Cymraeg, Cymrâg, Cymrêg – and a quick intro to tafodiaith

by Carl Morris on August 26, 2010

Cymraeg, Cymrâg, Cymrêg

Sooner or later on your Cymraeg adventures, you will notice tafodiaith – that is, regional dialects from around Wales (and beyond) with variations in the use of words.

In 2010 I think there is a greater diversity of tafodieithoedd around Wales than there is of, say, dialects of English in England. I think this can be linked to the comparative recency of proper broadcasting and probably a whole load of other factors.

This might sound daunting for a learner but you will learn to love it I hope. It’s part of life’s rich tapestry (and all that). As Super Furry Animals once sangdwi’n deud llefrith, ti’n gweud llaeth“. Or roughly: “I say milk (the north Walian way), you say milk (the south Walian way)”. Similar sentiment to “you say tomato” except without the “let’s call the whole thing off” part.

Sometimes a person can predict another person’s precise village of origin from their tafodiaith. Will this always be the case? I don’t know.

The above book, Cymraeg, Cymrâg, Cymrêg, has become an object of fascination for me. I knew it was a gem from the moment I saw the title and cover, referencing slight pronounciation variations in the name of the language itself. (This is a scan from the copy from Carmarthen Library, if you must know – hence the sticker.)

Unfortunately it’s out of print so earlier this year I shared a map of names for sweets on my personal blog.

Huw Waters has added his own thoughts and map scans from the prized book, again a library copy. (He’s looking to borrow a reel-to-reel tape player so he can share an old recording. Anyone?)

And now as it happens Bethan Thomas, one of the original authors, has alerted me to the fact that the newly launched People’s Collection Wales has some elements from the book such as those fascinating maps, with more to come.

The site also have a collection of audio recordings of people speaking, from Llanymawddwy to Llannerch-y-medd to arbitrarily pick two. I’m combing the Rhosllanerchrugog recording to see if I can spot the famous nene.

Meanwhile Siân Tir Du has been blogging pretty extensively about words lately.

Some of the blog posts to which I’m linking will be pretty hardcore if you’re new to the language. Google Translate can be helpful but don’t rely exclusively on it. See if you can grab a fluent speaker to help you.

garicgymro August 26, 2010 at 7:45 am

“In 2010 I think there is a greater diversity of tafodieithoedd around Wales than there is of, say, dialects of English in England.”

Hmmm… I have to say I have serious doubts about that. Is the claim based on any data?

Carl Morris October 27, 2010 at 10:29 pm

I’ve only just noticed your comment but looking at it now I probably could have phrased that part with more precision. Or got rid of the comparison with English altogether.

The only research I have is experience so I’d welcome any thoughts.

Rory Francis August 27, 2011 at 3:40 pm

#garicymro

I don’t know if you speak Welsh, but if you do, I am surprised by your doubts about what Carl wrote. The vernacular Welsh of north and south Wales is often so different, in terms of grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary, that until the advent of Welsh language radio and TV, there were real problems of communication. Today, of course, people hear all kinds of Welsh on the media, so these problems no longer exist. I knew one married couple who met at an Urdd camp in the 1950s, one from north Wales and the other from the south. They had so much of a problem communicating that they had to speak English for the first three months they knew each other – until the south Walian wife learned north Walian!

And this isn’t at all surprising. Typically, minority languages tend display greater dialect differences than major language like English, French and Russian, because historically, there was no centralised government or establishment to promote its particular speech register. Other examples would be Irish, or Breton, where there are huge differences in pronunciation and grammer in different areas.

I might be wrong, but it’s my impression that any competent Welsh speaker would agree that dialect differences in Welsh are greater than those in UK English – to the extent that it would be a bit of a waste of a researcher’s time doing a scientific comparison.

Lyn July 11, 2012 at 3:33 pm

I agree – the difference between North and South Welsh makes them almost entirely different languages. I too had friends from North Wales, with home I resorted to speaking English because no-one understood each other! In English (not counting slang), I think a lot of the old regional dialects have disappeared and the differences these days amount to the odd words and old phrases here and there. However, in Welsh, a great deal of everyday words and phrases remain different and so does the pronunciation of shared words. For example, the sentence “the cat escaped from the sack, ran downstairs, under the table and chairs and jumped over the hedge, into the grass” would be entirely different.

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