Friday, February 28, 2014

St David's Day: A Welsh Language Profile by Rhian Davies

Tomorrow is Saint David’s Day, the national day of Wales. Thousands of people across Wales will be donning daffodils and leeks on their shirts to celebrate their patron saint and national day.

Welsh is a Celtic language closely related to Cornish and Breton and evolved from the native language of Britain, Brythonic. It is the official language of Wales and is also spoken in Y Wladfa, Argentina, where Welsh settlers emigrated in the mid-1800s, with the purpose of avoiding further influence from England and the English language.

Over the centuries, Welsh has been highly influenced by Latin, English, and to a lesser extent, Norse and Irish through various invasions of Britain. It has a rich poetic tradition with some of the oldest British poetry being attributed to Welsh, dating back to the 9th century. The language has always been written using the Latin alphabet, but a literary forger in the 18th century invented a runic alphabet known as the Bardic Alphabet, claiming it was used by ancient Celtic druids.

Anglesey, North Wales
Welsh is one of the most vibrant and widely spoken minority languages with 560,000 speakers in Wales, 5,000 in Argentina and thousands more worldwide. Welsh-language media is widely available with a Welsh radio station, numerous magazines and local newspapers as well as a television channel. It is a compulsory subject in Welsh schools until the age of 16, and Welsh-medium education is available through to university.

The language has many dialects which are often categorised by linguists into two main varieties: Northern and Southern. The standard language is a mixture of the two, and the grammar of literary Welsh is so vastly different from the colloquial varieties that it may be considered a separate language altogether.

Despite being seen by many as having a harsh and guttural sound and an unconventional orthography, it is highly influential in the construction of fantasy languages, namely Tolkien’s Elven language, Sindarin, which shares many features with Welsh.

Rhian Davies is a Language Policy & Planning student currently working on a website detailing the Brythonic languages.