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Posts Tagged ‘Welsh language’

Today I thought I would share this classic Welsh song “Ti a dy ddoniau” (You and your skills), written by comedian and singer/songwriter/actor Ryan Davies. Ryan formed part of a comedy duo with fellow actor Ronnie Williams. They were popular on Welsh language TV in the 1970s, “Ryan a Ronnie” (Ryan and Ronnie) became so popular that it was transferred to an English language version. I remember watching both Welsh and English versions as a child.

Ryan (1937-1977) was born in Glanaman in Carmarthenshire (west Wales), and first performed professionally at the National Eisteddfod in 1966. “Ti a dy ddoniau” is my favourite Ryan Davies song, although it is possibly not his most famous. He is considered one of the giants of Welsh language TV entertainment, there is a bust of him in the foyer of the BBC studios in Llandaf (Cardiff) which I have seen many times on my visits there to do astronomy interviews.

Ryan Davies (1937-1977) was a Welsh actor, singer and comedian.  He was born in Glanaman in west Wales. He is best known for his TV comedy series "Ryan a Ronnie" (Ryan and Ronnie). He was also an accomplished singer and songwriter.

Ryan Davies (1937-1977) was a Welsh actor, singer, songwriter and comedian. He was born in Glanaman in west Wales. He is best known for his TV comedy series “Ryan a Ronnie” (Ryan and Ronnie). He was also an accomplished singer and songwriter. This is the cover of one of his CDs.

“Ti a dy ddoniau” is clearly written by a man who is very bitter. Lied to, made a fool of and hurt, the man is lashing back. Ryan himself married his childhood sweetheart and they remained married throughout his life; so I can only assume that he did not write these wonderful lyrics from personal experience. 

Here are the lyrics of “Ti a dy ddoniau”.

O ble gest ti’r ddawn o dorri calonne?
O ble gest ti’r ddawn o ddweud y celwyddau?
Ac o ble gest ti’r wên a’r ddau lygad bach tyner?
Ac o ble gest ti’r tinc yn dy lais?

Os mai hyn oedd dy fwriad, i’m gwneud i yn ffŵl,
Wel do, mi lwyddaist, mi lwyddaist yn llawn.
Ond yr hyn rwyf am wybod yn awr,
Dwed i mi, o dwed i mi,
Ble gest ti’r ddawn?

Rwy’n cofio fel ddoe ti yn dweud, “Cara fi nawr”
A minnau yn ateb fel hyn, “Caraf di nawr”.
Ond mae ddoe wedi mynd a daeth heddiw yn greulon,
Ac o ble, ac o ble, ble rwyt ti?

Os mai hyn oedd dy fwriad, i’m gwneud i yn ffŵl,
Wel do, mi lwyddaist, mi lwyddaist yn llawn.
Ond yr hyn rwyf am wybod yn awr,
Dwed i mi, o dwed i mi,
Ble gest ti’r ddawn?

Here is my attempt at a translation. As usual, I have gone for a literal translation, with no attempt to retain any rhythm or rhyme.

From where did you get the skill to break hearts?
From where did you get the skill to tell your lies?
And from where did you get that smile and those two sweet tender eyes?
And from where did you get the lilt in your voice?

If this was your intention, to make me a fool,
Well yes, you succeeded, you succeeded completely.
But what I want to know now,
Tell me, oh tell me,
From where did you get the skill?

I remember like yesterday your saying “Love me now”
And my answering like this, “I will love you now”.
But yesterday has gone and today has come cruelly,
Oh from where, oh from where did you get the skill?

If this was your intention, to make me a fool,
Well yes, you succeeded, you succeeded completely.
But what I want to know now,
Tell me, oh tell me,
From where did you get the skill?

I could not find a video on YouTube of Ryan performing this song, although there are versions sung by other artists. So, I have created this video, which is the definitive version; Ryan singing it with his longtime comedy and entertainment partner Ronnie. Enjoy!

Which is your favourite Ryan Davies song?

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Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes in my company (most people have fled before then) will know that I love grammar. I adore it. In fact, I have the annoying habit of correcting people’s grammar. I can’t help myself, even though an inner voice tells me not to do it and to not be so pedantic, the pedant grammar Nazi voice is always stronger.

I posted a “penblwydd hapus” (Welsh for “happy birthday”) greeting on a friend’s Facebook wall last week. This friend, who is Dutch, but who has lived in Wales, ended up posting the same greeting in Welsh to another non-Welsh speaking mutual friend. I don’t remember the details of what happened next, but the friend asked why the sign into Wales is “Croeso i Gymru” (Welcome to Wales), when the word for Wales is “Cymru”? “Mutations” I replied. “What???” she said.

Dwi'n Siariad Cymraeg = "I Speak Welsh"

Dwi’n Siariad Cymraeg = “I Speak Welsh”

The wonderful world of mutations

I am hoping someone who knows more about these things can correct this statement – I have deliberately not done my research to back this up, but I believe mutations are unique to the “Celtic” languages. The Celtic languages fall into two groups, the Goedelic ones (Scottish Gaelic, Irish Gaelic and Manx), and the Brythonic (Welsh, Cornish and Breton).

Again, I don’t know the details of how mutations work in the other Celtic languages, because apart from knowing a few dozen words in Breton, my knowledge of the other Celtic languages is zero. That is something I have always wanted to change, to learn maybe Irish Gaelic or Breton, but there is so much physics and astrophysics I would like to understand better, when am I going to find the time?

In Welsh, there are 9 consonants which mutate. These are “c,p,t,b,d,g,m,ll,rh” (yes, “ll” and “rh” are letters in Welsh, two character letters). The first 3, “c,p,t” can undergo the 3 types of mutations. The second 3, “b,d,g” can undergo 2 of the 3 types, and the last 3, “m,ll,rh” can only undergo one type of mutation.

The three types of mutations are called “soft”, “nasal” and “aspirant”. So, to give a concrete example, going back to my friend’s question about “Cymru” being the name for Wales but the sign saying “Croeso i Gymru”, the letter “c” can change to “g” or “ngh” or “ch”

The letters c,p and t

  1. Croeso i Gymru = Welcome to Wales (soft mutation)
  2. Dwi yng Nghymru = I am in Wales (nasal mutation)
  3. Lloegr a Chymru = England and Wales (aspirant mutation)

The letters b,d and g

If we were to construct three similar sentences with a word which only undergoes two of the three types of mutations, e.g. the letter “b”, we could write for Bangor in north Wales

  1. Croeso i Fangor = Welcome to Bangor (soft mutation)
  2. Dwi ym Mangor = I am in Bangor (nasal mutation)
  3. Lloegr a Bangor = England and Bangor (aspirant mutation – no mutation)

The letters ll,rh and m

Finally, let us choose a letter from the third group, we shall choose “m”, so we could write for Mwnt

  1. Croeso i Fwnt = Welcome to Mwnt (soft mutation)
  2. Dwi ym Mwnt = I am in Mwnt (nasal mutation – no mutation)
  3. Lloegr a Mwnt = England and Mwnt (aspirant mutation – no mutation)

I didn’t really know the rules of mutations until I was about 14. It was just something I did naturally, in a rather ad-hoc manner. But it turned out that I was getting it wrong some of the time. My Welsh teacher, Geraint Davies (or “Dai Welsh” as he was known) gave me a Welsh grammar book and told me to get on with reading it, then he went off for a cigarette. I was the only one in the year doing ‘O’ level Welsh as a first (native) language, he had driven all the other pupils into the 2nd-language (foreign language) group so that he would not have to teach them, but I had refused to go. Dai Welsh was gone long enough (several weeks) for me to master their sometimes complex rules.

Linguistic development in small children

With my own children I distinctly remember thinking with my eldest son that using mutations with him may confuse him. So, for example, I would not bother saying “botel o laeth?” (a bottle of milk?) to him, but rather I’d leave out the mutation and say “botel o llaeth”. This is grammatically incorrect as “llaeth” should mutate with the soft mutation after the preposition “o” (of), but I figured if he was sometimes hearing “llaeth’ and sometimes “laeth” depending on the situation he may get confused.

By the time my third child was small I was too busy with two other children to bother with such simplifications, so just spoke to her with mutations right from when she was a baby. All three are in Welsh-medium education (where all the subjects are taught through the medium of Welsh), and have all gone through the same “primary” school (4-11 years of age). The school found that my youngest daughter’s Welsh was more correct in year 6 (age 11) than my son’s had been at the same age. Although it is a pretty limited experiment, I think what it shows is that it is better for a child’s development of speaking grammatically correctly to speak correctly to them right from the earliest moment, and not to start off with some simplified version of one’s language.

I might attempt to explain some of the rules which dictate when mutations take place in future blogs, although given that whole books are set aside to explaining the rules my attempting to do it on a blog may prove quite a challenge.

I bet you wish you had never asked Priscilla! 🙂

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