I must say that I like the Sign-writers Welsh, even on the most humble of signs. “PAN FO’R GOLA GOCH YN DDANGOS, ARHOSWCH YMA” or whatever has a nice ring to it. “When the red light be showing, kindly wait here” would sound so cool.
Fascinating thread. I’ve been trying to get some of the boundaries between literary Welsh and spoken Welsh clear in my head. As something of a loner, I often find text easier to engage with than spoken language; the idea of written language being artificial in a way that spoken language isn’t seems rather counter-intuitive to me.
On the one hand, I understand where the idea comes from, and from reading Gareth’s posts, it sounds as if the Welsh language establishment have been trying to over-regulate the teaching of the spoken language more so than has been the case recently in England. On the other hand, my native language (English) in its spoken form often feels regulated and artificial, though not because - for example - the Chief Editor of the OED is trying to reintroduce noun genders.
In work-based situations, I have to try to manage my language so that it’s not too high register (snobby, out-of-touch, nerdy) and not too low register (uneducated, lacking authority, slumming). Outside of a professional context, the register needs to move slightly down the scale, but not so much so that it includes e.g. swearing (social markers for the male working class, and the young urban white-collar class).
It can include topics such as the weather, local events, and trivial family events, and should avoid topics such as politics and religion. It should try to align itself with current spoken forms of English as heard on national radio, TV and Netflix, since these are likely to be understood by most people. It should avoid dialect, and local forms outside of the area of use. (In my case, being northern English, “I was stood”, “I was sat” etc.) For me, spoken language is artificial and performative.
Apparently other people do this naturally without needing to think about it, so the production of spoken language is thus in a sense less artificial than the production of written language?
ETA: As a Welsh learner, at least when speaking the language I know I’m doing well if I remember the correct word for milk.
This has all kinds of interesting ramifications on the ‘written language’ side, because there are at least two types of written language that stand in distinction to spoken language: on the one hand, because a written language is by definition ‘fixed’ (at least in one sense), it naturally has a degree of conservatism intrinsic in it; on the other hand, some literary languages are or were consciously ‘artifical’, one might even say ‘constructed’, or partly so. This is certainly true of the big three Indo-European languages of ancient times - Sanskrit, Ancient Greek and Latin. Cicero’s language in his court case speeches would have been very different from the way he spoke when he went down the pub (sorry - taverna!) with his mates afterwards. Keeping with Latin, one could also mention the case of Mediaeval Latin, alive and vigorously kicking as a widely-used written language across Europe a thousand years after it had died out as a spoken language, and hugely artificial in many aspects…changed grammar, radically altered syntax and absolutely inundated with new made-up words. Cicero and indeed any other Roman of your choice would have been completely baffled by it!
And then back closer to SSiW here - high-end Literary Welsh is extremely artificial, particularly in the verb system. I’ve written about this elsewhere to the point of (my readers’) tedium, and got lots of very enjoyable flak for it from the self-appointed ‘guardians’ of the ‘purity’ of the language.
Well then - there you have my two-penn’orth. I must now get back to writing the proposal for the new book for my ever-impatient publishers - and funnily enough this business of artificiality will be making an appearance in it. You can’t have too much tedium, can you, ffrindiau a chyfeillion?
Sounds like my kind of tedium. Let us know when we’ll have the opportunity to be bored by your latest book!
Completely off on a tangent but I was struck dumb by this! I can hear my mother speaking like that in my head and I know that I’ve used those expressions myself in a totally natural way not thinking anything of it. Every now and then I realise that some of my mother’s northern English influence is still there with me, usually only when other English speakers point it out though, so to see this in writing was a new experience, and shows me that there still may be other things in my English that I’m not aware of
And they are indeed perfectly correct, even though a favourite bugbear of the pedants, who as usual know less than they think.
By the way folks, I didn’t mean to imply (if I did!) that there is anything intrinsically wrong with artificiality in written languages - it’s a form of creativity really, isn’t it? The only problem comes (as I see it, at least) when people try and impose it on the spoken language as used by the native speakers, which is a different issue. There’s nothing wrong with the artificiality of high-end Literary Welsh, as long as it stays as a written medium. But we don’t want our children being (wrongly!) taught to say ni chefais instead of ges i ddim, now do we?
Are we allowed ‘ches i ddim’?
Well YOU certainly are, Louis.