Thursday is Welsh class night. In September we (eight of us, ranging in age from mid twenties to mid eighties) reached the start of a GCSE course. Up here in the north it’s still the first language of many of my friends and neighbours, and all my husband’s family.
I applaud the new Bishop-Elect’s intention of brushing up her rusty Welsh.
We used to have many bi-lingual services in our local village which were moaned about, inevitably, by one or two English only speakers, but were much appreciated by most people who enjoy the privilege of living in two cultures. For one thing, the singing is better in Welsh!
The Cathedral and diocese of St David’s are the very heart of Welsh Christianity. The Bishop Elect will need her Welsh if she is to feel totally at home there and at one with her people.
She’s also going to need a lot of help and support; a PhD in Quantum Physics will be a doddle in comparison. In my experience, she will certainly get that from her Welsh speaking congregations, and much more in the way of interest and sheer fun. For the sake of non Welsh speakers I think I should try and give you a little information about just what Jo Pemberthy is taking on.
On Thursday night we were doing Possession.
My cat (cath in Welsh), your cat, his cat, her cat.
However, (what a lovely, loaded word that is!) Welsh is a musical language so it must always sound beautiful with no jarring combinations. Which is why my class mates and I spent three hours wrestling with the ‘mutations’ which help to make the language flow so smoothly.
My cat becomes “fy nghath i” but your cat is “dy gath di” and her cat is “ei chath hi.”
Still with me?
There are three different types of mutation, soft, nasal and aspirate, but they only happen in certain circumstances, and only for some letters. My doctor becomes fy noctor, for example, and, depending on I’m not entirely sure what, the city of Bangor can become either Fangor or Mangor.
Paid a phoeni, Jo. The mistakes don’t matter. I’ve never got over the embarrassment of asking for ‘cottage cheese’* in the village shop, before I had learned the Welsh word for cottage—bwthyn. So I asked for ‘caws ty bach’. (Ty bach—’little house’— is the euphemism for toilet) Back came the straight faced response—‘Would that be the bog-standard cheddar?’
If the Bishop Elect is in a class anything like the one I go to she will have a wonderful time. It’s amazing how much a knowledge of the language deepened my understanding of the history and the culture, as well as the people, of this beautiful country and made me feel utterly at home here.
Anyone dithering about joining a Welsh class – just go for it.
*caws colfran, if you ever need to buy some.
In case anyone is looking for a holiday spot for next year have a look at this.