Living the language
The Welsh nation is known for its deep-rooted sense of national pride, so it's hardly surprising that the Welsh language continues to form such a passionate part of its culture. Welsh is a truly living language in every sense of the word.
Where we come from is important to all of us. National identity is a source of frequent, impassioned debate, as well as, for many, deep personal pride, and this pride is something which the Welsh are particularly well-known for.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in their all-too-often maligned language. Closely related to Cornish, the native language of the English county Cornwall, and to Breton, the native language of Brittany, north western France, Welsh – or Cymraeg to its speakers – dates back to the 6th century, making it one of Europe's oldest living languages. It evolved from the Celtic language spoken by the ancient Britons and was handed down through the generations until the 19th century, when the industrial revolution brought about an alarming erosion of the Welsh language.
Since then the battle to save Cymraeg has been inextricably linked with Wales's national identity, and much has been done to promote its usage. At the uppermost level, political parties have been founded (Plaid Cymru began in 1925 with a primary mandate of promoting the language) and acts of parliament have been passed, but the future of the Welsh language has also been embraced by its people. A passion for keeping it alive has led to everything from adopting bilingual road signs to the Welsh television channel S4C.
Today Welsh is not the dead language many would have you believe (and indeed many feared it would become). Welsh is now growing again and, according to a survey by the Welsh Language Board, is spoken by 21% of the Welsh population, 62% of whom speak it on a daily basis.
Although many places in Wales now have English names, the Welsh language still appears in numerous village and town names and, although all the locals speak English, understanding a smattering of Welsh will help visitors understand the heritage of where they are visiting. Undoubtedly the most famous place name is the tongue-twisting Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, which in English is translated as the fantastically descriptive "St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantysilio of the red cave", but many towns and villages have names which begin to tell their story.
One of the most common place name fragments is Llan, which means a church or parish in English and is usually followed by the name of a saint (for example Llandudno, named for the church of St Tudno). Blaen refers to the head of a valley, while Aber denotes the mouth of a river, the name of which usually follows (for example Abertawe – the Welsh name for Swansea - which sits on the river Tawe).
Say any of these place names aloud and it becomes immediately clear that spoken Welsh is a beautifully lyrical language. As a result Welsh has a long history of artistic expression, with many of the oldest preserved texts in the language being poems. The oldest surviving manuscript in the Welsh language is Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin (The Black Book of Carmarthen), which dates back to around 1250 and is now housed at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. Its poems include religion, Welsh legends, and heroes of Dark Age Britain, such as Myrddin (Merlin) and King Arthur.
Music has played a significant role in keeping Welsh alive. Today music provides native speakers and those who are new to the language with an opportunity to immerse themselves in it. Listen to traditional male voice choir songs or modern Welsh pop by bands such as Race Horses and the Super Furry Animals, or spend a day or two at the National Eisteddfod – one of the largest and oldest cultural festivals in Europe – and you'll find that getting to grips with this ancient language is not as hard as it seems. And thanks to the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 that was passed by the Welsh Government, Welsh has been given official status in Wales for the first time in its existence.
Even the most basic knowledge of Welsh will inform a visit to this proud and heritage-rich country, so why not make a start with these simple phrases:
Hello Shw mae ("shoo my")
Goodbye Hwyl ("hooil")
Welcome Croeso ("croy so")
Thank you Diolch ("dee-olck")
Source: The Guardian