Why bigger fools look on when it comes to Welsh

At 16 I took my obligatory Welsh GCSE like all the others in my year group. Lessons were often disrupted, few teenagers like to be told they have to do something, and we often questioned the validity and originality of Welsh as a modern language.

Helô — Hello
 Dw’n hoffi siocled a coffi — I like chocolate and coffee
 Dim parcio — No parking
 Ble mae’r toiled? — Where’s the toilet?

It’s not difficult to see what many of us latched onto in our criticism as so many words seemed like a rehash of their English counterparts. You can see why we rolled our eyes when confronted with something that only supported our ill-informed idea that Welsh was a pointless language, not worthy of our time.

Sadly this idea is no longer limited to moody teenagers trying to score a free lesson. In recent years, especially in the last year, I have noticed an increasing amount of negativity around the adaptation of certain ‘English’ words into Welsh and not just from those living in Wales. When reputable media outlets and even the state broadcaster start calling the utility of Welsh into question, then we really have a problem.

The belief that Welsh is alone in copying, borrowing or using words from other languages shows just how ignorant society has become of the very words we all speak.

Let’s take English as an example. It should come as no surprise to anyone that English didn’t just fall from the sky. Most of us can recognise its French and German roots and anyone who has read any Chaucer and Shakespeare will have seen how English has evolved over the centuries. But English isn’t just the child of our Saxon settlements and the Norman invasion. Thanks to its maritime history, vast empire, and modern day ubiquity, English contains words from almost every corner of the world.

If you are au fait with your au pair having an aperitif and canapé in a local cafe before picking up your infant at the local crèche, then you have to accept English has been copying French nouns almost verbatim for centuries.

You (de) don’t (de) even (de) have (de) to (de) try (fr) so (de) hard (de) to (de) find (de) French (de — surprisingly) or other (de) languages (Latin) in English. Not all (de) of us can afford an au pair (fr), for example (Latin). In (de) this (de) paragraph (Greek) alone you (de) will (de) find (de) words (de) from (de) all (de) over (de) the (de) world (look this one up!). And that’s a fairly simplified etymology. Many of these words can be expanded to distinct groups of people and then further to what we are all essentially speaking in Europe, Proto-Indo-European (and if you’re really interested in that, go research Lithuanian!).

The point, I hope, is clear. To make fun of Welsh for copying words from its dominant compatriot, especially words that have only entered common vocabulary in the last 100 years, would be to poke fun at your own language, whatever that may be. We all share vocabulary and we (mostly) all share a common root. Languages, just as humans, are mongrels, a mix of everything that has come before them.

Originally published at Robert Lo Bue.