Wednesday 19 May 2010

côr meibion

From time to time it’s good for native speaking teachers of English to experience life from the point of view of the language learner.
Over the weekend I was in Llandudno, north Wales, for the British Esperanto Congress. One of the highlights was a performance by an excellent local male voice choir, Côr Meibion Maelgwn ˈkoːr ˈməibjɔn ˈməɨlɡʊn. This choir, who won the first prize for choral singing in last year’s national eisteddfod, are strict about using no language but Welsh in their rehearsals and socializing.

I had been asked to say a word of thanks afterwards, in Welsh and in Esperanto. The latter is no problem for me, but my Welsh comes entirely from books and from evening classes in London, so I am not very confident in the spoken language. Nevertheless, I thanked them in my best attempt at good fluent Welsh, managing to include a reference to one of the songs they had just performed. The choir members looked appropriately pleased and modest, and afterwards their leader and I exchanged a sentence or two of small talk.

I felt rather proud of myself. But no one congratulated me on my language ability. To begin with I felt a little disappointed at that.

But then I thought: if a non-native-speaking professor of English at some overseas university thanks me in good English for a lecture I have just given, I don’t congratulate him or her on the fact. I treat it as normal and unremarkable.

For me as a NNS of Welsh, to have my use of the language taken as normal and unremarkable is the best accolade I could receive.

(Or perhaps they were just being polite.)


  1. Or ˈkoːr ˈmeibjɔn ˈmeɨlɡʊn. Llongyfarchiadau, gyda llaw.

  2. On the flip side, I found myself quite naturally beginning almost every interaction while I was in the Netherlands by apologizing for not speaking Dutch. This technique seemed to get results.

  3. @John: What results? If you ask someone in the Netherlands whether they speak English, they will reply they do and probably get the same results? Or do you mean you actually tried to speak Dutch? In which case no doubt your conversation partner would switch to English in no time.

  4. Once I asked a policeman in Prague whether he could speak English and he answered "I'll try", but he appeared to more fluent than most English teachers I've had in Italy.

  5. Surely ˈmaɨlɡʊn not ˈməɨlɡʊn or ˈmeɨlɡʊn. It's not the same diphthong as in meibion.

  6. Kilian: "Get results" in the sense that by conforming to Jante law (which I think is called maaiveldcultuur in Dutch) I thought it more likely that they would do what I wanted, than if I simply took it for granted that my interlocutor spoke English. (I don't speak Dutch.)

    Similarly, I'd much rather have people ask me if I will help them with their computer problems, rather than assuming that because I'm a geek I can and will provide an endless supply of assistance on demand.

  7. Harry: as I understand it, in non-final position where the spelling is ae the pronunciation is a diphthong with a mid first element. It is only in final position (including in a monosyllable) that we get an open first element. So here we do indeed have məɨl-, meɨl- in northern pronunciation. In southern pronunciation it is, yes, the same diphthong as in meibion.
    A frequent word where this applies is Saesneg.


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