Friday, 1 April 2011

un pet de fromage

Faute de anything mieux with which to celebrate April Fool’s Day, here is an example of … er, cack-handed misspelling of Welsh. It shows a street name erected by the local council in Conwy borough in north Wales, and is taken from a blog entry whose Welsh title translates as ‘A nasty smell at the Junction” (that is, Llandudno Junction).The first line, GWEL YR AFON, is the name of the road, “River View”. The second ought to be FFORDD BREIFAT, “private road”, i.e. a road for the maintenance of which the local council does not accept responsibility.

To simplify the sociolinguistic demographics somewhat, we can say that Conwy borough combines an English-speaking urban centre with Welsh-speaking outlying villages. There had been complaints about the number of English-only street signs and road names. The Welsh word preifat ‘private’ shows by its form that it is the English word ˈpraɪvət respelt in accordance with Welsh spelling conventions (f = v). In the sign, the initial consonant is correctly mutated to b-, to agree with the feminine noun ffordd fɔrð ‘road’.

If this word had been borrowed into Welsh direct from Latin prīvātus 1800 years ago when the Romans were in Britain, as were such words as pont ‘bridge’, llafur ‘labour’ and ffenest ‘window’, I think it would probably have come out as something like prywod. (Compare parātusparod ‘ready’.) But obviously it wasn’t. It came via English.

The person who created the road sign knew sufficient Welsh to do the correct mutation. But he or she was English enough to confuse the digraphs ei and ie and to produce a fine example of non-rhotic hypercorrection. As it stands, the sign regrettably suggests that the road is characterized by flatulent cheese-eaters.

67 comments:

  1. I think preifat reflects ˈprəɪvət rather than ˈpraɪvət.

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  2. Selbstverständlich, Michael: as with all cases of English PRICE-vowel words borrowed into Welsh.

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  3. I think I'll leave that Roquefort alone today.

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  4. I think by "preifat reflects ˈprəɪvət rather than ˈpraɪvət" Michael E may have meant that əɪ was as far as the GVS had got when the word was adopted, or even that it still reflects a Welsh pronunciation of the English word, especially perhaps by some speakers of Welsh.

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  5. Yes, and as I expect you know Welsh has two (or in some varieties more than two) diphthongs of this type, ei~əi and ai. So we have the nice minimal pair tei = English tie vs. tai 'houses', pl. of .

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  6. Yes, but I don't know if any form of Welsh English has the Londonderry opposition between ei and aɪ eye~I, with no morphophonological reason for it like teid~taed tide~tied.

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  7. Or... another possibility is that briefart was simply the product of a dyslexic Welshman. ;o)

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  8. Tonio Green sent an email:
    I wanted to leave this comment to your blog entry "Un pet de fromage", but since anonymous commenting is turned off and I don't have an account at any of the places listed, I'll send it to you by e-mail instead:

    Actually, Welsh does have a word it borrowed from Latin /pri-va-tus/, namely /priod/ 'one's own' (Middle Welsh /priawt/. Latin long i- became Welsh /i/, not /y/ (which came from Latin short i among other vowels), and /v/ [w] was deleted before Middle Welsh /aw/. (Source: Lewis & Pedersen's /Concise Comparative Celtic Grammar/, § 80 (1).)

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  9. I have been trying to stop myself suggesting that the sign should have been made more Caerphilly, but I have failed.

    John Maidment

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