How a Few English Words Can Help to Keep Our Welsh Language Alive

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), November 24, 2007 | Go to article overview

How a Few English Words Can Help to Keep Our Welsh Language Alive


Byline: By Abbie Wightwick Western Mail

Welsh speakers slipping English into their speech should not feel guilty because it keeps the language alive, language campaigners and academics said yesterday.

Fears that Welsh is being watered down by English are unfounded, they said.

The comments coincided with the start of a major new research project into bilingualism in Wales.

Experts at Bangor University's new Economic and Social Research Council's Centre for Research on Bilingualism, said the fact that a language was constantly changing proved it was alive.

Centre director Professor Margaret Deuchar, who has just started a study into how bilingual people mix their languages, said, "There are people who are very purist.

"There is a taboo on swapping about in languages in teaching and in society.

"People in Wales will say 'I'm really sorry I keep slipping English into Welsh' and they see it as not speaking Welsh properly. But it's happening in languages all over the world as they evolve. People who are the most confident (in two languages) do it the most."

She added, "Languages change from generation to generation. People complain about American English but they often use words they now see as English which would not have been considered English before.

"People sometimes see language as set in stone, but no language stays the same."

Hywel Griffiths, chairman of Welsh language campaign group Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg, agreed. He said any attempts to speak Welsh, however pidgin, were to be welcomed and pointed out that both languages borrowed from each other.

"The idea of people always speaking a standard Welsh is unrealistic," he said. "It's desirable to have a standard which is known to be correct, but dialects and variations are also correct and also contribute.

"Welsh people who can speak English also bring Welsh into English. I do it myself.

"It will affect aspects of the grammar of both languages. It's not a matter of watering down a language. The most important thing is that people speak Welsh at all.

"It's just important that people speak Welsh. Once you get them speaking, whatever the quality, there's a possibility the language will develop.

"There is a standard Welsh with rules for grammar but when you get to the oral aspects there are many differences. If you look at the history of Welsh and English both borrow heavily from languages such as Latin."

One example of how Welsh grammar can affect English, according to Mr Griffiths, is how some people in the South Wales Valleys say "go you" in English, instead of "you go". This has evolved from their Welsh-speaking forefathers as the Welsh translation "cer di" inverts the English word order. …

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