Happy birthday, Wales!

Tuesday 1 March 2011, 12.01am HKT


Saint David’s Day

Dewi Sant (Saint David)

“She accidentally the whole bottle!”

(Read on and find out the whys and wherefores of this.)

Today (1st March) is the feast day of Saint David (AD 500?–589) , the Welsh-born patron saint of Wales. It is the national day of Wales / Cymru (kem’REE).

Cymru am byth! (‘Wales forever!’)

This is the country that gave us adjectives like ‘Cambrian,’ ‘Ordovician’ and ‘Silurian’ for use in the earth sciences and palaeontology. (Sorry, ‘Jurassic’ is from France.)

Some traditional activities on Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant (‘Saint David’s Day’):

1. Flying of Y Ddraig Goch a.k.a. The Red Dragon, the Welsh national flag.

“Y Ddraig Goch”
= E thr’EYEg gokh
= rhymes with “he thrives on lock”

2. Flying of the Baner Dewi Sant (‘flag of Saint David’), though less frequently seen than the national flag.

“Baner Dewi Sant”
= baaner deh’WI s’ANT
= sounds like “bonkers Debbie Sand”

Y Ddraig Goch (right) and Baner Dewi Sant (left)

3. Singing of the Welsh National Anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (‘Land of My Fathers’), which interestingly has not been established as such by law.

“Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau”
= hayn oo-laad fi naa’DIE
= rhymes with “hey, you lad, flee, now die”

4. Wearing one or both of the Welsh national emblems on clothes: a Cenhinen (ken’HEE-nen: daffodil) or a Cenhinen Pedr (leek).

5. Wearing the traditional black Welsh hat by men and women. Mostly it’s more like what the Welsh chick is wearing (below).

6. Preparing and eating a dish called cawl (cow’l: Welsh for ‘soup’ or ‘broth’), a Welsh leek stew traditionally containing mutton, beef, pork or bacon cut into small pieces and potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, parsnip or turnip — a bit like Lancashire hotpot, if you know what that looks like.

7. Welsh people (Cymry: kem’RI) speaking Cymraeg (kem’RYE: the Welsh language), although only one-fifth of the population of Wales speaks Welsh.

8. Children take part in Eisteddfod (es-TUH-fod), the Welsh festival of music, literature and performance, entirely in the Welsh language. There are actually several eisteddfodau (es-TUH-fod-eye), the most important being the National Eisteddfod of Wales held in July every year.

* * *

Trivia for your delectation

Trivia #1
The ‘corpse candle’ is traditionally associated with Saint David. Tradition has it that Saint David prayed for a sign of coming death for the dying among his followers so that they could prepare themselves. When a candle is lit in vigil, the length of the flame taper is said to indicate whether the death would come to a man, woman or child.

Trivia #2
The word ‘queen’ used to be spelt ‘cwen’ because of the Welsh. Then the Normans invaded England at 6am on 14th October 1066, sneered at the spelling of ‘cwen’ as ‘foreign-looking’ and changed it.

Trivia #3
America could have been named after English-born Welsh merchant Richard ap Meryk (1445?–1503) rather than from Italian explorer and mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci. Ap Meryk (anglicised to Richard Amerike) was principal owner of John Cabot’s ship and sponsored Cabot’s exploratory voyage to North America in 1497.

Subtrivia: As the first verified European to land in the New World (apologies to Eric the Red), John Cabot wasn’t English (as most of us, especially Americans, seem to think). He was Italian. It’s just not done to use Giovanni Caboto or Zuan Chabotto when you’re in English service. Kinda understandable, dontcha think?!

Trivia #4
Cymraeg also spawned ‘Wenglish’ (Welsh English) in South Wales, giving rise to distinctively Welsh grammar forms and vocabulary in English (and readily recognised as Welshy English/Englishy Welsh to the English ear), such as:

  • using the tag question “isn’t it?” regardless of the statement before it
  • words like nain (nine: grandmother) and taid (tied: grandfather)
  • omitting words for no reason (e.g. “He with his brother down the pub” or “She accidentally the whole bottle”) *
  • phrases like “(h)ad it (h)ard” (found something very difficult)
  • positive-sounding negative phrases like ” ‘am been well” (haven’t/hadn’t been well)
  • English-sounding phrases like “bare-faced liar” and “bit of” (e.g. a bit of fish for dinner) and “drag” (e.g. a long drag to that place)
  • placing predicate before the subject and the verb for emphasis, e.g. “Fed up, I am” or “Running on Friday, he is.”
  • using English words with different meanings, like “tidy” (done something in right way) **

* And you mugs thought “he/she accidentally…” was internetspeak, when we’ve been hearing this for ages and ages in the UK, isn’t it?

** Imagine the phrase, “He wants to click that chick, but not tidy he hasn’t. She’s had it hard with him.”

Trivia #5
Out of the 12 native languages of the British Isles, only Welsh is officially protected by law (by the Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Government of Wales Act 1998). (The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 only gives formal recognition to Scottlish Gaelic but doesn’t protect it. The rest get nothing.)

Trivia #6
Wales is a country beset with the same bilingual problem in education that Hong Kong does: a longstanding kaffufle about using the mother tongue or English as the main medium of instruction.

Trivia #7
British singer-songwriter Duffy is Welsh. Born Aimée Ann Duffy in 1984 in Bangor, Gwynedd, in Wales and speaks Welsh as her mother tongue. To the English ear, Duffy’s distinctive singing voice is Welsh. Next time you see Duffy, don’t call her ‘English.’

Wonderful the Welsh they are, isn’t it?

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011.

Images (pilfered and used without permission, not tidy that):

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