My dad set me this challenge, to tie in with "conquering" Snowdon. My friend Sarah also set me the challenge to learn some swearwords in a foreign language, so I combined the two.

When I was a teenager, it slowly dawned on me that I was quite good at learning languages. I never had a problem memorising vocab or verb endings, could mimic accents, and always seemed to do well in exams without even trying. I did a school exchange to Germany and realised how quickly I was absorbing the new words and phrases around me, and that I wanted more, more, more. I'm not quite sure who I inherited the skill from - it must have skipped a generation somewhere. My parents only took me on holidays abroad once I hit adolescence so I could do all the talking for them. Not that Little Miss Stroppy Teen was willing to oblige, of course. I also benefited from having a couple of particularly good teachers at school. My A Level French Literature teacher was somewhat eccentric, immensely talented and intolerant of fools, which made her both terrifying and awe-inspiring. She owned a battered old farmhouse in Provence long before Peter Mayle made it fashionable, and spent every summer there, studying Impressionist art and pottering about with the locals. She was as passionate about Star Trek as she was Maupassant and her classes on Racine's Phedre made me go home and try to write French poetry in rhyming couplets. How on earth did she do that? It's true what the adverts say - no one ever forgets a good teacher. (You don't forget a bad one either.)

I set myself the typically rational teenage ambition of learning every single language in the world and decided that one day I would be in interpreter at the United Nations. It's quite depressing to see how far off the mark I've ended up. It doesn't help that I didn't end up completing a degree in modern languages - I started one at the University of Sheffield in 1992 but left after six months because it was - not to put too fine a point on it - crap. I chose Sheffield because the course would enable me to study four languages at once and because my boyfriend at the time told me not to go there. But the course ended up being rather different to the one described in the prospectus - all the literature and history classes were taught in English and when we did get to speak some French and German (about once a week), most of my fellow students could barely string a sentence together. I suddenly realised how good the language teaching at my school must have been. I ended up taking myself off to Germany to go to university in Heidelberg for a year in a bid to get the German fluency I craved. I then came home to do a degree in Linguistics at the University of York. I loved Linguistics, but it didn't set me up for a job at the United Nations, alas. My degree did involve a year and a half of Mandarin Chinese, which is as exotically near to my teenage ambition as I've got so far. Otherwise, I've only managed reasonable French and German, GCSE level Italian, a few words of Polish picked up when I taught English at a summer school on the Baltic coast and a bit of Danish from a couple of extended holidays there and watching too many episodes of

*The Killing*. Regretfully, all my languages are horribly rusty now, as I never get a chance to use them. I also tried to learn Spanish when we moved to York through the university's Languages For All scheme, but I just got it muddled up with Italian. I also didn't get on with the class at all, as the teacher was desperately trying to make it "fun" for a bunch of disinterested 18 year olds. I was the annoying one in the corner tutting "Stop making me sing pop songs and tell me how to form the pluperfect tense instead." Get rid of the games and bring back grammar, I tell you! (That is the short version of my treatise on foreign language teaching in this country.)
So Welsh, eh? Well, I'd never had a go at any of the Celtic language either, only laughed at them on signposts. Here we go. I promise you I am writing all of this out from memory and haven't just copied and pasted it in from the Internet:

1 = un (pronounced

*een*)
2 = dau (pron.

*die*)
3 = tri (pron.

*tree*)
4 = pedwar

5 = pump (pron.

*pimp*)
6 = chwech (pron.

*[x]wear[x]*where [x] is a voiceless velar fricative like in Scottish*loch*)
7 = saith (pron.

*sigh*-*th*)
8 = wyth (pron.

*oith*)
9 = naw (pron.

*now*)
10 = deg (pron.

*day-g*, though the vowel is more like Cardinal 2 [e] for you phoneticians out there...)
11 = un deg un

12 = un deg dau

13 = un deg tri

14 = un deg pedwar

15 = un deg pump

16 = un deg chwech

17 = un deg saith

18 = un deg wyth

19 = un deg naw

20 = dau ddeg (the dd is a voiced alveolar fricative, like at the beginning of

*that*)
21 = dau ddeg un

22 = dau ddeg dau

23 = dau ddeg tri

24 = dau ddeg pedwar

25 = dau ddeg pump

26 = dau ddeg chwech

27 = dau ddeg saith

28 = dau ddeg wyth

29 = dau ddeg naw

30 = tri deg

31 = tri deg un

32 = tri deg dau

33 = tri deg tri

34 = tri deg pedwar

35 = tri deg pump

36 = tri deg chwech

37 = tri deg saith

38 = tri deg wyth

39 = tri deg naw

40 = pedwar deg

41 = pedwar deg un

42 = pedwar deg dau

43 = pedwar deg tri

44 = pedwar deg pedwar

45 = pedwar deg pump

46 = pedwar deg chwech

47 = pedwar deg saith

48 = pedwar deg wyth

49 = pedwar deg naw

50 = pum deg

51 = pum deg un

52 = pum deg dau

53 = pum deg tri

54 = pum deg pedwar

55 = pum deg pump

56 = pum deg chwech

57 = pum deg saith

58 = pum deg wyth

59 = pum deg naw

60 = chwe deg

61 = chwe deg un

62 = chwe deg dau

63 = chwe deg tri

64 = chwe deg pedwar

65 = chwe deg pump

66 = chwe deg chwech

67 = chwe deg saith

68 = chwe deg wyth

69 = chwe deg naw

70 = saith deg

71 = saith deg un

72 = saith deg dau

73 = saith deg tri

74 = saith deg pedwar

75 = saith deg pump

76 = saith deg chwech

77 = saith deg saith

78 = saith deg wyth

79 = saith deg naw

80 = wyth deg

81 = wyth deg un

82 = wyth deg dau

83 = wyth deg tri

84 = wyth deg pedwar

85 = wyth deg pump

86 = wyth deg chwech

87 = wyth deg saith

88 = wyth deg wyth

89 = wyth deg naw

90 = naw deg

91 = naw deg un

92 = naw deg dau

93 = naw deg tri

94 = naw deg pedwar

95 = naw deg pump

96 = naw deg chwech

97= naw deg saith

98 = naw deg wyth

99 = naw deg naw

100 = cant

Phew! Now, even though I can't pick up languages as easily as I used to, this all struck me as surprisingly logical. Which isn't what you'd expect from a language that has mutating nouns, starts every sentence with a verb and thinks

*Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch*is a sensible village name. Unfortunately, it turns out this logic is deliberate. These are the new decimal Welsh numbers, devised after Welsh language schools became widespread and they needed an easy way to do maths. The original Welsh numbers were on a vigesimal system, which is apparently still used in telling the time and in counting money, and by older speakers of the language. A vigesimal system has a base of 20 rather than of 10. You see remnants of one in French, where 99 is*quatre-vingt-dix-neuf*, literally "four twenty nineteen", or in traditional English phrases such as "four score years and three", meaning 83. (Incidentally, the French-speaking Swiss have wiped out the vigesimal in their numbers too - 70, 80 and 90 are*septante*,*octante*(or*huitante*in some cantons) and*nonante*.)
So this meant that I had to learn a whole other way to count to 100 too. I'd like to think my dad knew this and was deliberately setting me a really hard challenge, but no. He just got lucky.

1-10 are the same as above.

11 = un ar ddeg (so we're more old-fashioned here, literally "one and ten")

12 = deuddeg

13 = tri ar ddeg

14 = pedwar ar ddeg

15 = pymtheg

16 = un ar bymtheg (one and fifteen and look, that noun just mutated at the beginning)

17 = dau ar bymtheg

18 = deunaw (two nines)

19 = pedwar ar bymtheg

20 = ugain

21 = un ar hugain

22 = dau ar hugain

23 = tri ar hugain

24 = pedwar ar hugain

25 = pump ar hugain

26 = chwech ar hugain

27 = saith ar hugain

28 = wyth ar hugain

29 = naw ar hugain

30 = deg ar hugain (ten and twenty)

31 = un ar ddeg ar hugain (eleven and twenty)

32 = deuddeg ar hugain

33 = tri ar ddeg ar hugain

34 = pedwar ar ddeg ar hugain

35 = pymtheg ar hugain

36 = un ar bymtheg ar hugain

37 = dau ar bymtheg ar hugain

38 = deunaw ar hugain (eighteen and twenty)

39 = pedwar ar bymtheg ar hugain

40 = deugain (two twenties)

41 = un ar deugain

42 = dau ar deugain

43 = tri ar deugain

44 = pedwar ar deugain

45 = pump ar deugain

46 = chwech ar deugain

47 = saith ar deugain

48 = wyth ar deugain

49 = naw ar deugain

50 = hanner cant (half a hundred) when on its own, otherwise deg ar deugain

51 = un ar ddeg ar deugain

52 = deuddeg ar deugain

53 = tri ar ddeg ar deugain

54 = pedwar ar ddeg ar deugain

55 = pymtheg ar deugain

56 = un ar bymtheg ar deugain

57 = dau ar bymtheg ar deugain

58 = deunaw ar deugain

59 = pedwar ar bymtheg ar deugain

60 = trigain (three twenties)

61 = un ar trigain

62 = dau ar trigain

63 = tri ar trigain

64 = pedwar ar trigain

65 = pump ar trigain

66 = chwech ar trigain

67 = saith ar trigain

68 = wyth ar trigain

69 = naw ar trigain

70 = deg ar trigain

71 = un ar ddeg ar trigain

72 = deuddeg ar trigain

73 = tri ar ddeg ar trigain

74 = pedwar ar ddeg ar trigain

75 = pymtheg ar trigain

76 = un ar bymtheg ar trigain

77 = dau ar bymtheg ar trigain

78 = deunaw ar trigain

79 = pedwar ar bymtheg ar trigain

80 = pedwar ugain (four twenties)

81 = un ar pedwar ugain

82 = dau ar pedwar ugain

83 = tri ar pedwar ugain

84 = pedwar ar pedwar ugain

85 = pump ar pedwar ugain

86 = chwech ar pedwar ugain

87 = saith ar pedwar ugain

88 = wyth ar pedwar ugain

89 = naw ar pedwar ugain

90 = deg ar pedwar ugain

91 = un ar ddeg ar pedwar ugain

92 = deuddeg ar pedwar ugain

93 = tri ar ddeg ar pedwar ugain

94 = pedwar ar ddeg ar pedwar ugain

95 = pymtheg ar pedwar ugain

96 = un ar bymtheg ar pedwar ugain

97 = dau ar bymtheg ar pedwar ugain

98 = deunaw ar pedwar ugain

99 = pedwar ar bymtheg ar pedwar ugain

100 = cant (same as above)

11 = un ar ddeg (so we're more old-fashioned here, literally "one and ten")

12 = deuddeg

13 = tri ar ddeg

14 = pedwar ar ddeg

15 = pymtheg

16 = un ar bymtheg (one and fifteen and look, that noun just mutated at the beginning)

17 = dau ar bymtheg

18 = deunaw (two nines)

19 = pedwar ar bymtheg

20 = ugain

21 = un ar hugain

22 = dau ar hugain

23 = tri ar hugain

24 = pedwar ar hugain

25 = pump ar hugain

26 = chwech ar hugain

27 = saith ar hugain

28 = wyth ar hugain

29 = naw ar hugain

30 = deg ar hugain (ten and twenty)

31 = un ar ddeg ar hugain (eleven and twenty)

32 = deuddeg ar hugain

33 = tri ar ddeg ar hugain

34 = pedwar ar ddeg ar hugain

35 = pymtheg ar hugain

36 = un ar bymtheg ar hugain

37 = dau ar bymtheg ar hugain

38 = deunaw ar hugain (eighteen and twenty)

39 = pedwar ar bymtheg ar hugain

40 = deugain (two twenties)

41 = un ar deugain

42 = dau ar deugain

43 = tri ar deugain

44 = pedwar ar deugain

45 = pump ar deugain

46 = chwech ar deugain

47 = saith ar deugain

48 = wyth ar deugain

49 = naw ar deugain

50 = hanner cant (half a hundred) when on its own, otherwise deg ar deugain

51 = un ar ddeg ar deugain

52 = deuddeg ar deugain

53 = tri ar ddeg ar deugain

54 = pedwar ar ddeg ar deugain

55 = pymtheg ar deugain

56 = un ar bymtheg ar deugain

57 = dau ar bymtheg ar deugain

58 = deunaw ar deugain

59 = pedwar ar bymtheg ar deugain

60 = trigain (three twenties)

61 = un ar trigain

62 = dau ar trigain

63 = tri ar trigain

64 = pedwar ar trigain

65 = pump ar trigain

66 = chwech ar trigain

67 = saith ar trigain

68 = wyth ar trigain

69 = naw ar trigain

70 = deg ar trigain

71 = un ar ddeg ar trigain

72 = deuddeg ar trigain

73 = tri ar ddeg ar trigain

74 = pedwar ar ddeg ar trigain

75 = pymtheg ar trigain

76 = un ar bymtheg ar trigain

77 = dau ar bymtheg ar trigain

78 = deunaw ar trigain

79 = pedwar ar bymtheg ar trigain

80 = pedwar ugain (four twenties)

81 = un ar pedwar ugain

82 = dau ar pedwar ugain

83 = tri ar pedwar ugain

84 = pedwar ar pedwar ugain

85 = pump ar pedwar ugain

86 = chwech ar pedwar ugain

87 = saith ar pedwar ugain

88 = wyth ar pedwar ugain

89 = naw ar pedwar ugain

90 = deg ar pedwar ugain

91 = un ar ddeg ar pedwar ugain

92 = deuddeg ar pedwar ugain

93 = tri ar ddeg ar pedwar ugain

94 = pedwar ar ddeg ar pedwar ugain

95 = pymtheg ar pedwar ugain

96 = un ar bymtheg ar pedwar ugain

97 = dau ar bymtheg ar pedwar ugain

98 = deunaw ar pedwar ugain

99 = pedwar ar bymtheg ar pedwar ugain

100 = cant (same as above)

And now the swear words. My pronunciation guide on the numbers was a six year old girl, so obviously I couldn't ask her about the rude stuff. And somewhat disappointingly, despite being called

*Street Welsh*, my phrase book didn't contain any swearwords. But unsurprisingly, there's plenty of websites devoted to the subject. Scouring through them, I picked three insults that were spelled consistently across pages and which would keep their English translations free of f-words. This also probably makes them more authentically Welsh:
1. Cer i grafu (pron.

*kerry-graffy*) = go and scratch
2. T'in coc oen = (

*tin cock-oin*) you are a lamb's male appendage
3. Dos i chwarae efo dy nain (

I'm still a long way from the United Nations, though if a Plaid Cymru member who can only speak like a Numtum with Tourette's ever ends up on the Security Council, I'm sure I'll be the first person they call.

*dossy [x]wa-ray efo dee nine*) = go and play with your grandmotherI'm still a long way from the United Nations, though if a Plaid Cymru member who can only speak like a Numtum with Tourette's ever ends up on the Security Council, I'm sure I'll be the first person they call.

What a fascinating post!

ReplyDeleteLLongyfarchiadau, ar mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn llyswennod.

Can you say that in every language, Damien?

ReplyDeleteWow! This is so interesting. (And your Dad came up with a doozy!) My aged friend Scotty swears in Welsh a fair bit--she grew up in Wales and Glasgow during The War. She's popular with the workmen in her building here in Virginia because she taught them to say "F you" in Welsh, Somali and Igbo. She also spent years in Africa working for the foreign service, where she loved nothing better than insulting someone with a smile on her face, knowing they won't understand a word of Welsh. I hope you find this skill as useful as she did! I love your 30 Steps challenge and I'm thinking about what my own list is. I love following your progress.

ReplyDeleteExcellent!

ReplyDelete