Friday, December 08, 2006

Football in Welsh

There is a certain breed of football fan who watches the teleprinter on a Saturday evening and yearns to visit places like Stenhousemuir, to watch the Accies play, and to find out for themselves who exactly are Accrington Stanley.

It was in this spirit that I went to watch Lokomotiv Llanberis on a trip up North about five years ago. I remember nothing of the game, except that it was poor - the only 0-0 draw I have ever seen at this level . There was a gate and a programme, and a crowd of less than 100. But what shocked me more than anything was the fact that both teams, the ref, and the crowd were playing solely through the medium of the Welsh language.

As we were in the Cymraeg heartland, you may have expected this. But the truth is that when 25 men gather together anywhere in Wales, one monoglot will force at least some of the other 24 to speak English, simply out of politeness.

For me, this was a thrilling experience - the first evidence I'd had that Welsh could be a living language. But to a watching Englishman, one thing would have stood out amongst all the consonants; the language was peppered with English words. This wasn't the bookish and self-conscious academic-Welsh that I'd heard spoken on the field with CPD Inter Ifor in Cardiff.

And it all made perfect sense. Football was a game born in England, in the English language. Its terminology and jargon should not be translated for the sake of a lexicographer. If you go the the opera house, you still talk of libretti, of sopranos and leitmotifs. Jargon should stay faithful to its inventors. I am sure that English terms have always been used by Welsh footballers. It is only the recent media explosion that has imposed translation.

Of course the English find it all hysterical, this progression. The fact that our word for taxi is tacsi, that ambulance is ambiwlans, and that we say Coronation Street in the middle of an otherwise Welsh sentence. It is this ignorance of modern language development that has led to the urban myth of a pub full of English speaking customers all turning to Welsh the minute that a tourist walks through the door.

The most popular Welsh language programme of the past 20 years has been a comedy series about Junior Football in North Wales. It is called C'mon Midffild, not Ymlaen Canol Cae! as the BBC Cymru would have it. But that single phrase beautifully epitomises the North Walian football culture. There is a passion for the game here that transcends language. Nobody stops to think about correctness. This is just the language they speak, and that's it. No political statement, no chip on the shoulder, just a means of expression. And they have the self-confidence not to give a damn what it sounds like.

And do you know what? The term C'mon Midffild isn't English being spoken with a Welsh accent any more than using a defensive formation makes you a French speaker. It has been absorbed now into modern Welsh. They are our words.

The academic Welsh language just doesn't do football justice. The English word penalty conjures up instant drama, a shoot-out, a duel, a crime-committed. The Welsh term is cic o'r smotyn, a kick from the spot. It is descriptive but nothing else.

The offside law is a pretty complex, ever changing rule which requires detailed understanding of the game. The Cardiff-Welsh for this is camsefyll, literally wrong-standing. It's inadequate. Offside isn't much better, but it is the original term.

A Saturday afternoon visitor to Cae Seilo might hear the following phrase shouted from the home captain;

C'mon diffens, da ni'n ddistaw. Rhoi pel i'r middfild. Chwarae ffwtbol, a
iwsio'r wingars. Paid a phoeni am y gol, oedd o'n fwcin offseid eniwe. Mae reff
'ma yn ffwcin bleind, y cont.

Maybe not grammatically correct, but certainly evocative.

But there is nothing wrong in all of this. It is healthy. And before the English get too smug about their prime role in the football lexicon, let me remind you that players will sometimes make a challenge in the centre circle before distributing a beautiful diagonal pass. Not an English word amongst that lot.


Livzy said...

great posting Eric!

brightened up my Friday :)

nice one mate.

Gary said...

I know what you mean about 'cic o'r smotyn' but it's not just Welsh which has this problem. In German, a penalty is elfmeter, literally translated as a kick from 11 meters!

Rhys Wynne said...

Taxi comes from the Greek word TAXIDEYO (to travel) ;-)

Martin Davies said...

Complimenti, Sr La Rosso. This is a very fine post indeed and I very much appreciate the strand you’ve been following.

Was it Alexandre Dumas who said English is just French badly pronounced? The French particularly have a problem with what they derogatively refer to as 'Anglo-Saxon' assimilating into their far-from-dead language. That's partly why Chirac launched France 24 this week.

And they have L'Académie Française to protect their language from being dominated by what they see as American counter-culture. It's only partially successful though. While they have managed to get people to say 'ordinateur' instead of 'computer', no one I know says 'courriel' (from courrier electronique) instead of ‘email’.

We share the word 'pont' with the French ('ponte' in Italian) but I have no idea whether that's a Latin word getting into Welsh or a Celtic word getting into Latin.

The point, I think, is to enjoy speaking Welsh for the beauty and uniqueness of it, not necessarily for any practical commercial purpose. Like the French, we have no choice other than do business internationally in English.

hafod said...

This is such a great post - more please! Great blog in general. The romance and heartache of football at the grassroots is one of life's magical little dramas. Diolch yn fawr.