My university dissertation became a lot more than I ever expected it to be. At the time, the very notion of finally landing on a topic on which to write 12,000 words was alone a momentous relief – never mind actually completing something of substance.
What followed my research work was an interest in the local dialect(s) of North Eastern Welsh – a field of interest I continue to pursue to this day.
I have purposely made the peculiar terminology once rife in Flintshire and the surrounding areas part of my day-to-day Welsh vocabulary and I regularly post any new-found words and phrases to a Twitter account called @TermSirFflint.
I pursue this intricate dialect for many reasons. Partly to reconnect with the dialect of my own immediate family (before the Welsh language was completely paused in my family tree) but also to appreciate the nature of the region I have called my home since birth.
My interest in the Celtic languages as a whole, I believe, lies as a result of both my traditional views and my simple love of linguistics where I am of firm belief that the loss of a language is a loss of social connection and history. There lies in a language a way of living. A window on a locality which cannot be viewed through the glass of a new tongue.
I refuse, however, to ‘dislike’ the fact that the English (and French) language has had a vast detrimental effect on the native Celtic languages. This is because we cannot be sure what linguistic gems were lost in languages that were potentially themselves displaced when the Celtic languages first settled with inhabitants of the British isles thousands of years ago. Pictish (probably a Celtic language itself) receded to extinction because of the influx of Gaelic (another Celtic language) in the north of modern-day Scotland. To find annoyance in English (and French) at the decline of the Celtic tongues is to be nothing more than a hypocrite.
On the 14th of December I attended a Christmas service in Mold’s St Mary’s Church led by Ysgol Maes Garmon – the town’s Welsh-medium secondary school. It was genuinely a beautiful occasion – even with my atheist views!
Traditional Welsh songs performed exquisitely by the various choirs as well as some Welsh translations of some of my own favourite holiday songs such as John Lennon’s ‘Merry Christmas (War is Over)’ styled as ‘Ryfel Beidia.’ Amazing.
There were festive readings from students of the school too. Readings from the Bible as well as more modern festive poems and verses.
I remember, just after a reading, my partner (herself from western Wales) mention that the reader must have western parents due to their strong Gwynedd accent. After each reading, we noticed the same feature in most (if not all) accents.
Could it be that both parents and teachers of these students were themselves from Gwynedd (and therefore conversed only in their own, natural dialects)? It begged the thought that maybe the only Welsh actually spoken/used in this area was by people from the western Bro Gymraeg. Were students conversing at home and in school in a dialect that is not native to eastern Wales? If this is the case, what hope for Flintshire Welsh?
Even thinking back to my father’s Welsh course (also taught in Mold…. through Bangor University), I almost wept at how he sounded like a native of Caernarfon rather than a native of Leeswood.
As Welsh speakers, it almost seems subconscious that we must fashion ourselves as victims of the bully-language from over the border. We bemoan the influx of English which, in the view of many Welsh language enthusiasts, is squeezing the life out of the ancient tongue of the Cymry. This may well be the case but rarely is a thought spared for the dialects bullied by larger ones within Welsh itself. For me it’s just a bit sad how Welsh speakers moan that our language is under threat from the big, bully-language next door when the same thing is happening with Welsh where larger dialects are threatening smaller ones.
It is subsequently clear that no school, no adult course nor even an online language course actually teaches Flintshire Welsh. Sure, there are threads and discussions which mention our dialect, but I implore anyone to pick up a recent copy of Papur Fama or Nene and find me a cover-to-cover edition completely in our north-eastern dialect(s). Is ‘Iaith Sir Fflint‘ by Goronwy Wynne still in print? When was the last time I updated @TermSirFflint?
When Flintshire Welsh dies, we will all be to blame. And, what’s more, my guess will be that we will comfort ourselves with “at least we still speak some form of Welsh” until the day comes where ‘standard’ Welsh itself baselines on the operating table of conversation in Wales.
It is true that money for the Welsh language as a whole leaves much to be desired. It is also true that languages and dialects themselves must evolve in order to survive.
I cannot, however, accept the fact that lack of finance orders the death of a mode of conversation. I reluctantly stand by the view that a language must live on its own means – without relying alone on cash.
Nor can I accept, despite understanding that they must adapt, that the act of dialects taken over by others of the same umbrella language can be honestly deemed as an evolution. To put it another way, the north-westernisation of north-eastern Welsh is not an evolution nor an adaptation but, in many ways, a suffocation.
Would I rather a Flintshire 100% fluent in Gwyndodeg (North-western Welsh) or a Flintshire 20% fluent in its own dialect? I fear my answer is a selfish one.
When Flintshire Welsh dies, and die it will, we lose the thoughts of Daniel Owen. We will lose the social feelings of those who made Flintshire what it is today. We will lose a piece of who we are.
No one will eat snapin. No one will refer to the latest gadgets as naci. No one will chware’r hen with the naughty children. No one will even nadu over the loss of their dialect.
Drist, mewn ffor’, ond nene ene ni, ynde n’ai?
([It’s] sad, in a way, but there we are, isn’t it?)
Glossary of some Flintshire Welsh terms:
- Chware’r hen = (verb) tell off, shout at
- Gafne = (noun) stile or climbing gate
- Gostio = (verb) have to, must
- ‘Gytho(w) = (prep.) with him/it
- Laur = (noun) love, friend, cariad
- N’ai(?) = (tag) isn’t it(?), innit(?), aye
- Nadu = (verb) cry, weep
- Naci = (adj.) an item that’s small yet useful, handy
- Pren = (noun) wood(s), forest
- Sifne = (noun) chimney
- Snapin = (noun) snack, food in a small tub
DIWEDDARIAD / Update
Yesterday I received an email from Paul Davies of Buckley Society (buckleysociety.org.uk) with a scan of a few pages from the Reverend Richard Warner’s stay in Caerwys, Flintshire in 1798.
It seems any task of reignating any form of Welsh will be a battle in a county so exclusively English-speaking since the 18th century. Well worth a read.