Keeping Welsh (and Bees) Alive.

Note: This article was originally published at FT.com (Financial Times). It is copyright. They have indicated that these articles can be shared with their “sharing tools,” and added, “Please don’t cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.”

That would be fine, if they didn’t use that accursed “complete a survey to read this full article” ploy. Or make you register (i.e. give them your information) to read “3 free articles per month.” Both of these are scummy tactics which serve no purpose other than to drive people away from a website; to Pluto with that. So, FT, get rid of the surveys and the paywall and I’ll be happy to link people directly to your site. Until then, hard lines.


Wil Griffiths set up an organisation that aims to save the bees and his native tongue

Welsh beekeeper Wil Griffith

©Gareth Phillips

Wil Griffith: ‘When we started, other beekeepers thought we were racist’

Welsh has always lent itself to prose and poetry, to music and singing. But it has never been associated with scientific matters, and beekeeping is a science. If the language is to survive, it needs to expand into all aspects of everyday life.

I run the only Welsh-language beekeeping association in Wales. I set up Cymdeithas Gwenynwyr Cymraeg Ceredigion (the Ceredigion Welsh Beekeeping Association) at the end of the 1960s with two aims: survival of the bee and survival of the language.

Our Welsh beekeeping terms are not a pure translation of English terms because word-for-word translation is meaningless. For example, in a beehive, honey is stored in the very top of the hive, in the top box. The term in English is “super” — as in “superintendent”. It means “above”. But “above” would not be used that way in Welsh. The more usual Welsh word is “lloft” — meaning “upstairs”. So, in determining new terminology, we use everyday words that make sense to a Welsh ear. I wrote a book, Dyn Y Mel (The Honeyman) in which our Welsh terms are listed. In English, the term is “beekeeper” but, again, in Welsh, “dyn y mel” is more common.

I’m well over 80 now but I started beekeeping 60 years ago. At about that time modern hives were introduced. Before then, beekeepers had used closed straw skeps — but suddenly, for the first time, they were able to see what was taking place within the hive.

Modern terms were coined to reflect these changes, which flustered the older beekeepers. Very experienced beekeepers, who were first-language Welsh, were at a loss. The terminology involved was beyond them, particularly if it was in English.

Today our association has about 30 members and we even put on an annual show in a pub for our honey and mead. Finding enough bilingual judges is always a problem. As they are tasting, the judges must comment out loud in Welsh.

Beekeeping can be hazardous. A friend went to shift a hive late one evening and didn’t bother with protective clothing; a bee crawled into his ear. We tried to get it out but couldn’t. The only way was to drown it, and the only liquid we had to hand was a bottle of brown ale. So that was poured in and the bee floated out. But there’s no special term — in Welsh or English — for these beekeeping mishaps.

Our members do not have to speak Welsh — but we are true to our founding principles. At meetings, English speakers sit next to someone bilingual — most of us are — who will quietly translate for them. After a season or so, they have a good smattering of the language.

When we started other beekeepers thought we were racist. But what is wrong with studying in our native tongue? People would not be surprised if beekeeping associations in France or Germany discussed beekeeping in French or German. Why be surprised about Welsh?

The best way to keep a language alive is to place it at the centre of everyday life. In my county, Ceredigion, Welsh is a minority language. There has been a big fall in the number of native speakers in the past 30 years, and people are realising that we are in danger of losing one of the oldest languages in Europe.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015

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One response to “Keeping Welsh (and Bees) Alive.

  1. I cannot imagine why people think this is racist. It’d be one thing if, for example, one founded an English-speaking beekeeping society in a community where people of color mostly speak an endangered language. That would encourage the death of a language, disempowering the people who speak it. But this is just encouraging people to keep speaking a struggling language, and it helps people keep bees, which is *very* constructive. So . . . huh?

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