Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hwntws or Gogs (part One)

If the Welsh dialect of St Harmon and Cwmteuddwr was similar to that of neighbouring Montgomeryshire and the lost dialects of places like Glasbury and Boughrood were similar to close at hand Breconshire parishes such as Talgarth, then somewhere within Radnorshire, south must have met with north.

As far as I know the dialectologists never managed to get hold of a speaker of Radnorian Welsh from the Rhayader area, even though some, doubtless as rare and unnoticed as pine martens, must have lived on well into the 20C. Fat chance of them interviewing folk who lived in parishes where Welsh had disappeared by the 19C then.

But hang on, riding to the rescue is Richard Suggett, the fellow who authored that splendid book on Radnorshire houses. Rotting away in the archives he discovered reports of slander cases where the words of long dead Radnorians come back to life. An example from Gladestry in 1726 "Di gyrn di dorrws y twlle sydd in di hatt di" - "Your horns tore the holes that are in your hat." Now the interesting thing here is the use of the verb ending ws rather than odd - dorrws not dorrodd - this is a feature of the dialects of South East Wales. The map shows the use of these two endings in Radnorshire slander cases from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries - info from here.

From the look of things Elfael - at least the hundred of Painscastle and maybe Colwyn as well - seems more influenced by Gwenhwyseg (Gwentian Welsh) than do Maelienydd and Gwerthrynion - the hundreds of Knighton, Cefnllys and Rhayader.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wonder what dialect the Rev Francis Kilvert would have heard whilst he baptised vast numbers, well, several, St Harmonites when they had the time in the deep midwinter 1876/1877 .

Alan o'r Bont said...

The linguistic geography of the ending -wys is interesting particularly as it was used in parts of Radnorshire. Interesting also are the examples in court cases throughout Wales of borrowed words used by Welsh monoglots i.e stoppws, forgews, witshiodd, conffessodd, ffindws, bostiodd etc. It seems that borrowing words is nothing new.

old radnor said...

Anon - Sir John Rhys who was prof of Celtic at Oxford in the 19C was acquainted with the Welsh dialect of the Rhayader area ... he included it with the dialects of North Cardiganshire, South West Montgomeryshire and South Merionethshire.

Bryn-Daf said...

I pray you will one day write a book on your beloved area...you have a enough on it!!

old radnor said...

Thanks Bryn-Daf but ... when I look at the work of proper local historians, Keith Parker for example, I have to admit I couldn't write a book like that. Mind you there are some works which make you think I wouldn't want to write a book like that.

A small book on Radnorshire surnames might be popular though. With a little background and a directory of names with suitable anecdotes and information.

Llew Buallt said...

I think the book is an excellent idea Old Radnor as certainly the regular readership of this blog appears to be growing beyond the wild colonial boy and myself. However scope for anecdote may be limited as centuries are hardly any time at all in Radnorshire terms so you may need to be somewhat reticent in naming names and places

old radnor said...

Lionel - your concern for my safety is touching.

Dai Hawkins said...

Richard Suggett's wonderful source material does not give me the impression that Maelienydd, Gwerthryniion and Cwmteuddwr are any less Gwentian in character than the south of the county, with perhaps two exceptions: (1) there is a handful of lexical items in the north of Radnorshire shared with Montgomeryshire, e.g. sietyn for a hedge - plural in Montgomeryshire stingoedd, in Radnorshire sietinau;
(2) the evidence is almost non-existent, but I suspect that typical Gwentian 'hardening' of consonants (catar 'chair' as against 'standard' cadair) may have reached Elfael Is Mynydd across into Herefordshire near Presteigne, the border between the two forms possible stretching from south-west to north-east.

I have not yet established the boundary between e 'he/him' and Gwentian a, but that seems to be far south, perhaps even beyond the southern boundary of Radnorshire.

South-eastern shibboleths, such as ish 'lower' for is, and wedws e 'he said' for dwywedodd e, are found in Gwerthrynion and Cwmteuddwr, the former still on the lips of locals in their pronunciation of certain place-names, e.g tŷ isha 'lower house', which in Llangurig would be tŷ isaf.
The wood called Coed Ochr-cefn on the OS map is called by the locals "the Prysg", with the characteristic south-Walian short 'y'; in Llangurig, this would be called Prŷsg, with the characteristic north-Walian long vowel.

In Alan R Thomas's two books on dialect distribution, Llangurig is the southernmost outpost of north-Walian forms, the largest category of words and idioms in that parish being general north-Walian, a minority recognizably Montgomeryshire, but a surprisingly large number of items being clearly south-Waliam, some of them stretching as far north and west as Machynlleth.
In no case, apart from the handful of Montgomeryshire words i referred to above, are any "northern" characteristics ever found south of Llangurig, which is, to my surprise, the northern outpost of the southern heddi 'today', as opposed to 'standard' heddiw.

Several north-south shibboleths indicate a sharp linguistic boundary fixed for many centuries, following the Radnorshire/Montgomeryshire boundary, and then more or less due east through Shropshire a little to the south of Bishop's Castle, e.g. the southern form banal (for banadl 'broom' (the plant)) is found all over Radnorshire, and as far north as the parish of Clun.

There are many puzzles still awaiting solutions, e.g. were there parts of the county where the letter w didn't change into a y in oblique forms of a noun or verb? Where are the limits of the area where cwm 'valley' is feminine? What words are restricted to Radnorshire or to Radnorshire + Builth Hundred? What are the limits of these usages? (e.g.loan-words from English: besws < 'beast-house' (still in use today in Nantmel parish), cafallt, 'steed' for cafall, etc.

As I type this, I'm in the middle of preparing an article on this topic for a future edition of the Radnorshire Society Transactions, so watch that space!

radnorian said...

This is fascinating, I may even have to join the Radnorshire Society to get hold of a copy of the forthcoming Transactions.

What about vowel sounds as a method of defining dialect boundaries? Am I right in thinking this is what the first German dialectologists did, although later it was found easier to use word lists - since lay correspondents could work with word lists while vowel sounds needed a greater degree of technical skill?