The thrust of the news item was that on his way home from swimming at the baths he stopped off at the Miners Institute field to have a game of football with his friends.
Another occasion when ‘ Welshness’ impinged on teaching in my early days was when we desperately needed the correct spelling and definition for ‘cwtch’ (‘cwt’ rhymes with put, ‘ch’ as in chicken). We needed to ask our Deputy Headteacher who was from North Wales (there is indeed a difference between North and South Wales Welsh!). Back came a beautifully written note putting our minds at ease over spelling however giving us two possible meanings for the word: one a hug and the second a small safe place (perhaps the cupboard under the stairs!). We spent a few minutes in class chatting about the similarity between the two derivations with warmth and safety being the dominant themes.
There is also the inconsistency of nouns for relatively new objects in Welsh with some mysteriously having a specific word such as:
computer – cyfrifiadur (which is strange as I feel sure that there was no Welsh computer prior to those from the USA and Europe)
While others appear relatively similar to their English counterpart:
video – fideo
rugby – rygbi
train – tren (with stress on the ‘e’)
taxi – tacsi (‘cs’ pronounced as ‘x’)
Many of the oddities of Wenglish Speak come from the formation of sentences in Welsh for example:
‘Prynhawn da Paul ydw I’ – Good afternoon Paul I am
‘Mae pen tost ’da fi’ – I have a head pain with me
‘Rwyn mynd i’r sinema’ – Is I feel sure where the ‘I do go …’ or ‘I do go … ’ as in ‘I do go to the pictures’
Whatever the linguistic oddities of Wales though we are a proud, tough and independent nation which pulls together particularly when it comes to rugby, which has the status of a religion within Wales and also for those not fortunate still to live in the homeland. You will certainly feel the strength of the ‘hwyl’ (fun, camaraderie ) come the ‘International’ season if you are within a few feet of a Welshman or- woman, it is highly likely that you will be welcomed into the company with open arms, (and full pints of beer) and we will even find it in our hearts to sympathise with those who are not fortunate enough to be Welsh! It is at such times when the Welsh are at their most passionate you can feel and hear the lilting beauty of the language (all the better for a little lubrication!).
And then there’s the singing for as everyone seems to know everyone sings in Wales – singing must be practised standing proudly often while wearing a rugby shirt and sung loudly with gusto again evoking ‘hwyl’ (evidence: Katherine Jenkins, Sir Tom Jones and of course Dame Shirley Bassey to name but a few).
The main power in the land without any question is the Welsh ‘Mam’ (mother) for as with other great nations we are at heart a matriarchy run by our Mams and it doesn’t really matter who you are, great or small, the single most important person in your world will always be your Mam. Everything will have to be run past the ‘Mam-o-meter’ before it can truly be said to be acceptable. Ask any Welshman or -woman about their Mam and this is when you will see the true spirit of the nation and how much we care and it is likely that you will see their eyes misting over.
Ta Mam!Email this Post
On a recent visit to Wales from New Zealand the rhythms of the Welsh accent appealed to me. The rise and fall of the sentences.
I was delighted to here Paul say ‘Boyo’ when speaking to his grandson. As a Kiwi that was the only word of Welsh that we had heard from New Zealand.
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Allen and Macmillan Dictionary, Macmillan Dictionary. Macmillan Dictionary said: Hiya but! Welsh-English post Bore da a croeso i’r wythnos Cymreag: http://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/welsh-english/ […]
Strangely enough there is a very popular word in Argentine Spanish for a place where you can lie down snugly and safely like in a small bed. The word is “cucha” and it sounds like cutch plus a final “a” as in the word “about”. Fancy that!
>>Cymreag<< !!! Bad start, boyos. Try 'Cymraeg'.
Hector, that is very interesting I wonder if this is linked at all to the Welsh migration to Patagonia?
Regarding Cymraeg- Cymreag, many apologies for the error.
Hi Paul, I just came across this blog post whilst researching for my own article. I’m writing about the unique South Wales Valleys dialect, would I be able to email you a few questions or give you a quick call?
I’m 14 and nearly fluent in welsh and it is sad to see that not many people speak it in the valleys anymore… 🙁
I hadn’t been home to Ynys Mon for many years, and it felt miraculous, that here I was ‘On my way’ ! I had two petty fears, 1/ being foreign, 2/ Welsh was long obsolete. Heading west from Crewe and still no distinct NORTH Wales accent. A Liverpool man, a Newcastle man, an American couple, but the accent my heart ached for… not yet. Got out at Bangor for Holyhead, and there were two railway employess yn siarad yr iaeth ! Oh the relief ! Oh what dread if ever it was ever to be that the Liverpool accent – North Welsh in origin – had taken over. The dreadful loss of poetic spirit, character, and “aliteration”. However, when I was asked in LLangefni ‘What part of Australia’ I came from, I quickly put that to rights.
And the tribal roof caved in, I WAS HOME. The phones rang wild, and ppl from the area poured in, I never felt so important in my llife. A positive-shock experience, unrivalled. My heart was put to rest.