*All translations in this post were made possible by the infallible Google Translate.
If you read my post called Watch Your Language!, you know that, for me, learning a new language qualifies as a gratifying pastime. I spent many years studying Spanish in school and I undertook French-learning as an adult. Before going to Italy I taught myself using Italian for Dummies™ and found that, because of its similarity to its Romance brethren, I was picking it up quite readily by the end of that trip. All good, right?
This summer we’ll be in Britain. Over the course of our three-week trip, four days will be spent in Wales (Cymru). Always wanting to make a linguistic effort in the countries I visit, I have spent some time making a handy cheat-sheet of Welsh phrases, which I will carry around with me as I interact (rhyngweithio) with the locals. Frankly, it’s giving me a fit. The pronunciation is so
wackadoo unlike the Romance languages I’m used to that I’m not quite sure how I’m going to manage. (If the Romance languages are siblings, Welsh is like their 2nd cousin once removed, and at family reunions, English and Welsh keep to opposite sides of the room, because previous attempts at small talk have been awkward at best.)
Part of the Celtic branch of the linguistic family tree, Welsh is well-known for its long, indecipherable letter combinations and tongue-torquing pronunciation, but even short Welsh words can be a confusing mass of vowels and consonants for the wide-eyed neophyte. The word beer, for example – cwrw – has me grateful I’m a wine (gwin)-drinker.
So I had a brilliant idea. If you’re familiar with the Nextdoor.com website, you know it’s kind of like Facebook, but for local neighborhoods. People log on to see if their neighbors have, say, a bone saw (gwelodd esgyrn) they can borrow, or to ask for help identifying the animal scat they found in their yard*, or to inquire if anyone else heard that loud banging sound at 2:00 am. That’s it!, I thought. I’ll put out a Nextdoor request for a Welsh speaker! Meet me at the local Caribou – that’s Minnesotan for “Starbuck’s” – and I’ll buy you a coffee and pastry in exchange for 30 minutes of your time teaching me how to say all the phrases on my list.
Naturally, the husband laughed and laughed (chwarddodd a chwarddodd), predicting with annoying confidence that there isn’t a Welsh speaker within a thousand mile radius of where we live. Anyone who responds, he added, is just a lying mooch looking for a free breakfast.
The good news is that I didn’t have to buy breakfast for a lying mooch. The bad news (newyddion drwg) is that it’s because nobody responded to my request. (Yet, when I posted that I was giving away a bunch of overgrown perennials I had dug up from the garden, they were gone within an hour!) Worse yet, the husband was proven right, something that practically guarantees that he’ll become at least temporarily insufferable to be around.
So what’s a Midwestern French-and-Spanish-speaking, Welsh-speaking-wanna-be to do? Well, as the husband says, “If I didn’t have any pants, I wouldn’t be able to fly by the seat of them.” I have pants. I’m going to have to fly by the seat of them. Perhaps when we’re actually in Wales a kindly Welsh person will take pity on me and sit down with me to go over the pronunciation. If so, it will almost certainly be over several glasses of gwin.
*The “mystery animal scat” question was posted just this week. Several people responded with “deer,” but there was also “Sasquatch,” “grizzly bear,” “Bigfoot,” and “young wooly mammoth.” Then one of the authoritative “deer” responders got mad that people were leaving less-than-serious responses. Then someone responded with a picture of himself capturing a Sasquatch. So Nextdoor.com? Helpful and entertaining.
Author’s note: I’m disappointed that none of you speaks Welsh, but thank you, neighbors, for giving me a prolonged and hearty belly-laugh, just like I’ll be giving the Welsh when they hear me butcher (cigydd) their language.
Related post: UK Road Trip, Part 3: Wales