Back in early April I found myself in Iceland after another staff member from the school was unable to go. I suppose it was only right that my visit to Lesotho in the southern extremities of the planet earlier in the year should be coupled with a trip to the Arctic Circle – or close enough to it. My only reservation was leaving Angharad (again) in the year we are to wed. Thankfully, as a teacher, she was fully supportive and accomodating of my own teacher duties.
99.99% of everything I saw was incredible. From geysers to tectonic separations; lagoons to glaciers; waterfalls to volcanoes…. it was truly a wonderful place.
The reason, however, I’m that unable to say I enjoyed 100% of the trip is down to a conversation I overheard in a Subway resturant just outside Reykjavíc between a customer and a cashier.
Two people; one ordering some grub, the other serving it. Both Icelanders. Both speaking English!!!!
On our trip we were lucky enough to boast Björn Rúriksson as our guide. This incredibly knowledgable photographer, pilot and writer (amongst many other things) was persistantly interesting as he pointed out each and every nook ans cranny of his home island. He also learnt how to say Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantisiliogogogoch perfectly in a just few hours. Although to be fair, I can say Eyjafjallajökull pretty well!
The reason I mention Björn here is because he was the first person to whom I spoke regarding my sadness and, in honesty, my surprise that two Icelanders would choose to speak English over their native tongue.
It was then he informed me of something about which, as a Welshman, I’m all too well versed; the damning of smaller languages by the many who speak English before their native language(s).
A similar point was made by Abraham Somers in an article for Nation.cymru where he speaks of Iceland’s struggle in keeping up with the English language’s domination of the digital age.
Björn was amazed to learn, considering Wales’ close proximity to the homeland of the world’s new de facto language, that the Welsh language had survived in the manner it had. I refused to inform him that my language boasted twice as many speakers as his own!
We talked for hours about the situation of our respective languages as we passed some of most beautiful landscapes on the planet until eventually we began to consider how our languages might move forward. How might our languages maintain their relevance in a world rapidly losing its languages at an alarming rate?
One thing that struck me from our conversation the most was how Icelanders had, since the 90s, ensured that as many game developing companies as possible included Icelandic on their games. I guess the reason behind it was to ensure Icelandic maintained its relevance in the world – to ensure that the younger speakers didn’t feel as though they had to learn Norwegian, German or English in order to enjoy the latest games.
Mainly down to our lack of sovereignty as a nation, Wales and the Welsh language were – and still are – totally overlooked when it comes to the gaming world. Even if the population of the world’s Icelandic speakers is less than the entire population of Wales’ capital city, the fact that Iceland boasts its own seat at the United Nations means their language will always have a better chance than ours.
Rarely a day goes by when I don’t spend at least 30 seconds (but often much longer) thinking about how we could strenghten the Welsh language. Sometimes I keep the faith that one day it will hit me and a simple idea will change our language’s future for the better. Most of the time, however, I mainly dispair in the knowledge that via drastic actions only we will save Cymraeg. John Saunders Lewis was indeed correct!
Last week I had an idea. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite the linguistic silver bullet for which I’ve been searching but it at least linked two of my many passions – the preservation and expansion of the Welsh language and retro gaming!
I’ve been messing around with retro games, roms and emulators for years. Little chucks of childhood nostalgia squeezed together in 8-bit colourless harmony. And the best part about being able to relive my gaming childhood is that it’s completely free!
Pokémon Red for the Nintendo GameBoy is one of my personal favourites. It was one of the first games I remember that forced me to lose hundreds of hours and sapping the juice of even more AA batteries.
After (once again) completing the game, I needed a new challenge. A quick internet search led me to various articles on how game text could be edited.
You’ll never guess what I’ve just spent the last 5 hours doing….!
+ Check out my video here with around a minute of gameplay.
Now look, there are a few things I need to mention here:
- This will in no way save the Welsh language – at best it will give some Welsh-speaking 30-somethings around half an hour of fun.
- I’m nowhere near completing this ‘project’ and there are various problems such as bugs, dialect choices, character limitations and difficulties in translating such terms as Pokéball and Boulderbadge!
- I can but hope that my passion for a game first released at the end of the previous milennium enthuses other game developers to contact Welsh speakers with translation requests. Or perhaps Welsh speakers will, themselves, approach gaming companies and pester them to provide Welsh interface options!
Once I’ve completed the first version I will make the game available free-of-charge to all who fancy a try.
Look, I’m under no illusions that this project won’t save the Welsh language like Morgan’s bible translation in 1588 but who knows? Perhaps game developers might take note of the Welsh language in future!
Finally, don’t pity me. It’s actually a lot of fun to do!
UPDATE: Click this link to download the first version of Pokémon Red in Welsh.