Saturday, March 1, 2014

How the Welsh language was really invented

 Dydd Gwyl Dewi Dedwydd—or how the Welsh language was really invented: whiskered kittens on keyboards wearing white woolen mittens.

These are a few of my favorite things. And now I don't feel so bad...but you might if you ever wish someone a Dydd Gwyl Dewi Dedwydd, or visit Wales and have to pronounce some of the downright eyeteeth challenging placenames. Why yes, I have been to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, now that you mention it, but why do you ask? 

Llanfair PG for short—is not the byproduct of a cat walking on keyboards, but it is a real village on the isle of Anglesey in Wales. One of the longest place names in the world, it was an 1860s gimmick for the longest railway station name in Britain prize—only no one can pronounce it. The railway sign is so long we could barely fit it all in the photo frame.

Barbarella's secret password is pronounced Llan-vire-pooll-guin-gill-go-ger-u-chwurn-drob-ooll-llantus-ilio-gogo-goch, which means [St.] Mary's Church (Llanfair) [in] the hollow (pwll) of the white hazel (gwyngyll) near (goger) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrndrobwll) [and] the church of [St.] Tysilio (llantysilio) with a red cave ([a]g ogo goch). Got that? Good.

I double-dare you to Google these phrases I've compiled for your next Welsh lesson: 
Wnewch chi ysgrifennu hynna, os gwelwch yn dda? 
Helpa fi! Helpwch fi! 
Galw'r heddlu! 
Dw i ddim yn deall 
Mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn llyswennod. (Omniglot).

Aside from the pesky eels in the hovercraft (a linguist's inside joke), a friend of mine said Welsh looks like it is suffering from a severe case of irritable vowel syndrome. But it's really just a case of bad orthography. OK, so there are a lot of ds in a row too.

You know that Dydd Gwyl Dewi Dedwydd is a Welsh national holiday, today, right?

Eight of those letter combos (digraphs) are really one-letter sounds written in the English alphabet with two Latin letters: 
ch—èch, dd—èdd, ff—èff, ng— ll—èll, ph—ffi/yff, rh—rhi, th—èth. 
Speaking of those irritable vowels: the usual complement: a, e, i, o, u—but, hold on—w and y are also vowels. 

The Welsh—Cymraeg (aka Cambrian, Cambric, Cymric)—alphabet has 28 letters 
(but no j, k, q, v, x, or z), and it is related to Cornish, Breton(Brezhoneg); Cumbric, and Pictish—are both extinct. Probably because nobody could spell them either.

Welsh is a P-Celtic language. Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx are Q-Celtic—as were almost all the Atlantic Celtic languages of Iberia—which is different than Gaulish.

TRANSLATE: I live in Wales
Welsh - Dw i'n byw yng Nghymru 
Cornish - Trigys ov yn Kembra 
Breton - E Kembre emaon o chom 
Irish - Tá mé i mo chónaí sa Bhreatain Bheag 
Scottish Gaelic - Tha mi a' fuireach anns a' Chuimrigh 
Manx - Ta mee cummal 'sy Vretyn (Omniglot).

Mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn llyswennod
Leun gant sili eo ma dourruzer
Tá m'árthach foluaineach lán d'eascanna.
Leun a sylli yw ow skath bargesi
Ta my haagh crowal lane dy astan.
Ma hoovercraft's full o eyls
Ma hoovercraft's breemin' ower wi eyls

Welsh emerged from Common Brittonic, or another down in the 'eels Brittonic dialect, ca. 6th c.AD. The Britons were all pushed to the west of what is now England/Scotland, and eventually the Brittonic-speaking west, was divided near modern-day Manchester/Liverpool, and the boundaries of modern Wales were founded.

Before the 6th c., Brittonic kingdoms extended from The River Clyde (Cumbria), to Cornwall & the Isle of Wight.

The earliest Welsh literature dates back to 600 AD. Wales' first Welsh bard was Taliesin of the 'shining/radiant brow' (or Tal-iesin, Taliessin; c. 534 – c. 599). He composed the story of Urien of Rheged, a 6th c. king—in what is now southern Scotland.

Another Welsh bard, was Aneirina Cumbric poet from Dumbarton (also modern Scotland), aka the "prince of bards, of flowing verse." Aneirin's epic Y Gododdin, records a pitched battle between the Britons and Angles at the Battle of Catraeth ca, 600 AD, in remembrance of his fallen patrons and lords of Hen Ogledd.

So, I guess we could say that the roots of written Welsh is really Scottish! Of course, there was no Scotland yet. Detail, I know. Also understanding the Brittonic language map during the post Classical era, and the early middle ages gives some linguistic credence to the next Mad March Celtic holiday on deck—that St. Patrick was actually from what is later known as Scotland.

Welsh was much easier to learn than Old Irish (also VSO and sometimes P*, but less tenses to fuss with). However, I was a mental disaster in my Medieval Welsh class at Berkeley—it was also post-9/11. I had the post-acopolytic mind of a squirrel. I did, however, manage to get through the first story of the Mabinogi, and another tale in Medieval Welsh. All I can say is, I'm glad I already knew how the stories were going to end. 

*Verb, Subject, Object, Preposition that conjugates with personal pronoun. 

Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus
Anyway, all this to say to you: Happy Dewi Sant! Or Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus! Do you have a bouquet of daffodils in hand, and a lucky leek stuck behind your left ear? Then, let the March madness begin.

White rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Note Bene: David, the patron saint of Wales and doves, whose feast/death day is March 1st (ca. 569-601 AD), would've been a contemporary of Taliesin and Aneirin.

During the height of Welsh resistance against the Normans, Saint David was recognized as the national patron saint. On his deathbed Dewi Sant was said to have uttered: "Brothers be ye constant. The yoke which with single mind ye have taken, bear ye to the end; and whatsoever ye have seen with me and heard, keep and fulfil."

An 8th c. poem prophesied that when all might seem lost, the Cymry would unite under the banner of David to defeat the English; "A lluman glân Dewi a ddyrchafant" (And they will raise the pure banner of Dewi)."

Dewi was son of Sandde, the Prince of Powys— the Ceredigion clan, and Non of Menevia. He founded a Celtic monastery at Glyn Rhosin (Vale of Roses) at Sir Benfro. He was buried at St David's Cathedral at Pembrokeshire; his shrine was a pilgrimage hot spot during the Middle Ages. Saint David is also associated with corpse candles, a flame, or blue fireball (bog-fire, will-o-the-wisp, ignis fatuus) that foretold death.

The Welsh wear a daffodil (symbol of spring) or the leek (secret sign) on their lapel to celebrate the feast of St. David. The words are similar in Welsh, Cenhinen (leek) and Cenhinen Pedr (daffodil, "Peter's leek").The leek was used as a symbol to distinguish Welsh troops from the pagan Saxon enemy. Friend or foe.

The word Cymry dates back to the post-Classical Roman Era, meaning the peoples of "Yr Hen Ogledd", or the Men of the North. In Old Welsh combrog means "compatriot, or Welshman"; from cymryubrogi —country, or territory.

The word Wales, or Welsh, is not from within the culture. It's from the Germanic root (Walh, Walha) foreigner, which ironically was derived from the name of a fierce Gaulish tribe, the Volcae Tectosages—who gave Rome some real grief. The Volcae fought alongside Alexander the Great, and feared nothing.  

Britain 500 AD: Pink: Celtic Britons, or Welsh. Blue: Germanic tribes Angles, Saxons. Green: Gaels & Picts.

There was a lot of prehistoric travel back and forth from southern Ireland to Wales. During the 5th c., Gwynned was an Irish settlement, as was Anglesey. The word Gwynedd is an early borrowing from the Irish, related to the  Old Irish name Féni. Finn/Gwyn are cognates—fair/white.

My family name, Walsh (the Welshmen), is Breathnach in Irish. This does not mean our family were supplanted Normans, they might have come over to Bantry from Wales with Strongbow, they may have been descendants from the kingdom of Gwynned, or they may simply have been Brittonic-speakers in Ireland. 

My grannie's Irish Grammar book: Sinead Breatnac (Jane Walsh).

Saint David
Saint David's Day
Taliesin - Wikipedia
Welsh Language - Wikipedia
Welsh people - Wikipedia

My Welsh friend Mabli (Maria Teresa Agozzino) wrote a brilliant folklore paper on the Patagonian Welsh: Transplanted Traditions: An Assessment of Welsh Lore and Language in Argentina

Literrata: It's PADDY not Patty
St Patrick was a Strathclyde Briton


Unknown said...

Maureen,I have been reading your blog lately and some of your interesting posts .I also was curious about what camera you use for your blog photos,(I'm buying a new camera soon ).

Maureen Hurley said...

Hi Karen, I just discovered a slew of unmonitored comments in a Blogger archive. Sorry I don't see your comment. I used to use Nikon P60s, sort of a cross between a DSL camera and point & shoot. So nearly all the photos are from them (I have 3, and keep swapping parts). But they've grown weary of the concept of taking crisp photos. Apparently the screen processor wears out around 10,000 photographs. And I do take lots and lots of photos, but I throw away at least half of them, if not more.

NOw I'm using another semi point & shoot, a Panasonic Lumex, I love the lens clarity, but the processor is also growing weary, and I've definitely not hit the 10,000 photo mark yet. Close. So I'm limping along with it, until another deal comes along I can't pass up. I need a real DSLR camera. But they're battery hogs, they're way too overpriced, and huge, they won't exactly fit in my jeans pocket. And they're thief candy. So my old beat up cameras are good theft deterrents. (I also took the Nikon logo off).

My first digital camera was an off-brant Chinese number, with a strong blue tint, but it took surprisingly good photos. I borrowed a Minolta for a while too. So if there's a particular photo you're curious about, I probably can remember which camera it was.

In the old days, I used a Pentax K1000 and an early model of the Vivitar zoom lens, fantastic piece of glass. I used it until the ballbearlings came rolling out of the focus ring. So the old photos, from negatives, or prints, are from that camera. I cried when I finally killed it.