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August 17, 2006 5:36 AM   Subscribe

In Wales, signs are bilingual. Sometimes, they get it very wrong
posted by handee (50 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's funny!
posted by thirteenkiller at 5:55 AM on August 17, 2006


That looks like one hell of a language. Does written Scottish Gaelic or Irish Gaelic look as unpronounceable as Welsh does?
posted by Hypnic jerk at 5:57 AM on August 17, 2006


I refuse to believe that Welsh is a real language.
posted by empath at 5:57 AM on August 17, 2006


Some friends from Cardiff University once attempted to translate the sentence "Aiiiiiieeee! The squid! She no longer responds to mind-control!" into Welsh but were stymied by the fact that none of them could generate sufficient saliva for the effort.
posted by longbaugh at 6:04 AM on August 17, 2006


Does written Scottish Gaelic or Irish Gaelic look as unpronounceable as Welsh does?

Yes.
posted by smackfu at 6:14 AM on August 17, 2006


This just goes to show, if you need to distinguish between bicycle riders and bladder inflamations, DON'T TRUST ONLINE TRANSLATIONS! HIRE A REAL, FLESH AND BLOOD TRANSLATOR, FER CHRISSAKES!! GAHT-DAMMIT!!!

Ahem... I know about this stuff: my wife's a translator.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:14 AM on August 17, 2006


Slow Children Playing
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:14 AM on August 17, 2006


Does written Scottish Gaelic or Irish Gaelic look as unpronounceable as Welsh does?

Not very much. But they're not that closely related, either.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:16 AM on August 17, 2006


pedestrians dead slow
posted by patricio at 6:17 AM on August 17, 2006


Inflamed Bladders Playing
posted by Hlewagast at 6:22 AM on August 17, 2006


Bringing Welsh back into use in Wales is a long-standing fight. My grandfather was a civil servant in Powys county, back in the mid-1900s when the English were trying to kill off the Welsh language, and he'd regularly have to clean spray paint from vandalized English-only signs. Cymru über alles!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:27 AM on August 17, 2006


Yeah, the Welsh students at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies where we were all studying Old Irish 30 years ago were really annoying—they'd ostentatiously speak Welsh to each other even when someone who didn't speak it was among them and ostentatiously being excluded. I don't care about their history of blah and their pride in blah, it was goddam rude.

Also, what flapjax at midnite said about hiring real translators.

Great post!
posted by languagehat at 6:43 AM on August 17, 2006


Try driving through Wales. I got the feeling that the whole country was making fun of me, with their signs a million letters long, mostly L's and W's.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:52 AM on August 17, 2006


Similar problem exists here in Ireland where I often see the Irish on official signs being very poor translations of the English. It's fairly infuriating that the government bodies involved can't hire someone that speaks the language properly to provide the translation instead of doing some half-assed job.

Does written Scottish Gaelic or Irish Gaelic look as unpronounceable as Welsh does?


This is what my post would look like written in Irish but welsh looks pretty un-pronouncable to me too.

Tá an fadhb céanna sa tír seo chomh maith. Feicim go minic go bhfuil an Gaeilge ar fógraí oifigiúil aistriúchán mícheart ón mbéarla. Tá sé an bearránach nach féidir leis an rialtais an jab a thabhairt do dhuine éigin a bhfuil in ann an teanga a labhairt i gceart in áit jab neamhinniúl a dheanamh.
posted by TwoWordReview at 7:04 AM on August 17, 2006


I have mixed feelings about enforced bilinguality. It's great that some people want to pursue a niche language and public purse support in some way is a good thing but when it comes to regimented signage and official documents and media, it seems like overkill to me. I do love me a good long totally unpronounceable (to me) welsh word however.
posted by peacay at 7:10 AM on August 17, 2006


TwoWord, at least there are enough vowels in there (and combinations of vowels and consonants in recognizable patterns) for it to be pronounceable. Welsh looks utterly random.

Digging into it further, the Welsh Language wiki, actually does help make some sense of it.
posted by Hypnic jerk at 7:17 AM on August 17, 2006


I'm reminded here of an episode from the hilarious old British comedy series Blackadder, where Rowan Atkinson says something along the lines of: "Have you ever been to Wales, Baldrick? You need a half pint of phlegm in your throat just to pronounce the language."
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:23 AM on August 17, 2006


There was a running joke in our ethnolinguistics department that the Welsh traded their vowels to Hawaii to score some much needed extra consonants.

I speak very little Welsh, and it's got an interesting rhythm to it. Just listening to the up and downs of the language, it almost sounds Hindi.

I'm a big fan of saving languages. I firmly believe that the loss of a language is the loss of a way of thinking and it breaks my heart that there are many languages out there that are gone forever.

However, after having a drunken Welsh rugby player assault me and scream at me in Welsh for two hours because I had a Welsh flag sticker on my car made me wonder a little bit if that language/way of thinking might be better lost. Dude, I barely speak Welsh, and I sure as hell don't speak drunken Welsh. Can I have a raincoat?
posted by teleri025 at 7:38 AM on August 17, 2006


Whoa, did a cat run across the keyboard at the sign factory?
posted by chillmost at 7:42 AM on August 17, 2006


FWIW, although it might be considered a "niche language" today, Welsh is much older than English.

Also, "Y" and "W" are VOWELS in Welsh, and "LL" is a single letter with a very different sound than an "L". So that partly explains why it looks so crazy to an English-speaker.

(Bro'-in-law is Welsh.)
posted by LordSludge at 7:44 AM on August 17, 2006


Ha ha - those silly foreigners and their butchering of English!
What? Oh.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:55 AM on August 17, 2006


"When I read the sign I thought someone was having a laugh. I've never even had a bladder disease."
posted by lemonfridge at 8:18 AM on August 17, 2006


Bilingual Welsh television announcers.
posted by evilcolonel at 8:30 AM on August 17, 2006


My cat can type Welsh perfectly well...he just chooses not to.
posted by Lord Kinbote at 8:49 AM on August 17, 2006


Yeah, the Welsh students at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies where we were all studying Old Irish 30 years ago were really annoying—they'd ostentatiously speak Welsh to each other even when someone who didn't speak it was among them and ostentatiously being excluded. I don't care about their history of blah and their pride in blah, it was goddam rude.

When my Dad was at school in Wolverhampton in the 60s there were students there from Wales who didn't speak a word of English. I'm just sayin'.
posted by jimmythefish at 8:50 AM on August 17, 2006


when i was young and visiting Wales it was taken for granted that the locals would switch from speaking to each other in english to speaking in welsh the moment they thought you were in earshot
posted by criticalbill at 8:59 AM on August 17, 2006


More ffycd yp Welsh on Flickr.
posted by ceiriog at 8:59 AM on August 17, 2006


And yes, we only speak Welsh to piss you off.

Sorry.
posted by ceiriog at 9:01 AM on August 17, 2006


Trust me, these students were perfectly fluent in English (I imagine it was pretty hard to get to grad school without it, at least in the '70s). They were just being obnoxious.

Welsh is much older than English.

That makes no sense at all. We can argue about the age of manuscripts, but it's irrelevant when they were written down anyway—all languages are equally "old" (assuming for the sake of argument that all languages go back to a single common ancestor, which we'll never be able to prove or disprove). We divide the history of Indo-European languages into stages and give them names for our convenience, but there was never a point at which you could listen to one generation and say "These people are speaking Common West Germanic/Early Brythonic Celtic" and turn to their offspring and say "Aha, these people are speaking Old English/Old Welsh!" The whole "my language is older than yours" thing (which used to be phrased as "my language was the one spoken in Eden") is ineffably dumb and pointless.
posted by languagehat at 9:05 AM on August 17, 2006


And yes, we only speak Welsh to piss you off.

See, I knew it!

*seethes helplessly*
posted by languagehat at 9:06 AM on August 17, 2006


Bravo to the Welsh! Anything that interrupts the bland homoginization of mankind is favorable in my book.

Now, about those native costumes.....
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:08 AM on August 17, 2006


Oh yes, boyo - Welsh is easy to pronounce if you follow the rules, one sound per letter, more or less. Try applying that to Irish. After sixteen years I am still struggling with it.
posted by Cennad at 9:19 AM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


In English the sign read 'Look Right,' but underneath the translation into Welsh read 'Look Left.'

LOL... must be a plot by Welshmen to lead Englishmen into getting themselves run over by passing vehicles!
posted by clevershark at 9:22 AM on August 17, 2006


languagehat writes "all languages are equally 'old'"

I've been told that some languages drift a lot less than english. Polish was put forward as a language that hadn't changed much over the years, to the point that someone fluent in 21st century polish could easily read books from the 14th century. Contrast to english where even Shakespear is tough reading. If true wouldn't it be accurate to say that Polish is an older language than English?
posted by Mitheral at 9:26 AM on August 17, 2006


No, if it were true it would only mean that Polish changes slower than English. But it's not. The same claim is often made of Icelandic, but all that's going on is that the writing system is conservative, so the changes in pronunciation aren't reflected in spelling. If a medieval Icelander or Pole listened to a modern conversation in the respective languages, they'd have just as hard a time as a medieval Englishman listening to modern English. (An extreme example is katharevousa Greek, which uses as close an approximation to Ancient Greek as possible to represent a completely changed spoken language; not only does it make the written language hard to learn, it bamboozles many Greeks into making the silly claim that the ancients pronounced the language just the way modern Greeks do.)
posted by languagehat at 11:31 AM on August 17, 2006


languagehat, that's interesting. Is there a way to tell how an ancient people did pronounce a word?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:17 PM on August 17, 2006


the locals would switch from speaking to each other in english to speaking in welsh the moment they thought you were in earshot

Oh, the old favourite. I bet there are Chinese people who tell similar stories about those pesky Tibetans. "We walked into the pub and they all started speaking Tibetan."

I love it that you assume that Welsh speakers would prefer to speak English to each other. Weird as it may sound, there are plenty of people I have never spoken English to (everyone I work with; most of the people I know on the web), and the only time I do speak English with Welsh speaking friends is, wait for it, when we're in the pub and there are none Welsh-speakers present.

I'm not denying that some people will continue to use Welsh even when English tourists are present. I can only apologise for the insensitivity of my countrymen and suggest you loudly announce your disgruntlement the next time someone makes so bold as to speak his own language, in his own country, where you are a guest.

Bloody peasants. Revolting, isn't it?
posted by ceiriog at 1:22 PM on August 17, 2006


I had thought Welsh would sound like a cat going through a meat grinder, but having seen a few old episodes of Reslo I can corroborate that it's actually quite lovely.
posted by jtron at 1:30 PM on August 17, 2006


Great way to learn the language if you are a tourist, was there in July and managed to pick up a few words. Brussels also has bilingual signs, theirs are French and Flemish.
posted by Chimp at 2:01 PM on August 17, 2006


Is there a way to tell how an ancient people did pronounce a word?

Depends on the language, of course, but assuming it was written down, the writing system can tell us a fair amount (if it's reasonably "phonetic," of course, which isn't the case for Egyptian, to take an obvious example); we also learn a good deal from borrowings into other languages (a classic example is Finnish kuningas 'king,' which nicely confirms the reconstructed Proto-Germanic *kuningaz). For Ancient Greek, there's quite a bit of material, helpfully assembled in one place by W. Sidney Allen in Vox Graeca.

I can only apologise for the insensitivity of my countrymen and suggest you loudly announce your disgruntlement the next time someone makes so bold as to speak his own language, in his own country, where you are a guest

I don't know if this was directed in part at me; if so, I'll bold a salient phrase in my anecdote:

...the Welsh students at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies where we were all studying Old Irish...

It should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway just to be on the safe side, that if I walked into a bar in Wales and people were speaking Welsh, I'd be thrilled rather than offended. But if I'm in a car, in Dublin, with twentysomethings like myself, all studying Irish together and presumably having a lot in common, and the others are all talking a language I can't understand when they could equally well talk one we could all communicate in, I'm not quite so thrilled. Don't worry, I'm not accusing all Welsh persons of being rude, just these particular guys.
posted by languagehat at 2:14 PM on August 17, 2006


And yes, Welsh is (to my ears) quite a lovely language to listen to.
posted by languagehat at 2:14 PM on August 17, 2006


I don't know if this was directed in part at me...

Not in the least. The 70s were a heady time for young Welsh speakers, especially students, what with people (their friends? themselves?) being dragged off to prison and so on, but that doesn't excuse plain rudeness.
posted by ceiriog at 2:58 PM on August 17, 2006


It's news to me that the English imprisoned people for speaking Welsh in the 1970s. 1470s, maybe.
posted by athenian at 3:21 PM on August 17, 2006


This is an awesome thread.
posted by snsranch at 5:13 PM on August 17, 2006


I love the sound of Welsh, and welsh accents too. I could listen to Dylan Thomas read "Under Milkwood" all day long. And I have.
posted by Uccellina at 5:16 PM on August 17, 2006


In related news, you aren't going to be able to claim you live up Shit Creek in New Zealand much longer....
posted by rob511 at 5:28 PM on August 17, 2006


"You can always tell when a Welshman is writing in English because of the flamboyance of the descriptions."

- The Story of English
posted by bwg at 5:52 PM on August 17, 2006


Who says you need two languages to confuse pedestrians?
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:37 PM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


It's news to me that the English imprisoned people for speaking Welsh in the 1970s.

Not for speaking Welsh, but for campaigning for full civil rights for Welsh speakers. In the 1960s there were no bilingual road signs in Wales, but that was the tip of the iceberg.

If you're interested, the National Library's Ymgyrchu! ('Campaign') is a good starting point.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith (Welsh Language Society) has pages in English; its members are still being arrested and jailed for taking part in NVDA protests. Lots of things have changed for the better, none of them by accident, but there's still lots to do.

Glyn can't save the language of his own. ;-)
posted by ceiriog at 1:18 AM on August 18, 2006


Can I just point out that if you want a flamboyant language to curse in, you can't get better than Welsh and Chinese? ;-)
posted by badlydubbedboy at 10:10 AM on August 22, 2006


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