Things I do when I’m not farming: learning Welsh

The story of why I decided to learn Welsh is long and political. Suffice to say that some friends of mine and I were talking, and I realized that it might be fun and fulfilling. My brain is kind of like a border collie or a working German Shepherd, in that if I don’t give it constructive work to do it will make its own work. Given that I’ve struggled with depression for more than 10 years now, I really don’t want my brain making its own hobbies.

I’m learning using the lessons over at Say Something In Welsh, and it’s going really well. Welsh is fascinating to learn, because while it’s an Indo-European language it’s most definitely not a Romance language, so grammatical structures vary wildly from comfortingly familiar to a first language English speaker to “what the hell just happened”. For example, if asked a yes/no question, the words for “yes” and “no” vary by verb and tense — to say yes you might say ydw, do, or oes, depending on what question you’re answering.

A small brown sheep with medium long curving black horns looks directly into the camera.
Oes gen ti ddefaid? Oes, mae gen i ddefaid.
Do you have sheep? Yes, I have sheep.

Welsh also has vowels that English doesn’t, such as “w” (which sounds like oo as in look), “y” (which mostly sounds like English u as in up, except when it sounds like i as in pin), and “u” (which sounds like e as in peek). And after an “ee” sound on the end of the word, a constant at the beginning of the next word may mutate: unvoiced consonants become voiced, voiced consonants disappear entirely. And then of course there’s the infamous Welsh “ll”, which is sort of an unvoiced L.

Trying to learn Welsh, in fact, can give a native English speaker some insight into how difficult it must be to learn English, with all its bizarre irregularities. But I’m having fun with it nonetheless, and measuring my progress by how much I can understand of BBC Welsh language radio podcasts. I haven’t gotten a whole sentence yet, but words are definitely popping up out of the sea of foreign phonemes. I’ll consider myself fluent when I get the jokes.

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Comments (1) | Life at the Manor — Tags: , — Andrea @ 0800 on 28 August, 2015

One Response to “Things I do when I’m not farming: learning Welsh”

  1. Elodieunderglass
    0909 on August 28th, 2015

    recently a welsh-speaking colleague and I were asked if we were going to translate a piece of modern science research into Welsh. As you’ve probably noticed, lots of modern words don’t really… GET… translated into Welsh (although the Welsh for “microwave” isn’t popty-ping, it’s “meicrodon.”) so… how would you do a piece of sciencey stuff, with all those modern/Latin words in it??

    “I don’t even know how you’d do that?” I said to him privately.

    By putting -io on the ends of the sciencey words, apparently. But he said that it wasn’t a fair thing to do to “a language that evolved to talk about sheep and haunted valleys.”

    which made me happy since you were using it to talk about your sheep :)

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