By Mark Frauenfelder at 12:02 pm Fri, Oct 31, 2008
i think Welsh has to be one of the strangest languages ive ever seen or heard.
Your title’s a little misleading: it’s an email out-of-office message that’s been erroneously put on the sign in place of the desired translation. It’s not an email error message or an email error at all: the emails functioned properly, it’s just that the non-Welsh reader took the response as the actual message. Hilarious post, though!
From the link.
â€¢ Cyclists between Cardiff and Penarth in 2006 were left confused by a bilingual road sign telling them they had problems with an “inflamed bladder”.
â€¢ In the same year, a sign for pedestrians in Cardiff reading ‘Look Right’ in English read ‘Look Left’ in Welsh.
Can you imagine the trouble the 2nd one caused?
There was another I saw recently – In Chinese the sign read “Restaurant” or something, and in English next to that, the sign said “translate server error”.
Aha, here’s the link:
I didn’t know they could disemvowel road signs.
At first I had a chuckle, but now I’m confused.
The guy’s job is to translate English into Welsh for people who only speak English. If his business contacts knew Welsh, they wouldn’t need to contact him. Why, then, is the OOTO message only in Welsh?
That’s a little more awesome than disemvowling; you guys should work on a “Welshing” of offensive text.
“welshing” – hmmm, I smell a new meme.
Careful, the Heddlu come get you.
The article has a pull-quote from someone opining that they “should really ask for expert help.” Of course, they thought they already had!
Of course, if everyone in Wales spoke Welsh… Oh wait, if everyone in Wales was Welsh…
“The guy’s job is to translate English into Welsh for people who only speak English. If his business contacts knew Welsh, they wouldn’t need to contact him. Why, then, is the OOTO message only in Welsh?”
He’s probably one of those militant Welsh speakers that go out of their way to annoy. The kind that spray over the English part of bilingual road signs… The fact that bilingual road signs actually help teach the language & being militant just puts people off trying to learn unfortunately doesn’t occur to his kind.
What we have here is a failure to communicate…
Are you sure that’s Welsh?
It looks to me like the BoingBoing site monitors got hold of it.
My optician is Welsh. He keeps trying to teach me to read.
Hmmm.. how can we get them to change the moderation policy, so that all offensive text is changed to Welch? Or perhaps Haida?
WÃ¡adluu, chÃin kwÃ¡an gÃ¡ndlaay aa hal tÃ¡agaan Bush.
WÃ¡adluu xÃl hal tlaahlÃ¡ayaan Obama
I loved Wales- my wife and I went there for our 10th Anniversary years back. The Welsh language fascinates me- it’s about the only accent I can’t learn to imitate in a very short time!
Here’s a picture I snapped from an auto-service station. See if you can figure out what the various words are by sounding them out!
Frankly, I’d prefer Haida to Welsh, simply because I know more Haida-speaking people. And anything has to be better than disemvowelling!
I wonder if this was anywhere near the small Welsh village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch
Info about said town to be found here
I think that it was Stephen Sondheim who rewrote The Girl from Ipanema as The Girl from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
Also, I’m a Wyx on the distaff side, so the lack of vowels is congenital.
That’s a weird part of modern Welsh – lots of words from the last century or so are just phonetic translations of the English.
There was (possibly still is?) an official body to come up with new words that made liguistic sense, rather than having Welsh words being based on greek- or latin-derived English words. They were based on the analagous French committee, which prevents the official adoption of words which don’t integrate well into the sound or history of the language.
Unfortunately for the committee, it rapildy became obvious that no-one cared what they decided. For example, a frightning number of years ago I was taught to say “computer” as “cyfridiadyr”. (or something like that; I can remember the pronunciation, but haven’t written any Welsh for years). Anyway, these days kids are taught to say and write “compwter”, where the “w” takes its typical shortened “u” sound. Similarly annoying for the traditionalists are “teleffon” (telephone), “tacsi” (taxi) and many, many others.
Given this and the fact that (almost) all Welsh-speakers are also fluent in English and tend to drop in English idioms that don’t have exact Welsh equivalents (you hear “cool!” a lot), an attentive English speaker can probably make a good guess about the content of a modern Welsh conversation.
As a point of interest, the language and accent are so wildly different between the north and south (Americans: check on a map to see how small that distance is, although there are some mountains in the way) that a Gog and a Taff (northerner and southener, respectively; “Taff” often is specific to Cardiff) will probably only be able to communicate if they switch to English.
I’m sure you’ve all stopped caring by this point, but the language and accents are the only things I miss about my home country. You’ve got me all nostalgic…
/me gazez off into the distance…
@24: there is a postcard for sale in Wales which shows a country scene with all the things in it labelled with their Welsh names, which happen to look like their English names misspelled.
Perhaps the Welsh should have taken a leaf out of the Icelanders’ book and developed new words from metaphors on existing native words (the Icelandic word for “telephone” is literally “piece of string”, and that for “computer” is a portmanteau on “numerical” and “prophetess”; Icelandic has few if any recognisable loanwords).
Of course, Welsh doesn’t have the benefit of isolation, and a disadvantage for the language (if not its speakers) is that almost every potential native Welsh speaker today is a potential native English speaker, reducing learning and practicing Welsh to a stylistic affectation, antiquarian fancy or political statement. While the British government subsidises Welsh-language television (leading to a lot of high-quality programming made only in Welsh—the mythological animated series Y Mabinogi is an example which stands out), that may not be enough to make a majority of people passionate enough to learn a language they don’t strictly need to get by.
Bugs points out “That’s a weird part of modern Welsh – lots of words from the last century or so are just phonetic translations of the English.”
Not just them; words for ‘new things’ are often (as with any language) adopted from the language of the culture that introduces them. As an example, windows as a technology spread around the area when old French was the language of power. Thus ‘Ffenestr’ is Welsh for window (barring any cock-up on my part about appropriate pluralisation etc).
I would ask why they don’t have a bilingual proofreader to check for things like that, except, given my recent experiences with proofreaders, the proofreader would simply have made sure that both sentences were correct, and all the punctuation was in the right places, but wouldn’t make a single comment about the two sentences having nothing to do with each other.
But what does the english portion of the sign say?
Nobody calls it Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – Llanfair PG is the way locals refer to it – it’s the same as St. Mary’s in English – the long name came about because the railway line to the ferry to Dublin ran through it and they came up with the name to get tourists to stop there for a while. It worked! The w and the y are vowels in Welsh and the Ch and Ll are letters that sound different from C and L. It is absurd to invent words in Welsh when everyone uses the English derived words in conversation.
Like Heddlu when every says Police….
Really, Heddlu is a word that they put on cruisers when everyone speaking Welsh would say Police.
haha, that’s awesome!
Not just them; words for ‘new things’ are often (as with any language) adopted from the language of the culture that introduces them.
Yeah — for example, Malay and Indonesian were, and to some extent still are, more or less the same language — but Malaysia was colonized by the English and Indonesia by the Dutch — so what is a pharmacy in Malay? “farmasi”. In Indonesian it’s “apotik”.
Or of course, Japanese, which has an entire syllabary solely for the writing of foreign loanwords.
katakana have other uses as well.
This reminds of the embarrassment Budweiser narrowly avoided when they wanted to replicate their ‘Me and my Bud’ campaign in Irish back in the 1980s. Some kind soul took them aside and informed them that ‘Mise agus mo Bhud’ means ‘Me and my penis’.
this thread is so infuriating!
this is just a very good example of mis-translation – by that i mean, you can actually translate the welsh back into english. most of the time it’s complete gobbledegook – there’s a sign for a zebra crossing where i live which advertises, in welsh, a ‘zebra barn dance’!
those of us who were raised in a bi-lingual household, but have a primarily ‘welsh’ brain have to deal with it all the time. it’s not so mucha cognitive setback (yes, we can just about understand the english sign underneaeth, and yes, we get the message), but an emotional one. it’s about feeling unwelcome in your own counrty, or community. it sucks. and it’s not funny.
like the old joke that we have no vowels, or that llanfairpwllgwyngyllgo… etc is a real place (llanfair pwll is a real place. someone just erected a big sign there with a long village name on it to attract tourists back in the day) – would you be saying that about an indigenous language in any other country?
we have a basic human right to speak the language, and not to feel belittled because we ‘don’t have enough words so we have to make them up’ (ummmm, like every other language in the world – #38 you mention katakana – the japanese have a whole Alphabet completely for this purpose!).
Holy shit Dros, chill out. It sounds like the Welsh government’s attitude to the native language is your problem, not this thread.
I don’t think anyone here is actually saying Welsh has no vowels, but multiple consonants in a row is a distinct feature of written Welsh. It happens to look like disenvowelment, we lol’ed..
And does it matter that some Welshman’s tourist-hoax fooled us? Maybe blame the chap who did it, rather than the poor victims of this awful, awful crime.
“would you be saying that about an indigenous language in any other country?”
Did you miss the Haida references all through the thread?
And as for ‘loan words’, frankly Irish is the same, full of new words hobbled with an authentic irish spelling, like tacsaÃ for taxi, and grafaÃocht for graphics.
No one is belittling anyone (in this thread, elsewhere YMMV), so relax and enjoy the moment, we’re talking about some interesting stuff and you are a resident expert. Enlighten us :)
I can’t believe kids aren’t taught cyfrifiadur anymore, I was still in Welsh education 3 years ago and it was still in use. Compwter (like many lazy translations) just sounds retarded.
I’ve never found that I can’t talk to Southerners in Welsh, some words are different (llaeth / llefrith for example) but it’s pretty understandable. Though this may be because of my generation using extremely lazy Welsh, with extra lashings of English words.
cst my vt fr bm nd my ddrss s firstname.lastname@example.org
Powers @37: And we have characters that we use for similar purposes; in English typography these are called italics. Seriously, compare the letter forms of a serif roman font and its italic equivalent. Can you honestly say that the roman a and the italic a are the same letterform?
Historically, hiragana was evolved by Japanese women as a native alternative to Chinese characters; katakana evolved not long after for use by (male) scholars. Hiragana has since become the standard script for non-kanji Japanese, whereas katakana is used in much the same way as italics are used in our culture: for emphasis, for foreign words, for onomatopiea, and in an echo of its old purpose, for scientific and technical words.
It’s inaccurate to say that katakana is for foreign words; that just happens to be one of its current uses.
They tried to do something like that, it’s just that most of the population ignored the committee that was coming up with these things. The “official” words might still be used in government and BBC material (I haven’t looked), but in day to day use the English-like words are much, much more popular.
Also, as for Welsh being “a stylistic affectation…”, that’s not entirely true. All children in Wales are required to study Welsh in school until GCSE (possibly AS-level?), so everyone should have some grasp of the language. Also, some communities are just more comfortable using Welsh. I sang in a choir based in Bridgend where people would default to Welsh because that’s what they grew up with and prefer using day to day. I also met a few people from north Wales in an English university; they were fluent in English, but obviously far less comfortable talking and writing in English than they were in Welsh.
It might not be official policy to use compwter, but I visited a Welsh primary school recently where lots of objects around the school were labeled with their Welsh names. I was looking around to see how much I could remember and noticed that the computers were all labeled “compwter”. I also heard a couple of teachers use the word, but not in the context of teaching a lesson.
As for the North/South divide, that’s just based on my friends’ experiences. Maybe the northeners I know just happen to speak a particularly weird dialect?
I’ve been inundated with copies of this link, since I published some holiday snaps of (mostly fairly sensible) North Wales signage on Facebook just a few days ago.
What we need is a student exchange program. Swap out some Welsh speaker for some Hawaiian speakers. They’ve got vowels to spare.
Lots of misconceptions about Welsh in this thread, but hey, that’s what comments are for.
All the Welsh speakers I know use “cyfrifiadur”, which comes from the root “cyfrif” or “calculate” (“rhif” means “number”), and I’d be surprised to hear “compwter”. But yes, there are lots of loan words, and even loan sentence constructions where English grammar is imposed upon Welsh vocabulary. But Welsh has existed in a strange bilingual twilight world for a long time and you have to expect these things to happen.
Welsh is a living language and if it weren’t changing and bringing in new constructions and new loan words then I’d be worried (even more than I am) for its future. The fact that there’s even a Welsh version of text-speak means that it’s being used day to day, for just about anything and everything that English is used for. All of which is a Good Thing.
It’s also true that there are no monoglot Welsh speakers around anymore, but although many native speakers are also fluent in English doens’t mean that English is their first language. Again, I know lots of Welsh speakers who feel that they can only really express themselves fully and accurately in their first language, Welsh. Again, this is a good thing – Welsh culture has so much to offer, it would be a shame to see it relegated to second place behind English culture.
The idea that the Welsh from the North and South are mutually unintelligable hasn’t been true now for a very long time. There’s a little difference in vocab, a little difference in grammar, but nothing that you can’t wrap your head round really easily. The accents are a bit different, particularly around the pronunciation of the letter U, but again, nothing that a bit of listening can’t sort out.
Mass media has smoothed out a lot of the dialectic differences in Welsh, just as it has in English. (You don’t hear people from Yorkshire using “thee, thy, thou” so much anymore, for example.) I would be most shocked to discover a Gog and a Hwntw (i.e. someone from south Wales) who felt forced to swich to English in order to communicate. Not only have I never heard of that happening, I don’t believe it ever would now.
Vowels in Welsh: a, e, i, o, u, w, y.
Digraphs: ch, dd, ff, ng, ll, ph, rh, th.
The digraphs do tend to make it look like there are a daft number of consonants, but there aren’t really. We lack k, q, v, x, z, and j only shows up in loanwords, which means our alphabet is 29 letters/digraphs, only 3 more than english.
The issue with signs being translated badly (or in this case, not at all!) is pretty common. I suspect it’s mainly due to companies (or councils) not really wanting to put the time, effort or money into doing it properly. Often you suspect that someone just sat down with a dictionary and tried their best, but never showed it to a professional translator or even just a fluent Welsh speaker. That’s a bit slack, if you ask me, and I’d like to see people actually put a bit more effort into translation. But we do have literally centuries of anti-Welsh propaganda to reverse, so it’s no surprise that some people take a pretty lassaiz faire attitude to it.
All that said, I do find bad translations hysterically funny. Lots more on Flickr: http://flickr.com/groups/scymraeg
Well this is what happens when you decide to promote a language that no one speaks, nor knows how to spell.
With my name, I can’t be anything other than a Welshman, really, but I was never very good with the “Language of Angels”: I failed the GCSE, and have only got worse since then. In my childhood in the valleys of Glamorgan, I don’t remember any first-language Welsh speakers. We all spoke in English, and anyone who lacked the strong accent was called “posh” – a derogatory term, not a compliment.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_Not is just one example of the actions taken against the Welsh to try to stamp out the language – that it has survived at all is a testament to the persistence of those who have spoken it.
I’m surprised the loanword for computer isn’t “compiwter” – that’s how I’d expect it to be pronounced, at least in the South. Maybe the loanword is used only in the North?
supposedly Billy Graham was going to tour russia, and got his marketing shtick translated.
“The body is weak, but the spirit is strong,”
“He can’t stand up, but he has good vodka.”
No one ever believes me when I tell this story… Many years back, we had a sendoff for a co-worker in the office and ordered him a cake as was our tradition. We picked up the cake and two steps away from the counter realized it said, “Good Suck Mike.” We could barely make it to the cashier to pay we were laughing so hard.
We were in tears when we presented the cake, and everyone had a good laugh. Except Mike.
now we have cheap petabytes of storage. Welsh can be saved even if no one wants to learn it today.
No. 24: “reducing learning and practicing Welsh to a stylistic affectation, antiquarian fancy or political statement.” Two of my housemates speak welsh as their first language. They are 19 and 20 years old and y Gymraeg is their mother tongue, they would probably find that statement kind of arrogant.
It is the differences and variations in life which make it interesting, right?
@44 and 38
Yeah, I know katakana has plenty of other uses as well, from animal names to furigana, but I’d say it’s slightly more interesting in terms of it’s use in the Japanese language than mere italics. English may use italics to highlight foreign words but once they reach a certain level of societal acceptance we use them normally.
Japanese is very different in that foreign words will always be katakana, and in modern Japanese there can often be as much katakana as kanji! I find the evolution of the Japanese language away from kanji (a foreign import that does not particularly suit the language) really interesting.
Absurd errors in public signs is a plague that affects Basque as well as Welsh, #48 pointed to the specific Welsh Flickr pool that documents these: well, we have another with the same subject in Basque:
This one reads “Click to enter” in Spanish but “Click to get out” in Basque… who knows!
Welsh looks confusing. If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!
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