Some Thoughts and Notes on the English of South Wales
D. Parry-Jones National Library of Wales journal. 1974, Winter. Volume XVIII/4
Extracted onto the pages of GENUKI with the kind permission of the National Library of Wales
This is a complete extract of this article (Gareth Hicks May 2003)
HAVING been born in South Wales and having lived the greater part of my life in South Wales, I thought I might have something of interest to say about our English. I was brought up in a monoglot Welsh home and I suppose I learnt the language in the same way as each monoglot generation learnt it when the pressure of English-speaking immigrants forced the necessity upon them. In the process did the vernacular leave its mark on it and did we aquire some habits that are with us to this day, distinguishing even the third and fourth generations of South Wales users of English ? Much of what I say can be illustrated in my own case.
Because of the profession I chose and because most of the places where fate set me down were English-speaking, English has been my daily language for over sixty years. I should add that, because I had married an English girl, English was the language of the hearth. But I kept up my Welsh by reading Welsh books, by speaking Welsh whenever I had the opportunity and by writing Welsh articles to our Church periodicals.
As a Welsh-speaking Welshman, born and bred in Carmarthenshire, I am often asked why I write in English; indeed, I am sure I am regarded by some as having betrayed my country, my people and my mother's tongue. A few I know are genuinely puzzled that a person with such a background and upbringing should do so, and these are entitled to an explanation. My first book was about my upbringing in the old Welsh rural society, in every memory of which I revel. I regard myself as a loyal Welshman, proud of everything in my country's life and history, including the mother tongue, adhering to a rule made many years ago always to speak in Welsh to those able to converse in it. Often, I am surprised at the number of Welsh people who will not allow me to observe my rule, but will turn the conversation to English.
The immediate cause of my starting to write in English was the fact that I wished my growing children to know what sort of upbringing their father had had, out in Welsh Wales, for as yet they had no conception of it. I had married a north country girl, more used to life in the towns than in the country. The language of the hearth was, therefore, as I have said, necessarily English, and we were at this time living in completely anglicised areas along the English border. The children knew more about life round Manchester than they did about life in Carmarthenshire. They knew all the English nursery rhymes, but none of the Welsh. In view of all this, the thought came to me that I should tell them what it was like to grow up in a monoglot community out in Welsh Wales.
Had we continued to live in such places as Pontardulais, where the children could play in Welsh with their little friends in the street, they would quickly have picked up the language --- and their mother with them, for she would often come in to ask me, what is fi gynta (me first)? What is paid (don't)? Unfortunately we moved away to more anglicised parts where such opportunities never came again.
Although it was my children that I had uppermost in my mind when I started writing, the book grew at an astonishing pace - chapters had to be divided into two --- and long before I finished it, I could see I was producing a book very similar to those that came from that considerable school of English country writers. That is how I started writing in English, but I have had a few times to explain my conduct and justify it.
Today, two-thirds of the people of Wales cannot speak Welsh, the majority of whom, nevertheless, are of Welsh origin, and are only two or three generations away from that which first left the countryside. Is it right to ignore them? Surely the opportunity ought to be given them to have that life described --- the community life in which their grandparents were brought up --- or it will become increasingly more remote to them, until eventually the gap becomes so wide that it cannot be bridged --- and they cease to care.
At different times there has been much discussion about the term Anglo-Welsh, to describe those creative writers of Wales who write in English. Some of these are Welsh-speaking, brought up in the heart of Welsh Wales, drawing their inspiration, patterns, colours and impressions from the life of the community in which they were reared, and which, having been received early, go deep, and persist. If, later on, they choose to write in English --- and the number of these will, I think, increase very considerably before the end of the century --- we must in some way distinguish between them and those brought up under the same circumstances, but who continue to write in the vernacular. They are in reality identical twins, the only difference between them being in the medium they choose to use. Most certainly they --- i.e., those who use the medium of English --- ought to be distinguished from writers brought up in the anglicised parts of South Wales, where the Welsh atmosphere is more rarefied, and where that gap of two or three generations means that more English influences than Welsh have been at work. Some tenuous links may survive in some families, such as early holidays with grandparents, and a familiarity with a few hymns, of whose meaning they have very little conception. And what of those immigrant families that settle down, say, round Cardiff, or Newport; these can sometimes throw up a writer in the first generation --- and as it is the practice of the Press and the sporting clubs to claim as Welsh all people born in Wales, whatever their antecedents --- these, too, are classed as Welsh writers, that is, Anglo-Welsh. There surely must exist a wide gulf between such a writer and one brought up in Welsh-speaking Wales; one owes nothing to Wales the other owes everything to it. Some of the latter refuse to accept the label at all, others ignore it, 'whatever it may mean', as one who moves much in the world of books said to me recently. But what can be done about it? It has been current now for a considerable time, and it looks as if it is going to stay, though nobody claims that it can represent every kind of Welsh writer whose medium is English. We cannot go on adding labels to denote every distinction we notice. The situation has been well summed up by Glyn Jones in his book: The Dragon Has Two Tongues: 'There must always be a few elusive and individual figures, who, for various reasons, refuse to be penned in comfortably with any group ... whatever their definition of the term might be'. But may it not be that in time we shall not need the term at all? There are signs that both the vernacular and the Anglo-Welsh writers are seeking to forge closer links with each other, and as the latter, so it seems to me, are fmding their deeper roots, and are becoming more conscious of their nationhood, that day may not be far away. As more and more of the works of the vernacular writers are translated into English --- short stories, novels and poetry --- it may be possible to bring them all under the same umbrella, and described simply as Welsh writers. Indeed, in a recent experiment this has been done, and we have in one volume: Twenty-five Welsh Short Stories. And here one would recommend all who are interested to read Prof. Gwyn Jones's Introduction to that volume, where amongst other things he pays tribute to the help given by the Welsh Arts Council. The unifying influence of this council, throwing its patronage equally over both schools, will surely grow as time goes on.
As I write in both Welsh and English, I am sometimes asked, usually by monoglot people, whether I think in English or in Welsh, or whether the thinking is done in the language spoken or written at the time. The fact is, I don't know. As far as I can make out, I don't think in either. Possibly the question is not put in the right way. People have very curious ideas about bilingual speaking, as if it were something involving a person in considerable difficulty, and occasionally in confusion. Nothing of the kind if one is equally facile in each. To them the process of changing from Welsh to English, or vice versa, resembles the activity of a man in a warehouse where goods of different kinds are kept, and that when he speaks in English he is in that department where the English words are kept, but when he turns to speak in Welsh, he moves out of that department, and crosses the floor to where the Welsh words are stored, along with the Welsh idioms, and where the Welsh thinking is done. It is regarded as a tremendous achievement, whereas it is nothing of the kind. One glides from one medium to the other without thinking, and without noticing the change-over. An experience, common to all writers, and especially to poets, may help. Occasionally, all too rarely, some exciting and arresting thought, or idea, flashes across the mind, and as these moments of inspiration, illumination, or spiritual insight, are fugitive moments, the recipient works hard with pen or typewriter to keep pace with the rate they burn themselves out. At such times, I have put down the word which comes first to me, if it is the Welsh word, down it goes, I have no time to wait. If at such moments I am writing in Welsh and the English word comes first, down it goes - I know I can revise at leisure.
I have thought a great deal over the question of bilingualism, which, as things stand at present, is regarded as the ideal for Wales. The chairman of the Glamorgan Education Authority, Lord Heycock, maintains that 'if the right policies are adopted now, every child in Wales will be bilingual by the end of the century'. But has not bilingualism always proved to be merely an intermediate state? It must be remembered that all those parts, now completely anglicised, like Radnorshire, Gwent, and the greater part of Glamorgan, were bilingual for at least one or two .................
.................. generations --- and only one or two. A place does not remain bilingual long. I am still amazed at the rapidity and the completeness with which the Welsh language disappeared in Radnorshire. Some years ago ( Western Mail, 1927) I tried to trace the causes of that rapid decay. It was not allowed to go without a struggle here and there in the chapels, for there were stalwarts in those days too, who fought for the retention of Welsh services.
I know Radnorshire well, and was an incumbent there for nine years. It is a county sparsely populated, with very few villages and no market towns except on its borders. Its farms and cottages are far apart, the families of which would have no occasion, especially two hundred years ago, to meet, except on Sundays, and would therefore have very few opportunities of exchanging the few words of English they may have been able to pick up. One would imagine it would take generations at this rate to pick up a sufficient number of new words to make anything like an intelligible conversation.
When English immigrants in such numbers swamped Gwent and Glamorgan in the second half of last century, the native, Welsh-speaking population, heard English spoken all round them every day; one would therefore expect the pace of anglicisation to be greatly accelerated. Even so it was not as rapid as that which transformed Radnorshire in so short a time. It has often been insisted that one of the factors was the appearance of English nonconformist missionaries from across the border, and the consequent influence of the chapels, which were quickly founded. If this was so, it must remain a lesson and a warning to Wales, that once the language invades the sanctuary, it is not long before it reigns on the hearth !
Change of language everywhere leaves us with a few questions to ask. How is it that when the change-over is practically complete, a few words and idioms survive? I read in the South Wales Weekly Argus (August 28th 1969) that 'The English-speaking people of Newbridge plead for 'wara teg', and the miners at the local colliery wait in the 'gwt' to go down the pit'. One can understand idiom and accent surviving, but that certain words should survive is surely strange, especially as the new equivalent is both simple, familiar and well understood. Yet a preference remains for them, and folk cannot let go of them. What is the magic about them? It will be noticed for one thing, that they are generally short words, of only one or two syllables, e.g., (from Radnorshire) caib (mattock) Abal (well-off) Nychu (languish) towlants (loft), etc. In my late parish, Llanelly, Breconshire, where English began to assert itself vigorously about the middle of the last century, one old Welsh word is still used --- diflas--- as in diflas day. Why should this word have survived? It has not the attraction of being a nice-sounding word, and has nothing over miserable, which, here, expresses fully and adequately what is conveyed by diflas. It has however, one advantage: it is shorter, having only two syllables --- and it does come quicker and easier over the tongue.
The word gran deserves special mention. It has survived widely in South Wales, as meaning a job done with a polish and a finish about it, a work turned out showing the craftmanship one expects from a real master. 'There's a grain about his work.'
Its other meaning has also survived: where the native uses it to indicate that somebody is not looking well at all - that the very look of him shows some very grave trouble somewhere --- does dim gran da arno fe o gwbl (there's no grain on him at all). Other survivals are cwpwl (couple), a few --- the ejaculations, jew jew and daro, amongst others. Tampin is another very expressive word, as when somebody tells us that the boss was tampin(g) mad.' The scene it conjures up for us is that of a man waving his arms about and stamping his feet on the floor in a mad rage as he paces round the office. A Newport doctor told me that when attending to babies in the surgery she used to say to the mothers 'now cwtch the baby up', and they would hold the baby up as if they were in the act of giving it the breast.
Though the word hen (old) has not survivcd, one of its peculiar meanings has: Ach-y-fi yr hen ddyn cas (... that nasty old man). He may not be old at all. 'I don't like her old flattery at all.' It is used of anything one heartily dislikes. More used to our loan word sheino (to shine) the South Walian will say he is shining his shoes, whereas the Englishman will say he is polishing them. Wyt ti'n newid traen yn (in) Shrewsbury---so the Welshman changes trains in, not at, Shrewsbury. While her neighbours did their smoothing, my wife (north country) did her ironing, and my mother (Welsh) her 'steeling' (steelo).
I am glad the old word pwl is still in the land: 'He had a nasty pull about a month ago.' A pull of coughing ( pwl o beswch). Idiomatic usages are sometimes carried over as, for instance, in the case of ' ar amserau' (on times). 'It still bothers me on times.' I met him on (ar) Brynmawr - one of the highest towns in Wales. To (i'r) the Blaenau. To the Mumbles.
There is a Welsh flavour, too, about our use of the word after, in such expressions as: 'Mother was always after us', not behind us, or chasing us, but seeing to it that we did our home work, that we kept to our studies, because she was anxious that we should get to the Grammar School: 'Oh yes, she was always after us.' David Parry, in his article on Newport English, in the Anglo-Welsh Review, notices a few words and idiomatic survivals: to shiggle, from the Welsh siglo, and 'there's nice it is.' He singles out 'the most notable of the words used in Newport English, and which he says appear to have been borrowed from neighbouring English counties' amongst them, the truce-term Bar. I think it could very well come from the colloquial Welsh of South Wales, for we, monoglot Welsh boys, used it in our playground games in Carmarthenshire Didoreth (method-less, extravagant) and annibendod have been heard in North Monmouthshire, possibly because there is no exact English equivalent for them.
Though South Wales has largely abandoned the Welsh language, I think I can still see the ghosts of some of the vernacular words in our new usage. For example, I fancy I can see the ghost of the old word tro in the preference of many for 'the turn of the road' rather than 'the bend of the road'.
Less is used in the sense conveyed by the Welsh word llai. Oftener than not one hears: 'There were less people present than usual' rather than the more correct: 'There were fewer people . . .' Am I right in seeing the ghost and pull of llai in this .......
.................. usage? 0 amgylch has given the Welshman a liking for around in preference to round. You will see notices in many shop windows inviting you to come in and walk around, whereas across the border you are far more likely to be invited to walk round. Did the Welsh word rheng influence the Welshman to say rank for a row of houses? The way Radnorshire people referred to the creatures made me feel that the old Welsh word creaduriaid still lived on. These are just a few instances where it seems to me the ghost of an old Welsh word survives.
Rodney (Rhodni) is a word known throughout the whole of South Wales from Cardigan town to Newport, and is used to describe a man who has turned out a prodigal, but not quite a tramp, for he is often known to belong to quite a respectable family. He is, however, more on the road than at a regular job. The second syllable is undoubtedly Welsh, ni, for we have words ending in ni, for example culni. The first part is from road, suggesting one who has taken to the road, or is always on the road. We have bred a horse especially for light road transport which we call roadster. Rhodni is a nice-sounding word and has long been used as a family name in England, and I knew Welsh mothers who would love to bestow it on one of their boys but were prevented from doing so because of the disreputable association of the word.
Some words which we took over on our first encounter, before we knew of the complexities of the English language, the ordinary working folk still cling to, though a sixth-former, in speaking to his Vicar or Headmaster, might hesitate to use in case he was thought ignorant: We rise all our funerals---it is the one and proper term for that brief service held in the house before the body is taken out. In announcing such, and in referring to it, I always used rise. If I spoke of raising the funeral, the people would wonder what was going to happen. In Welsh codi is both transitive and intransitive, and when the Welsh working man was beginning to turn over to English, he took the simple term rise as the equivalent of his Welsh codi. Little did he know, or care, at that time, that the Englishman had another word for the transitive use of that verb. When he did discover it, it was too late to do anything about it, rise had won its parish. In any case why should he take over all the variations, complexities and difficulties of the English language, he had always got on in Welsh with the same one word, codi, for rising, lifting and raising.
It is astonishing what a large number of words we have at different times borrowed from the English language. The majority of them have by this time been so Welshified that the countryman is never conscions that he is using words of alien origin. Some of these carry still the pronunciation they had when we took them over, and which may by now have been modified or even abandoned by the English themselves. In some instances they carry a meaning slightly different from the modern English usage; whether they had that extra meaning originally or whether it is an extra twist we have given them can only be discovered by research.
To give one or two examples: It made my blood boil on one occasion --- when I consulted our parish registers --- to see my grandfather described there as a farm labourer. He was at that time a farm servant, as were the majority of the surplus ......
..................... sons of the farms. There was no other outlet for them. In time my grandfather farmed some of the best and biggest farms along the Teifi. In speaking of him in his service days, we would, in Welsh, describe him as a gwas ffarm (farm servant) indicating a person highly skilled in all the branches of agricultural work. It is true that in England he would be described as a farm labourer, but it would be an insult to describe our man as such, for to us --- Welsh-speaking people --- a labourer (labrwr) is the lowest of unskilled workers, a man who can only use a pick and shovel.
Cwpwl (couple) is not two, but a few. Jockey: One who used to come round the farms to break-in horses to riding, and to take them to the roads to get them accustomed to the traffic and especially the trains. Nobl (noble) ; Bachgen nobl, a fine fellow, a gradely lad. To us, a man's style was his surname; direction, his address. A joke is a wit. In all country concerts there was always a competition for the best joke - telling wits. These ghosts, survivals and peculiarities, in word and phrase, along with the accent, lilt and intonation, are abiding witnesses that our English, to some extent at any rate, came to us by way of our mother tongue. I like most of these peculiarities, and long may they distinguish our use of our adopted speech.
These peculiarities in accent, use and pronunciation, may have something to tell us of the difficulties the native Welshman experienced in making the changeover, for much more is involved than the dropping of one set of words and the picking up of another. One of the difficulties of course, and one of the first, would be to adjust the mouth, and all the parts and organs that go to the production of sound, to the lighter, milder and thinner words of the new tongue, so much so that we still call it by the name our grand ---or great-grandfathers gave it on the first encounter --- yr iaith fain (the thin language). But I cannot follow Sir John Rhys, who, writing about a hundred years ago, says that Welsh children had difficulty in pronouncing such sounds as Sh, Ch, and J. They would read a sentence like: 'Charles and James got a shilling each for finishing the job they had begun' as 'tsyarles and Dsyames got a silling eats for finicing the dsyob whits they had begun'. I cannot understand this at all, even of Welsh children a hundred years ago, who never heard a word of English, except on their annual visit to one of the town fairs. He must have had only North Wales children in mind, for we in South Wales have been familiar with these sounds for generations, in such words as chance, challenge and shap (shape). We are far more likely, as Sir John goes on to say, to discard the W and the Y at the beginning of words: 'thus wood, woman, become ood, ooman, and ye and you become ee and ew'. It is an old difficulty, and was noticed by Shakespeare, whose Welsh parson, in The Merry Wives of Windsor hardly ever uses his W's at all.
Another Welshman, The Rev. John Morgan, in his Four Biographical Sketches (1892), speaking of a period slightly earlier, mentions the difficulty the Welshman has (or used to have) over the sibilants, and goes into raptures as he listens to Bishop Ollivant (appointed to Llandaff in 1849), admiring 'the softness which he contrived to impart to such words as righteousness, trespasses ... offences, his sake, his service, etc. The smoothness of his pronunciation of such words as beseech, gracious ... ............................
............................. shade, surely, propitiation, etc.' The Bishop once took pains to teach him to give the proper, differentiating sound to O in Holy Ghost, and to pronounce the W in such words as wood, woman, etc., and the Y in you, ye, year, yield, etc. The Welsh child of today, subject as he is to the heavy volume of English that bombards him all day from radio and television, can supply all the softness and the smoothness any word requires. Many Welshmen --- some of them graduates of our University --- have been slack in their use of the W and the Y. It can only be carelessness, for the sounds are not very different from that of W in wobr and YE in iet, and in the phrase (quickly said) ie, i lawr.
Much more is involved in language change-over than just learning new words for old. In our case we had a large stock of English words, borrowed at various times, and made to conform to the Welsh pattern --- in the case of verbs --- by having an O added to them e.g., tip tipo; crack, craco. This might be considered an advantage, but, unfortunately, in the course of our long usage of them some had acquired overtones and shades of meaning no longer borne by the English word. These provided pitfalls, and the Welshman could find himself in comic and embarrassing situations. Pronunciations had changed, too. To give only one example; we had taken the word knock over when the K was sounded, and we have held on to it.
Morien, in his History of Pontypridd and the Rhondda Valleys (1903) points out another, an inevitable difficulty, which was bound to rise sometime. It was over the word cwrdd (meeting), a word which in the course of time had become the term exclusively used to denote a religious meeting, i.e., a church or chapel service. When meetings of another nature had to be called, such as a meeting to discuss some industrial problem, or a political meeting, some term had to be used to describe them. To use cwrdd, hitherto applied only to a Divine service, seemed too much like the profanation of holy things. The problem was solved by calling these secular gatherings, meetings. And something like this may well have been heard: ' Wyt ti'n dod i'r meeting heno Dai ? Na, ma cwrdd da ni heno yn Siloam.'
There were, however, more serious matters involved. In the past, the study of language has been mostly confined to the usual subjects treated under the title, English (or Welsh) grammar, but, now, there have come along new studies, which look afresh at the structure of languages, and probe into the way they ask their questions, and how they arrange their words, even the significance of periods of silence in some speech communications --- Socio-linguistics. '... it is the structure of language which determines ways of thought and cultural patterns, thereby influencing social structures as well.'
The Welshman, using his own language, in whatever contact he made within his own community, was able to put the too-familiar, the bold, the upstart, in his place with one, quiet, judicious use of ti (thou), and address him in the second person singular. It was a weapon of the utmost efficacy, and the arrogant wilted under its cutting lash. But now, in the new language --- English --- he feels deprived and is at a loss how to go about it; he doesn't like to swear at the man, or knock him..................
...................down --- he is not that type of person. He has simply to wait to see how it is done in his new tongue. Had it happened in Tudor times, he could still use his weapon, for Shapeskeare (sic) uses it: 'If thou thou'st him some thrice, it shall not be amiss.'
For those who wish to follow a more sustained and scholarly study of borrowed English words, I can only refer them to T.H. Parry-Williams's The English Element in Welsh, and Thomas Powell's paper, read before the Philological Society of London, on 'The Treatment of English Borrowed Words in Colloquial Welsh
I know I am sticking my neck out, but I must say that I think we ought to accept the Ch officially into our working alphabet - we have already accepted the J. I find it difficult to write down China as Tseina.
Even though I am sure that we as a people can, if we try, overcome all difficulties involved in the change-over from one language to another, yet I do sincerely hope that our South Wales English will always preserve traces to testify that it came to us not uninfluenced by the mother tongue.
Many of those who move away from the valleys become, in a limited sense, bilingual people. I am thinking of school-leavers who go to shops and offices in England, and of course all young people who follow an academic career: free education and generous grants enable many of them to choose colleges and universities across Offa's Dyke. Many of these at the end of their academic career will have acquired a full mastery of the more refined, standard English of the BBC, and their college lectures. They can also when they return on their holidays to the valleys, easily drop back into regional speech and accent, for it would never do for a young man out of the Valleys to talk to his relatives, friends and neighbours, in his newly-acquired fine speech and accent: it would be like putting on airs before one's lowly friends. Rather than hurt them in this way, and to show that success has not gone to his head, he falls back on the valley speech, proud to show them that he is still one of them. This of course applies to all young people brought up in regional speech. Freddie Grisewood, who spoke the cultured English of the educated classes, and one of our best known Radio personalities, could turn whenever he liked to his broad, native Cotswold.
I am reminded of what I once read of a little girl in a Yorkshire day-school, who remonstrated with her young brother who had just asked for a yellow crayon - yaller, as she called it: 'No, John, yaller at home, yellow in school.' In the meetings of English county societies away from home, members will sometimes, for the fun of it, or the joy of it, turn to dialect. Alfred Percival Graves in his book To Return to All That, says that Yorkshire children were almost all bilingual. 'The youngsters talked broad dialect in the playground, yet answered in correct English in class. The man behind the counter, too, would vary his language according to his customer.'
I cannot say that I like everything about the English of South Wales. The Welsh accent at its broadest and crudest is not at all agreeable to one's ears --- if one gets a lot of it. Some have asked if it is a handicap. A Rhondda councillor has declared that boys and girls with valley accents are discriminated against at training colleges.
A writer in the Western Mail some time ago says: 'I would say that it is almost impossible for a Welshman to get a good job in Management or Sales ... no matter how well qualified you are ... It is very discouraging ... to be told that one's accent prevents one having a job for which one is qualified ... All we ask for is to be judged on our experience and education, not on the fact that we have a Valley accent.' It did not occur to the writer that those who got the jobs may have started off with a regional accent, but had been able to grow out of it and adopt the standard English accent. If English has its own accent as well as its own idiom, etc., it ought to be taught to our young people, exactly as is done in the case of French, so that those who seek for jobs outside the Rhondda may not be handicapped in their efforts. It made one sad to read that letter, and it made one wonder whether the English masters in our schools bestow the same care upon their lessons as those who teach French, stressing that English has its own accent as well as its own vocabulary and idiomatic usages.
I once tried to help a Swansea Valley man who wished to enter one of the professions. He was a quick learner. The greatest difficulty I had with him was over his English --- he had no Welsh. There were so many things wrong with his English, he had so much to unlearn that it proved too much for him. It made me realise how fortunate we, monoglot Welsh lads out of West Wales, were as compared with him --- we had nothing to unlearn at any rate. We could proceed from the first to put our H's where they ought to be, and form our sentences correctly , simple though they might be.
What has been lacking - and is still woefully lacking - in so many South Wales homes is a good standard of conversational English, which should provide a sound basis on which could be built up good speaking and good writing. Even though the family may have lost its Welsh two generations or more ago, the same, broken, half sentences of those days still remain. One can truly say that in a Welsh home, whether the language was Welsh or English, there was very little conversation, such as marks the meal-times of more leisurely homes, where the children join in. Father would talk to me as a growing boy all the long fifteen miles to Carmarthen, our market town, and back, on any subject I cared to question him on, even introducing his own when I had dried up. But that could not happen at home. Since the advent of radio and television, good English in plenty comes to every home, and there is no longer any reason why an ambitious lad's English should let him down, as in the case mentioned above.
Men and women of my generation were taught through the medium of a foreign tongue, of which we did not know a word, the English government having decreed that for the purposes of education it did not exist. The result was that we were never taught to read our own language at all, and even though the staff was Welshs-peaking, not a word was ever said in it, or about it. Had it not been for the Sunday school we should never have been able to read or write our own language at all. As we were taught in the day school to write in English, this had a curious consequence. Having been accustomed to do our writing in that medium, we continued to do ....................
.................. so in adult life. Our vocabulary was limited, though we had made acquaintance with a considerable number of words by the time we had left school at fourteen. We could at least express our thoughts and wishes in simple sentences, and so it came about that a family of ten Welsh-speaking children always corresponded with one another in English. I would no more dream of writing in Welsh to any of my brothers or sisters than I would dream of speaking to them in English when we met. I put the practice down to the fact that thus were we taught to communicate in school, and to the further fact that we therefore never acquired sufficient confidence and mastery where our own language was concerned. And yet it seems to have been the right and accepted thing to do. Men like Sir John Rhys and Thomas Charles Edwards, whose Welsh was as good as their English, always carried on their correspondence in English. A great wrong was done to us. But such has been the change in the meantime that my nephews and nieces write to me always in Welsh --- and in a Welsh that is fresh and vigorous, and a pleasure to read.
Many carried the consciousness of this early handicap with them to adult life, and yet the urge would sometimes come to use their gifts in the vernacular, and send their efforts to one of the Welsh papers, but until recently there was allowed by some papers an objectionable type of Welshman to snipe at such a person in the following issue of the paper, and pull his Welsh to pieces. They must have silenced and put an end to the efforts of many young Welshmen to acquire mastery in their own tongue. They have nearly all gone, under pressure, I should think, from the true lovers of the language: the teachers in secondary schools and the many organizers of voluntary classes who know the sincere efforts many are making today to master the language. I have been a reader of English papers and periodicals all my life and I have never known a case where anyone is allowed to pass remarks upon another man's writing.
There are two pockets of English that do not belong to South Wales English, namely, those of the Gower peninsula and South Pembrokeshire. And though surrounded by a wall of Welsh they have until now preserved their speech in its pristine purity - a period, in the case of the latter, of eight hundred years. I am wondering how long they will stand up to the constant bombardment of BBC English through the medium of radio and television, without mentioning such influences as the Press, schools and books, the large influx of visitors, besides the new industries that are coming, bringing with them their core of skilled workers. Instead of eight hundred years, as against the Welsh, I give them eighty years from the time the pressure began, before they become indistinguishable from the prevalent English, and lose all their ancient characteristics.
South Wales is a land of heavy industries --- coal, iron and steel. In these, men have toiled and perspired for many generations, and it would seem as if it has left its mark upon the very speech of the people. Speaking and writing English would appear to be regarded by many as one of the heavy industries. One is conscious of men straining, toiling and sweating as, with coats off and sleeves rolled up, .....................
.................. they move huge chunks of words into their writing, still using mandrils, shovels, levers and pickaxes, rather than the pen. They no longer dig coal underground, but they are still miners, digging deep in dictionaries for big heavy words. In listening to strike-leaders, councillors and working men being interviewed on television programmes, one gets the impression that they are using all the big words they can think of, and that their slow, hesitant manner of delivery, is a habit acquired by waiting for the mind to throw up a bigger word than the one it has immediately suggested.
One is conscious here that one is touching only the fringe of a subject that ought to be studied in depth, namely, what altogether happens when one language replaces another, as in South Wales. It would endeavour to find out how it came about that our sentences are so heavy and our speech so formal and self-conscious. It is not impossible, I think, for one who was once a monoglot Welshman, to imagine what could take place, --- and, I believe, did take place.
When the population began to realise that a change was coming about, that a new tongue was rapidly becoming the language of the majority, and was destined to prevail, becoming the language of the top jobs in education, business, industry and administration, I can, I feel sure, read the feelings and reaction of the native Welsh and of the immigrant Welsh out of West Wales who had joined them. They, too, had ambitions: they, too, would like to compete for the big jobs with the big money, but here they were at a disadvantage, they had no English. What was essential, therefore, was that they should learn English and that meant acquiring more and more English words, for you can't speak English without English words. So the Welshman became aware of the need and importance of words, and bought a dictionary. And what a Welshman means by a dictionary is one that gives the English equivalent of the Welsh words --- I see that Spurrell's Welsh-English dictionary had reached the seventh edition by 1915. Was there anything started then that became a habit with us? I knew a clergyman, who, when his friends called upon him, would hand them his dictionary and challenge them to catch him out on any word from A to Z. I knew another countryman who referred to his dictionary as his elbow-book. Aneurin Bevan is said to have learnt three new words a week --- and use them, presumably to help overcome his stammering. But I think he would have done so in any case. It was a habit and a heritage.
It was only natural at this stage--- that of the change-over --- that the average man, unschooled in the finer points of the structure of the English sentence, above the barest familiarity, should imagine that the acquisition of a pile of English words meant the mastery of the language. And when a man has acquired a lot of new words, the temptation is to use them on every possible occasion. I remember the time myself --- my first year at the local Grammar school --- how we, Welsh-speaking lads, were constantly trying to enlarge our stock of English words. One lad had got hold of the word condign (condign punishment), and it was remarkable how often he found an occasion to use it --- it was a new word, and we were word-conscious.
The inevitable consequence of this habit of collecting words --- and big words amongst them --- was to show off our fine stock, and use words far too potent in meaning to describe very ordinary happenings, and discuss very simple problems, where the ordinary, day-to-day, conversational usage would be sufficient. Then when something really heinous and horrible has happened, the speaker feels he needs a few of the only words that can convey adequately his sense of horror and revulsion at the whole thing, but he hasn't got them, he has squandered them all in dealing with trivialities!
I remember reading in a Monmouthshire paper a leading article in which the Editor severely criticises a councillor in the north of the county for his intemperate denunciation of the council for an action that would elsewhere be regarded as normal council procedure, using words that were not in the least warranted: It said, this member 'did not approve of this course. This he was ... entitled to do. But what was distressing was the reckless way he flung adjectives about in expressing his dissent. He described (it) variously as brutal, callous, disgusting and a disgrace, which means from the definition of these words that he thought it inhuman, stupidly cruel, unfeeling, loathsome, ugly and a cause of shame.' The article goes on to point out 'the great danger which the member concerned appears to have ignored is that if something more serious happened he would find he had considerably depleted his pejorative adjectives.' I know very well this region in North Monmouthshire, and I have conversed in Welsh with some of its older inhabitants, answering their Gwentian dialect with my Dimetian. This councillor could very well belong to a family that a generation or two ago had to equip itself with new words in order to hold its own, and had therefore bequeathed to its children and grandchildren an excessive regard for the accumulation and use of words.
One ought not to be surprised therefore to read in our national daily how one of our South Wales M.P's accused another of being guilty 'of a piece of naked, brazen, brutal, political chicanery.' One may ask what the other fellow had done to deserve all this --- it appears he merely held another opinion. Some of us Welshmen tend to run riot in our use of English words, they have a fascination for us. Does all this point back to a time when with only a few words to fight our way, we had on almost every occasion to use them all, and thus early acquired a habit, which clung to us --- of using all we had --- and continued with the practice long after our deficiency ceased to be a problem.
In my reading of Welsh literature, I do not ever remember being struck by this phenomenon. Welsh poets especially had to be spare in their use of words, as the requirements of rhyme and cynghanedd called for the exercise of the utmost care.
David Davies, in his personal column in the Western Mail (Sept., 4th) said that his English mistress told him 'never to use one adjective to describe your subject if you can find three to enhance it.' She was a true daughter of South Wales ! Davies adds 'Gwyn Thomas would have loved her.'
T. L. Williams, writing on Caradog Evans in the series Writers of Wales refers to a characteristic of Anglo-Welsh literature --- fascination with the unusual word.
Even so, one was surprised to come across the word prelapsarian in a book on Welsh culture; it sounds like an echo from the distant past of a narrow, sectarian theology.
Was it just fascination with the unusal word, in utter disregard of clarity, that produced the following steaming, unhealthy, pathless jungle of words: 'The stimulative possibilities and "projected" play material, of personal play, and those environmental protrusions which appeal specifically to the emotions and to sensory response, were recognised, so that motivating drive was given to language learning, and a self-generating process in the use of the body of language acquired was set in motion ...
I was speaking one day to a man who told me that the night before he had terrible toothache and did not sleep a wink all night---it was, he said, crucifixion. And he was a graduate of our university ! I know toothache can be very painful, but it is after all bearable. Nobody has ever died of toothache. If we are going to use recklessly and indiscriminately words like crucifixion to describe toothache, what have we left, having debased our vocabulary in this fashion, to describe the suffering and agony endured in actual crucifixion, from which no man has survived. A writer in the Anglo-Welsh Review (Winter, 1967, p. 128), referring to that neglected Anglo-Welsh author, Geraint Goodwin, says: 'I should like to stress the economy of his writing, which is also it's strength. His works are a complete opposite to that of the South Wales short story writers, whose rhetoric and "gift of the gab" is often the whole and only point of their stories . . . In a few words he (Goodwin) can brilliantly catch a person or a scene.' The italics are mine. I always feel it is refreshing to turn to English writers with their simpler, lighter use of their own tongue. The average South Walian would scorn to refer to our fmest hour in the few, simple, monosyllabic words of Winston Churchill: 'Never have so many owed so much to so few.'
Back in 1949, a prominent South Wales M.P. complained that he had not been accurately quoted. One paper threatened to report him verbatim, and that instead of the smoothed, intelligible version the staff had prepared, this is what the readers would have: 'What I have said I have said in that regard because it enables me to make a statement which is a consequence of the deputation which I received. I said that I would consider very carefully their representations and the fears expressed by the representatives of the non-county boroughs on this deputation. What they said was that they were prevented from coming to Parliament for a rise in their status, but because by retaining the 100,000 rather than the old 75,000, I would be giving the impression that I attached some sacroscanctity to the figure of 100,000, and that it would serve as a guide to future administration, as to the kind of limit below which populations ought not to be given county borough status. They also said that if I could find it possible to recommend the government to alter the figure ...'
Here is evidence of the acquisition of an abundance of words, possibly at a greater rate than the original three a week, but not yet a full appreciation of the disciplined economy of the English language in the hand of the master.
In The Diaries of Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, the author, referring to Aneurin Bevan, says, 'Aneurin Bevan is interesting. He ... uses long words which he frequently mispronounces.'
South Wales English is a speech of our own making, and stretches across the country to Cardiff, and Newport, though the accent, as one approaches the capital city, becomes milder and less obtrusive, until many in these parts believe they have no accent at all, nor a trace of anything characteristic of it; it is only when they go across the border they discover it has been recognized, and it comes as a bit of a shock to be told 'it is easy to tell where you come from.' And I say, may it long remain so. 'Most Newportians have an accent that is Welsh ... It is surprising the number of local people who erroneously think they have no accent at all. Perhaps towards Chepstow the Gloucestershire burr can be heard in the speech, but the lilt of Wales is not far away.' (Olive Phillips in Monmouthshire - The County Books Series). H. L. V. Fletcher, in his Herefordshire, has this to say. 'You are as likely to come across a sing-song Welsh intonation as the slow, comfortable Herefordshire drawl.'
Yes, our speech is sui generis, our own brew, having its own accent, lilt, intonation, rhythm and quite a few other distinctive marks as well. I have already said that where the accent is crude and heavy, one can grow tired of it, otherwise, where it is, of long usage, more mellow, many have expressed a liking for it. Eva Kendall, writing in The Western Mail (15th June, 1962) says: 'An attractive Welsh accent ... depends upon what sort of accent you have. Few sounds are sweeter than the fluent and musical English spoken in Carmarthen town ... others add parts of Glamorgan and the Aberdare Valley as places where excellent English, owing nothing to the English of England, is spoken.' I am in full agreement with this person when she says it owes nothing to the English of England, that is, not more than does that of Yorkshire owe to Devonshire. And I have said that it stretches across the country to include Newport and the area around, for it appears to me to possess most of the characteristics of that of the Monmouthshire Valleys and seem to be an extension of it. This area was Welsh-speaking in 1803, when Archdeacon Cox was collecting material for his History of Monmouthshire, for he had to take the Vicar of Saint Woolos round with him, to act as interpreter, as the natives knew no English. I was much interested to discover that though the Welsh language has died out, the people have retained the old Gwentian pronunciation of the county's place-names, for example: Maceglace (Maesglas), Brynglace (Brynglas), and, most interesting of all they have retained the B in Bassaleg, despite the long pressure of the corrupt Welsh form, Maesaleg. (see Ifor Williams's Enwau Lleoedd).
George Borrow, coming through in 1854, found at Rumney a group of children speaking English. On asking one of them whether she could speak Welsh, she replied that she could, but not very well: 'there is not much Welsh spoken by the children hereabout. The old folks hold more to it.' He had a chat in Welsh with a roadman at Machen. As he left Newport for Chepstow he was 'desirous of knowing whereabouts in these parts the Welsh language ceased.' Esther Williams, ..........
................ from Penhow, told him that she could speak Welsh 'and that indeed all the people could for at least eight miles to the east of Newport.' But this was not corroborated by another young woman whom he met shortly afterwards. She had 'no Welsh, and that for one who could speak it ... there were ten who could not.' He concluded that for seven or eight miles beyond Newport it was fifty-fifty. He found no Welsh in Chepstow, 'nor indeed for two or three miles before you reach it.' The fact that John Frost learnt Welsh in the twenties, shows that he realised how valuable a knowledge of Welsh could be to him as a businessman and a citizen of Newport. 'As late as 1890, employers in Newport demanded bilingual ability in their apprentices.' ( South Wales Argus, Aug. 28th, 1969).
David Parry, gives us the result of his study of the 'speech of Newport and district,' that is, 'within a ten-mile radius.' He wanted to know what it does in fact owe to the neighbouring counties --- Brecon and Glamorgan on the one hand, and Hereford and Gloucester on the other. He gives instances of sounds which 'are much the same as those used in Breconshire and Glamorganshire', and examples of Welsh words that have survived in it, but claims that its 'borrowings from the neighbouring English counties ... is far greater.' To the influence of the vernacular, however, must be attributed the use of the definite article before Christmas---The Christmas, Y Nadolig.
In rural, English-speaking Wales, as in Radnorshire, and everywhere else towards the English border, where there were no industries to attract English immigrants, it is only reasonable to suspect the spread of dialectal English from across the Dyke. The more powerful has always exerted pressure on the weaker---especially where it carries with it advantages, such as a wider scope for jobs and promotion. That has, of course, always happened. Although the accent becomes milder as one approaches Cardiff and Newport, and not as many of the Welsh words and phrases, derived from the Welsh, are used, it is still South Wales English. May I refer the reader again to what Olive Phillips says in her book on Monmouthshire. As now a Newport man of some years' standing, I could say of many that they have no accent at all, and yet they have told me that across the border, and much to their surprise, they have been asked from what part of Wales they come from.
Lawrence Hockey, in his book on W. H. Davies, in the Writers of Wales series, says that he 'spoke with a soft voice ... and an accent and undulating intonation of a man of the district of Pillgwenlly ... He pronounced the vowels O and A as in roll, cave and man by lengthening them in the Welsh manner.'
The question I am interested in here is --- how far east it has spread. The boundary lies somewhere between Newport and Monmouth, and in Breconshire, between the Usk and the Herefordshire border. The boundary, when traced, may be found to be not a line at all, but a belt, wide in parts, within which a mixture of the two is spoken, that is, of the South Wales English and the border English which has crept across to meet it. But on each side of this belt, one ought to be able to say definitely: 'This is South Wales English, or this is most certainly English dialectal speech.'
The next interesting question is: when did these two movements start, and when did the inhabitants of this Welsh-speaking area begin to realise that their own speech was being threatened by one or the other? To help us to discover the start and pace of the movement, the building, waning, and closing of places of worship, will be of assistance to us --- or the year it was decided to discontinue the Welsh services.
Up to the start of the industrial era, the linguistic boundary did not change very much, indeed, one is surprised to find how static it was. What delayed the encroachment, was the fact that there existed within the counties of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, communities of Welsh-speaking people. And while we are on this subject, it is well to remind the reader that it was this dialect, which had already made long contact with the Welsh language, that crept across. The result of this contact must have been the same here as everywhere else, that is, the virtual extinction of the weaker tongue, except for a few words, phrases and idioms. These, and especially the more basic characteristics of the displaced tongue, abundantly illustrated in the English of South Wales --- the manner in which it was spoken, the intonation, the lilt, the pitch, the accent, the rhythmic stresses and the structural pattern of the sentence --- these, the Welsh found it more difficult to shed --- the words they picked up quickly enough. Newport is a good many miles from the border, and was, until the 19th century, protected from this flow of English from across Offa's Dyke, by an area of Welsh-speaking Gwent. John Hobson Matthews, writing in the Archaelologia Cambrensis (Vol. XIII, 6th series, 1913) says of the town of Monmouth, right on the border, that its English 'was remarkably good both as to accent and vocabulary,' which means that it was free from dialect speech, and had not succumbed to pressure from across the border, but he adds, 'the dialect of Gloucester is rapidly encroaching on the eastern side of Monmouthshire.' 'The speech of the district retains many Welsh words and grammatical terms' and idioms, one of which is, 'He got up in his sitting' ( Fe gododd yn ei eistedd), that is, he sat up. This is an illustration of what I said earlier in this paragraph about the persistence of the speech pattern of the displaced language.
As I have already said, the encroachment was delayed and slowed down, because of the presence within the neighbouring counties of Welsh-speaking communities; and by the way, a great wrong was done to these people, for they were compelled by their Norman lords to fight against their fellow Welshmen in Wales. Again when the Act of Union was passed in 1536, no consideration was given to ethnic or linguistic realities: they found themselves inside or outside Wales as the Marcher Lordships were, in a rough and ready manner, grouped to form the new shires. The old Welsh-speaking area of Ergyng (Archenfield) 'extending from the western end of the Forest of Dean to Madley and Moccas', went to Herefordshire. There were so many Welsh people in Hereford in medieval and Tudor times that the bishop of the diocese was always associated with the Welsh bishops in all matters concerning the church in the province. 'Half the village names of Herefordshire are Welsh names.' Indeed Welsh was so essential to the life of Hereford that as .......................
...................... late as 1855, the clerk to the Hereford magistrates got his appointment because he was able to speak Welsh' (J. V. L. Fletcher in Herefordshire). Most writers on the county express their surprise at the abundant evidence there is of its once extensive use. Ella Mary Leather in the Folklore of Herefordshire (XIV) says: 'West of the Wye, except for a small area extending five miles south of Hereford, the names are almost all Welsh'--- the Cymric Tre and Llan. 'I have talked to a centenarian born at Bredwardine who spoke English with strong Welsh accent, and remembered many Welsh-speaking neighbours . . .' (XV). 'There are more purely Welsh surnames in the counties of Hereford and Gloucester than in any other two counties' in England or Wales. These 'along with place-names ... prove conclusively how prevalent Welsh was, as a spoken language, in certain parts of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.' (T. E. Morris, M.A., F.S.A., on 'Welsh Surnames in the Border Counties of Wales', in the Cymmrodor, Vol. XLIII, 1932).
Griffith Jones regarded the counties of Monmouth, Hereford and Shrophsire(sic) as fruitful fields for Welsh instruction 'where most of the inferior people speak Welsh.'
In 1926, Col. Bradney, the historian of Monmouthshire, published a pamphlet entitled The Chronology of the Decay of the Welsh Langnage in the Eastern Part of the County o f Monmouth. 'The decay began', he says, 'about the middle of the 18th century. Up till then the language was Welsh, as it was also in the Hundreds of Ewyas and Erging (Archenfield) in the county of Hereford, and even in that part of the Forest of Dean, called in Welsh Cantref Coch, in the county of Gloucester.' Early in the 19th century English had not yet reached the parish of Llangatoc-feibion-Afel, three miles west of Monmouth, where 'the Welsh language still prevailed' (Hobson Matthews).
Col. Bradney quotes Percy Enderby's Cambria Triumphans (1661) who names parishes in Hereford and Salop where Welsh was spoken 'At Trevethin there was no English church until 1820 ... for some time after this, Trevethin church was solely used for Welsh services.' Welsh lasted longer in the chapels: 'At the Baptist chapel at Gaerlwyd, in the parish of Shirenewton and at Llangwm, Welsh has been used, so I am told, within the memory of many'. At the Baptist chapel in Llanddewi Rhydderch, Welsh was the only language till 1850. The ap form of Welsh surnames persisted in one yeoman family in Llangattock Lingoed, 'where Arnold ap Arnold, of the Hendre, was living in 1807.'
He gives some of the causes of the decay: 'frequent marriages of Welshmen and English women at the end of the 17th century, and the beginning of the 18th, these wives were mostly from the counties of Hereford and Gloucester.' This would suggest much social mixing without any inhibition on account of language, or any other difference. Summing up in his day (1926) he says: 'The present generation (i.e., in eastern Mon.) though Welsh by descent are entirely English in speech, but they still retain many Welsh characteristics ... It is remarkable that such purely Welsh Christian names as Evan and Rees are still conferred on their children.' As the encroachment went on, it would appear that what happened was a thinning ......
................ out, not a swamping, or flooding, of a whole area at one particular time, leaving no survivor --- and that is what Borrow found at Penhow. The process of thinning out had been going on for some time, and had by the time he went through (1854) reduced the Welsh speakers by half. The young would be the first casualties, and I think that that little girl at Rumney was right when she said, 'The old people hold more to it.' After the middle of the century the process would be greatly accelerated, particularly in those places fortunate enough to have the railway coming through, bringing the daily paper, etc. Especially would it be speeded up after 1870, as the Education Act of that year made school attendance compulsory.
When we are told that at the Baptist chapels of Garnlwyd and Llangwm Welsh had been used within living memory, what we have is probably, another instance of the older people clinging to their religion in the language in which they learnt it, whereas the parish to all intents and purposes was English-speaking, and in which they themselves had perforce to converse from Monday morning to Saturday evening.
Some years ago, I gave a radio talk to Sixth-formers on Monmouthshire, and in preparation went to various parts of the county to try and find out what the ordinary inhabitant thought about the status of the county --- whether it was in England or in Wales. Propaganda had been persistent, and it was difficult to find unprejudiced people. I tried to get at the older and more settled folks who were likely to hold the more traditional attitude of Gwent people, and who had not been influenced one way or the other by propaganda. I tried too to frame my questions in such a way as not to rouse suspicion, by, as it were, leaving the dispute on one side. At the end of the enquiry, I came away with the conviction that the majority of the people regarded the county as in Wales, and themselves as Welsh people, who unfortunately, like those of Radnorshire and parts of Glamorgan, had lost their Welsh. I do not think that for one moment the people of Abergavenny (1913), Pontypool (1926) or Ebbw Vale (1958) thought they were inviting the National Eisteddfod to England.
Fred Hando in his book Out and About in Monmouthshire, quotes a Goldcliff man as saying that after many sojourns in England, 'back I came to Wales.' That was before the propaganda had been intensified.
We cannot be too grateful to Mr. George Thomas who as Minister for Welsh Affairs settled for us this matter once and for all.
We have not yet fixed on the line which divides the English of South Wales from that which came to meet it from across the border. Many would suggest the river Usk. One would agree to the suggestion if one could straighten its loops and draw it as to leave Newport, Caerleon, Pontypool, New Inn, Abergavenny and Crickhowell on its western side, at the same time remembering that speech and dialectal boundaries are never lines, but belts--- sometimes wide. Anyhow, let us see how far dialectal or border English had spread a hundred years ago.
As it happened, there was a man engaged, in the same task, in our own decade of the last century - Alexander J. Ellis, F.R.S., then the vice-president (twice President) of the Philological Society. The result of his enquiries was published in the Cymmrodor for October, 1882, under the title: 'On the Delimitation of the English and Welsh Languages.' This is a date considerably earlier than any we have had before. Ellis moves up and down Offa's Dyke and tells us of the fortune of the language in the various parts of the border at that time, not only that, but if a place had succumbed to English, he tells us what sort of English it was. His correspondents were Anglican clergy. One category of speech he calls Book English, describing it as: 'The literary-In construction ... essentially the language of books, as distinct from conversation, and in pronunciation ... the language of orthoepists and purists.' This I term generally 'book English'. It is supposed to be taught in schools, and wherever the 'art of delivery or elocution' is inculcated. It is the language of literature when read aloud, of oratory, of the pulpit and the stage, but is not the language of native conversation, it is not what we learn from fathers and mothers ... the men and women with whom we daily consort.' Persons who 'by birth speak a different language and ... and who learn a language by book and orthoepical instruction, naturally acquire the book language ... We have numerous instances of such English speech in Wales. Such book language is considered "purer" ... a mere assumption. It is another language, more wholly artifical.'
The only other category, and the one which concerns us, is the dialectal, which prevailed in the English border counties. 'Real, natural English, hereditarily transmitted from father to son, is dialectal ... learned without book, essentially a spoken and not a written dialect.' As this volume is now scarce, and can only be consulted in the principal libraries, I thought it well to quote him at some length - and I shall continue to do so. 'Now of the parts of England adjoining Wales, this southern part of Shropshire was a Welsh-speaking country, on which English was forced hundreds of years ago. It is, therefore, an old English-speaking region, but the English was always a Welsh English ... It has (still) traces of its origin in the intonation of speakers'--- as we have seen, one of those basic characteristics and qualities of a language, so difficult to shed, and which, here, as elsewhere, had persisted for hundreds of years. Ellis goes on: 'South of Shropshire we have another English-speaking Welsh region, Herefordshire ... (Then) we have Monmouthshire. It is more recent in its English, and a portion of it still speaks Welsh. Its English is decidedly Welsh in tone and sometimes in words, but at least on the eastern part, it has strong marks of the southern dialect. In reviewing the boundary he desires to discover those places in which 'a more or less dialectal form of English is used, and those where 'book English' is spoken.'
He then draws his line from north to south, giving the 'western or Welsh boundary of English'. The south only concerns us: In Radnorshire, 'the line runs directly south to the Wye, passing east of St. Harmons to Rhayader Gwy, and follows the Wye to within two or three miles of Builth when it enters Brecknockshire, and passes in a south-easterly direction just west of Builth ... to Talgarth and the Black Forest, whence it turns southwards, and leaves ... Cwmdu on the west and Crickhowell on the east.'
As to Monmouthshire: 'The line seems to enter the county east of Brynmawr, and probably follows the valley of the lesser Ebbw ... to its junction with the greater and keeps east of the united Ebbw west of Pontypool and east of Risca, but west of Newport to the junction of the Ebbw and Usk rivers on the Bristol Channel. I understand that most of the Welsh speakers in western Monmouthshire are immigrants and not natives.'
Ellis drew this line 'from sea to sea' after he received replies from the clergy to whom he had addressed the following questions:
1 . Is Welsh or English generally spoken by the peasantry of (the place addressed) to one another?
2. If Welsh, where is the nearest English-speaking place, east or west.
3. If English, where is the nearest Welsh-speaking place, and is it book English, or like Hereford and Gloucester?
4. If mixed, how often have you Welsh services or sermons?
I do feel I have to say that I wish he had asked some other people as well, for example, the local Minister, the schoolmaster, and one prominent citizen of the place.
Of Boughrood, the Vicar says, in answer to question 1., that it is 'English only ... The English language occupies the ground up to the river Wye, which is, in fact, the boundary of the languages from Boughrood upwards (i.e., northwards). Directly you cross the river into Breconshire (above Boughrood) you enter a Welsh-speaking district. The English spoken being an aquired language is more free from provincialisms, and purer than that of the neighbouring English counties.'
Builth: A little Welsh is spoken in the neighbourhood of Builth, in Breconshire (Llanddewi'r Cwm). The English is pure.
Brecon: 1. Mixed. Old people (peasants) speak Welsh. Younger ones, English. 2. In Breconshire it would be difficult to say where the Welsh ended and English began. There is less Welsh to the east of Brecon than to the west. 3. Our English is not book English, but is has not many provincialisms. All services are in English except one Welsh service on Sunday evenings.
Crickhowell: 1. In Crickhowell itself, English is generally spoken. In the Welsh parishes about it, Welsh by the peasantry among themselves, English to their children. 3. The nearest Welsh-speaking place is Cwmdu ... The English much more approaches book English than that of Hereford or Gloucester.
Pontypool: 1. English. 3. Brynmawr ... or at Ebbw Vale. 3. Like Hereford, although Monmouth has a kind of dialect. I must confess I do not understand his 'like Hereford.
Caerleon (3 miles N.E. of Newport): 1. English only. 3. No Welsh spoken to the Chepstow and Hereford sides ... and none within some miles on the other side. Book English, by which I take you to mean (the Vicar is speaking) English spoken by well-educated people, and not corrupted by long use among the vulgar, and in this sense I use it (i.e., book English). In Monmouth (I suppose he means the county) and Wales the language has been acquired from superiors, and has not been debased to any great extent. 4. None over the last 25 years. The youngest Welsh-speaking native of is above fifty years of age.
That is the story, he says, as far as he can tell it 'of the modern incursion of English into Wales.' It is now 'a purely voluntary assumption of a new language'; there is no compulsion behind it. 'My duty has been merely to trace as accurate a line as I could, where purely English native speech ceases, and bilingual speech commences ... In all this modern region, and in some of the old, the English is literary, the artificial product of books and schools. In the oldest form, as in Shropshire and Herefordshire, Welsh-English is dialectal, and this extends to those few Welsh places that have learned English by contact with natives.' It would seem that the language that was fifty per cent English in Penhow in 1854, and which I take it was dialect English from Gloucestershire, had not reached Caerleon in the next quarter of a century, for it was still book English.
[When I wrote my article on the decay of Welsh in Radnorshire, I did not then know of Thomas Darlington's article (see Transactions of the Hon. Soc. of Cymmrodorion, 1902) where he says that 'There is, however, little need to multiply proofs of the existence of a bilingual belt of country along the border of Mid and South Wales in the 17th century.' This makes sense, too, of the strongly-held belief that Radnorshire lost its Welsh, partly --- or largely --- because English Nonconformist missionaries invaded the county from across the border. Had there not existed a quite considerable belt of bilingual people, they must have known they could not succeed, because of the difficulty of communication].
John E. Southall, looking at the linguistic boundary in his Wales and Her Language, (1893), provides us with a map in which he paints red a belt of about five miles wide --- in places, wider --- in which he says Welsh is either spoken or understood by sixty per cent of the adult population.
The eastern limit of this belt is made to run from Talgarth to Blaen Olchon, but not including Olchon itself, then south towards Cwm Yoy whence it again swings east to include Pandy, then due south to Llangattock Lingoed, Llanfihangel Ystum Llywern, Newchurch, and Llanmartin, thence nearly due west to the Usk.
The western limit of this red belt does not differ much from that drawn by Ellis, it leaves Tretower in the Welsh-speaking area, thence to Crickhowell, west of Abergavenny, east of Llanover, but here it swings north-west leaving Blaenavon in the red belt, but not Brynmawr nor Ebbw Vale, leaving Rhymney, Bedwellty, Pengam, Machen (on the border) and Cefn Mably in the predominantly Welsh-speaking area.
One has a feeling that Southall is determined to include as much as he can in this belt where Welsh is still spoken, and if not spoken is at any rate understood by sixty per cent of the people; equally one gets the feeling that he is determined not to mislead the reader.
D. PARRY JONES