Conditional confusion


Yes, there seem to be a large number of permutations and combinations I see from the Modern Welsh dictionary - pe bawn, pe tawn, tawn, pe taswn and taswn, along with pe baswn and pe byddwn. Variants on a couple of themes though aren’t they…


Yes, you’ve got pe bawn i, pe tawn i, pe taswn i, taswn i and whatever you’re having yourself…


Yes it is, and it’s pe na bawn i without SM.


Hi Tim,
There is a great group that meets weekly in Malvern…


Perhaps you might be the one to answer this question for me, Gareth, but I’m confused about ‘standard’ Welsh. I asked my tutor why learners are not taught a standard form of the language rather than a dialect. She said there was no ‘standard’, then later in the same conversation said that S4C uses ‘standard’ Welsh! If there is no standard, wouldn’t it be helpful if there were? And if there is, why aren’t we taught it?


As I understand it, there are guidelines for a ‘standard’ Welsh - and I believe it is still taught in some places/courses, but the problem is that very, VERY few people actually speak in it in normal everyday conversation, and so in order to help learners not sound permanently like learners, many tutors (and of course SSiW) have moved away from teaching ‘standard’ forms to those forms more likely to be encountered by learners in day to day life.


It’s a problem of terminology, isn’t it @annemarcellarayment? It might be helpful if there were a standard, but how would you decide what to base that standard on? And is it really necessary? The grammar of the language is pretty standardised actually, except that there is a distinction between ‘literary’ Welsh and spoken Welsh. The remark you heard about S4C is vague - what S4C uses most of the time is normal spoken Welsh, sometimes a bit tarted up in the announcements.

They tried to establish a ‘standard’ natural Welsh in the 1970s and 1980s - it was called Cymraeg Byw - and the problem was that, in trying to please everyone, it ended up pleasing no-one. And it was to a certain extent artificial.

The best option, and the one that followed on once Cymraeg Byw had been abandoned, was to just accept dialect differences (they’re mostly pronunciation anyway) and let learners choose between (basically ) N and S. And as @siaronjames points out, this at least avoids the danger of turning out fluent speakers who nevertheless sound like permanent learners.

I got into all sorts of trouble with the literati for stating these obvious facts years ago, but of course it turned out I was right - take a look at magazines like Golwg and have a listen to news bulletins on S4C, and you will see that natural spoken Welsh is the order of the day these days. :slight_smile:


Thanks for that reply, Gareth. I do take your point, and that of Siaron James, about not wanting to sound like learners, but can I offer you this alternative view? Isn’t teaching a dialect putting the cart before the horse? People learning English are taught a standard form. Regional differences are a luxury that may be saved for later, or adopted effortlessly through natural exposure to spoken forms. And if someone sounds like a learner, does that matter? I’m quite comfortable with being identified as a learner. The perfect spoken English of many people who have learned English as a second language is never problematic.
Who was it that Cymraeg Byw failed to please? I’m curious about this.

By the way, what prompted my original question is that DysguCymraeg Sylfaen here in the North are using a South textbook as the course is still in development, the tutor effectively teaching 2 dialects simultaneously, and the differences which to you seem small are to us learners actually NOT…


Yes, but English isn’t Welsh.

It does when it marks them out from all native speakers by its artificiality. I’m thinking of forms like rydw i and dydw i - universally and mercilessly mocked (albeit usually discreetly) by native speakers, yet relentlessly promoted in classes (though not in mine!).

It mainly failed to please learners who became fluent and then realised that they were using forms that they never heard native speakers using. And it failed to please people like me, who have always argued that the speech of native speakers - whatever the language - should be paramount in teaching it to others.


That’s helpful Gareth thank you. On the first point you make, about English not being Welsh, I think I need to know more about the language before I understand what you mean there. I think it’s a shame that some native speakers mock learners though.


They were not mocking learners, I think - they were mocking the teachers and the philosophy that promoted these bizarre forms. Quite often, if it was a learner they knew personally, they would gently mention that nobody said a certain thing…


no, absolutely they’re not small, and they weren’t small to me when I started out learning (I learnt in a “mixed-dialect” way too!), but over time I came to realise that, actually, the differences weren’t as big as my brain had labelled them as being and I was worrying needlessly about which to use.


Of course these differences seem striking when one is starting out on the language, because they complicate matters and are not encountered when learning, for example, French or German. But the fact is that there really ISN’T that much of a gulf between N and S. My estimation is that it’s about 90% pronunciation, 8% vocabulary and 2% syntax.

I think sometimes a little too much is made of it, not just by teachers and the education establishment, but also by native speakers as well. It’s a characteristic of the language, and it tends to be a ready talking point. :slight_smile:


All very interesting, thank you. If this Cymraeg Byw was some kind of made up language I can understand why you’d say Welsh isn’t like English, Gareth. I’m sure if someone tried to re-invent English it’d sound hilarious!
I’m sure I’ll get used to learning 2 dialects at once, but it is a lot to take on board as you don’t usually have to do that with a new language. . Of course, the fact that I’m having to do so at all is merely the ‘fault’ of DysguCymraeg making me. It’s not the kind of thing anyone would choose to do.


Yes, Anne - and the intentions of Cymraeg Byw were noble enough, and understandable - create a standardised language NOT based on the artificial literary form - but they went about it the wrong way.

One of the crucial differences between English and Welsh in this regard, it has always seemed to me, is that the written standard is much MUCH closer to (all) spoken variants in English - one could read out loud an article from the Times newspaper, and it would sound just like normal spoken English in its vocab and structure. Cymraeg Byw came about because in those days you could read out an article from Y Cymro or Y Faner and it emphatically WOULDN’T sound like any normal spoken Welsh. Things have changed now, thank goodness - and we can happily recommend magazines like Golwg to learners. :slight_smile:


I certainly have no expertise on this topic, but I would have thought that one major difference between the two languages is that Welsh is spoken by c.600,000+ people, mainly in Wales, whereas English has, for better or worse, become an international language spoken by 1.5 billion, and with those kind of numbers some sort of standardisation becomes inevitable.

That hasn’t needed to happen with a language like Welsh, so it simply retains its regional variations. But supposing English had not become an international language - I’m sure that with 60 million speakers in the UK there would still have been some standardisation, but probably not on the scale there has been, and regional variations might have featured more prominently in the learning process!


Oh I see, well that would be weird. Bit like if everyone sounded like the bible or Shakespeare and went around saying “Greetings, how dost thee this merry morn?”!! Or “And it came to pass that I missed the bus this morning”


Yes that makes sense. And if you were to write English as it is spoken, it would not be standard. The difference between ‘how are you?’ and ‘yourright chuck?’


I learned Welsh in school as a second language in the 70s and 80s at the time of Cymraeg Byw and I wouldn’t say it was any less effective than learning French at that time. They were effectively based on the same ideas and principles, but I wasn’t French and didn’t question it’s authenticity, but I did question in my mind what I was learning in Welsh.

In hindsight after learning more Welsh, with SSIW etc, I can see that it wasn’t as unauthentic as I thought, simply that I couldn’t connect what I was learning to what I heard on TV. In the 70s and '80s Welsh TV was on the BBC and I would see pobl y cwm, comdey sketches with Ryan and Ronnie, the news on a programme called Heddiw and kids TV, with a Swap-Shop equivalent called Teliffant. They didn’t use any of the language I learned at school and was mostly unintelligable to me.

The idea of a standard form was that the dialects could be learned later, but I had no “in” to the dialects and mentally didn’t really believe what I was learning was real Welsh. I was never going to use it in the real world, because I knew it wasn’t quite right. That was the end of my journey learning Welsh for another thirty years.

It wasn’t that Cymraeg Byw was bad or wrong, but lacking in explanation and extra information. SSIW would have been the ideal compliment, but that didn’t exist.

Fe gefais i safon “O” which is how I would say I got an O level back then and that’s perfectly good Welsh I think (I hope), but I needed to know the variants to appreciate that - anyone saying ges i, instead of Fe gefais i, wouldn’t have registered with me - it may as well have been another language, yet now the link is obvious and to a Welsh speaker designing that course they probably assumed that those sorts of jumps would be easy, but they’re not.

My French at the time would have used puis je avoir for can I have, and I have happily used that in France without appreciating quite how old fashioned and formal it might be.

Language teaching and learning has evolved thankfully.


Like the Irish language taught in schools and used officially. There are still places where the day to day spoken language is different from the new ‘standard’.