Anglicke listy - 2
- Llandudno 8.7.00
Greetings from sunny Llandudno, pronounced something like chthlandidno � the
double l in Welsh is a cross between an L and something resembling a Czech
�ch� uttered through distended cheeks with the tongue between the teeth. A
little bit exotic, you may think, and yet railway staff all over Britain
seem to pronounce it with practised ease and a glint in the eye.
I don�t know if they�d be able to show off quite so much with
Llanfairpwllgrwngyllgogerychwrdrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (St Mary�s Church
by the white hazel pool, near the fierce whirlpool, with the church of
Tysilio by the red cave). This little Anglesey village used to make do with
the unassuming name of
Llanfairpwllgwyn until the great 19th century engineer, Brunel, spanned the
Menai Straits with his marvellous suspension bridge (guaranteed
thus suddenly placing Llanfairpwllgwyn slap bang on the main rail route to
Ireland. I don�t know whose idea it was to tack on the extra syllables like
that to confuse the newcomers but I have a theory that the very same genius
was also responsible for giving the Welsh their word for Welsh � �Cymraeg�.
The first four letters are a dead give-away. It is clearly none other than
the mythic Celtic hero, genius and sun-god avatar, the legendary Iarda�
Y Cymraeg ydwr iaith hynaf yn Ewrob heddiw � �Welsh is the oldest language
in Europe�. That�s what it says in the title of my favourite Welsh-language
primer � a tea-towel on sale in all the tourist-trinket shops here listing
dozens of high-frequency Welsh words with nice little pictures beside each
one (GBP 2.99 plus postage and packing, Cymrman Enterprises Inc.
Llanfairpwllgrwngyllgogerychwrdrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales, Anglie).
Presumably this refers to the fact that Welsh is the living language with
the longest uninterrupted literary tradition in Europe give or take a few
Greeks and indeed many of the epic tales of the Mabinogion are surely just
as beautifully incomprehensible today as they were in the seventh century.
There are other examples of the subtle Celtic genius behind the Welsh
language. You know how voiced consonants become unvoiced at the end of Czech
words. Well, similar changes also occur in Welsh but at the _beginning_ of
words � and these changes can get quite fancy. For example, Mary is �Mair�
but M changes to F in front of an N (except on alternate Wednesdays:)) so St
Mary�s Church is Llanfair. This can make looking words up in a dictionary a
jolly fine challenge.
Lexically, Welsh is robustly self-reliant and together with Czech it is one
of the few European languages to have non-Latin names for the months of the
year while making up home-grown names for new-fangled innovations is a
national sport, e.g. computer � cyfrifwr, Internet - Rhyngrwyd.
Most public signs are bilingual. Even at Boots the Chemists you�ll find:
bathtime accessories � ategolion amser baddon; feminine care � gofa I
ferched; fabric softener � cyflyrydd defnydd, and sweeteners � melysyddion.
hear that J.R.R. Tolkien was inspired by Welsh when he was creating his
fictitious languages. Clearly, he had a good walk around Boots here before
dished out the names to Middle Earth.
You may well be wondering why I am writing about Wales and Llandudno under
the heading of 'Anglicke listy'. Well, Karel Capek did. He came here on his
travels around Britain and described Llandudno as �just another typical
British seaside resort� or words to that effect. Maybe he thought that if
you�ve seen one proud sandcastle valiantly defended against the oncoming
tide by dad with a knotted handkerchief on his head you�ve seen them all.
But I can watch this timeless and archetypal battle repeated forever....
I think the deeper appeal of this area for Czechs was caught by Zdena Tomin,
an �migr� writer, in her novel �Stalin�s Shoe�. After turbulent years of
exile, her autobiographical protagonist settles down at last in North Wales,
as she feels so at home amongst these wooded hills and mountains where
place-names redolent of the Celtic genius have endured the onslaughts of the
Saxon all down the years�
I, too, feel a frisson of deja-vu here among the Welsh, which keeps
putting me in mind of Bohemia, but as with all deja-vu, I can never quite
Ah well, July 10th I�m back in Kamenne
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