Sunday, July 27, 2008

Are Radnorians really Gogs?

In 1897 the great Welsh scholar Sir John Rhys (1840-1915) produced this rough sketch of Welsh dialects in a letter he sent to Sir Edward Anwyl. Rhys believed that dialects could be differentiated by vowel sounds and was hoping to set up, what today would be called a working party, in order to map these vowel changes.

Unfortunately this proposal came to nothing, perhaps because Anwyl believed that there was no method available at the time to gauge the vowel sounds scientifically. Anwyl believed that collecting word lists would be more useful.

This word list approach was followed by Alan R Thomas when he produced his Linguistic Geography of Wales in 1973. Unfortunately, for some reason, that book ignored the Welsh still being spoken at the time in parishes to the east of Llanwrtyd, an unfortunate omission.

For me Rhys's approach seems far more sensible. After all using words originating in rhyming slang doesn't make me a Cockney. What is interesting about the map was that Rhys placed Radnorshire in the same dialect area as Welsh speakers in Meirionydd and South West Montgomeryshire. Rhys came from Ponterwyd and was well acquainted with Welsh speaking natives of the Rhayader area, so here his opinions have great validity. But did the folk of Aberedw speak a different dialect to the folk of Erwood? And while the similarities between the North Radnorshire accent and that of the Welsh speaking areas of Montgomeryshire is plain enough, would Welsh speakers in Clyro have sounded differently from their neighbours in Talgarth? I'm sure that these dialect differences have some bearing on the decline of Welsh in Radnorshire, but what?

These are interesting questions and more than a hundred years after Rhys made his proposal I'm not aware that it has been addressed by our academics. If anyone has any views or comments on this topic I'd be pleased to hear from you!


Dai Hawkins said...

Four years on, a friend has drawn my attention (again) to this blog. I shall be addressing this point briefly at my magic-lantern show 'Radnorshire, the Unknown Country' [sic, not 'County'!]after the Radnorshire Society AGM (Hotel Metropole, llandrindod, Saturday 10th November, 5 pm), when Sir John Rhŷs's map will appear on the screen and briefly discussed.
Although there are some examples of linguistic characterstics shared between Montgomeryshire and north Radnorshire, they are not very frequent. e.g. 'Sietin(g)' (Hedge): Rads plural: 'sietingau', North Monts plural 'stingoedd'.
One topic I won't be discussing in my show is the following: Meic Stephens came second in the National in 2003, under the name Hwnco Manco with an most excellent pryddest entitled 'Gwreiddiau'. He is very proud of his family roots in Radnorshire, and his pryddest portraylk different members of his family takling Valleys Welsh and Radnorshire Welsh,but his portrayal of Radnorshire Welsh, although excellent most of the time, doesn't always strike twelve:
The word 'tollant', which he spells 'tolant' to conform to Welsh orthography, is universal among Radnorshire farmer snow, but I'm sure that their forefathers would have said 'towlod'. They now say 'tup' but their forefathers said 'myharen'. MS also uses the wod 'llocie' (Pens or small fields) where the Radnorshire usage was 'ploce' < 'plociau' < Egl. 'plocks'
There are a number of similar small anomalies, but the most noticeable error is his frequent use of the intrusive letter i, which is so characteristic of Montgomery Welsh. In his pryddest we get 'Cies i ’ngieni' (I was born, = Ces i 'ngeni); 'ciawson ’u claddu' (they were born, cawson nhw 'u claddu');'hanner cian cyfer' 950 acres, 'can'); 'Doedd giennon ni ddim llawer ' 'we didn't have much, 'gennyn ni'); ’roedd gien i ddigon' (I had enough, 'gen i');tywydd giarw (rough weather, 'garw'), etc. etc. This really sets my teeth on edge - in over forty years of living on Radnorshire soil, living amongst native Radnorians, as neighbours,friends and pupils, as well as studying the place-names and languages [sic] of the old county, I have never ever heard or seen a single example of this use of the letter i. It could be argued that this is poetic licence an doesn't matter, but so little is known about the welsh dialect of Radnorshire in any case, that to use this anomaly in this contextis to spread a 'factoid' in the wide word - some people might take his pryddest as evidence of linguist usage in the real world. 'm sure that several prifeirdd have read this piece and as a result wrongly belive the intrusive 'i' to be characteristic of Radnmorshire.
Having said all this, I I wouldn't like it to be taken as a personal attack on MS, whose amazing energy, scholarship and dedication I greatly admire; I really do think that his pryddest is well worth acquiring (Barddas 274), as is his recently published autobiography, 'Cofnodion'
If anybody reads this, I hope to have the pleasure of meeting you. There won't be time during the talk to go into depth about these matters, but when I gave the same show in CARAD in Rhaeadr, the discussion afterwards went on for over three quarters of an hour, and even then had to be summarily terminated by the chairman, so there should be time for everyone to have their pound of flesh.

radnorian said...

I wonder if Meic Stephens picked that up from the letter John Rhys sent to Prof.Anwyl together with the map. In that he mentions words like cam being pronounced kiam in the Llangurig area, although he says he can't remember if this form was also found in Rhayader. He does say that words like gwlad were pronounced glad in that corner of Radnorshire.