English v Welsh: Which language is balderdash?

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1. Stereotypes of the English language

The English language is a global superpower, and its native speakers are often perceived to be notoriously bad at learning other languages. But are we more multilingual than we think?

English has borrowed and assimilated words from different languages and cultures for centuries. Some of these loanwords have come from distant lands and ancient tongues, but others have been introduced from sources much closer to home.

Using Welsh as an example, we can see how two very different languages can share a surprising number of similarities. The fact that you may know more Welsh than you thought isn't just balderdash...

2. Share and share alike

‘Balderdash’ is only one of the hundreds of words shared between English and Welsh.

It is often assumed that Welsh has borrowed and adapted several words from English, but in fact a large number of Welsh words, just like French and many other European languages, simply share a common ancestry with English.

Numerous Welsh words were borrowed from Latin into an early form of the language.

These words were usually ones that would have been unknown to the local people before the Romans arrived and are often associated with market terminology, new technology, food, the church and days of the week.

For example, taverna in Latin gave rise to the forms tavern (Eng), taverne (Fr) and tafarn (W), and the Latin word fructus developed into fruit (Eng), fruit (Fr) and ffrwyth (W).

Note that in Welsh the letter f is pronounced like v, and ff in Welsh sounds like the English f. The distinction is the same as in the English words of and off.

3. Welsh inheritance

Click on the place names within the map to learn more about the Welsh connection to each area.

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The earliest evidence of English adopting words from Welsh can be seen in place names the length and breadth of England. Brythonic, an early form of Welsh, was once spoken throughout most of Britain. As a result, many place names in England, along with the names of most major rivers, have strong Celtic connections.

4. Welsh loanwords in English

A closer look at some Welsh words that have been borrowed into English. Are you able to speak more Welsh than you realised?

5. Are we all multilingual?

There is some resistance to the incorporation of loanwords in certain countries, but most people regard borrowings as a way of making a language more culturally diverse.

It’s also a good way of helping learners bridge the gap while trying to master another tongue.

Thanks to globalisation and mass communication, languages the world over now draw on loanwords to create colourful linguistic patchworks that just keep on growing.

Studies consistently show that the ability to speak more than one language is beneficial to the brain and can even stave off dementia.

6. Guess the word

Which of these English words are Welsh borrowings?

Lawn

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Lawn

Correct!

Lawn comes from a Celtic word that became ‘llan’ in Welsh. ‘Llan’ is seen in many Welsh place names, and means a piece of wooded ground, often around a church.

Crow

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Crow

Incorrect!

Crow is not a borrowing. The Welsh for crow is ‘brân’ and is seen in a character’s name from the medieval tales The Mabinogion - Branwen (white crow).

Harp

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Harp

Incorrect!

It may be the national instrument of Wales, but harp is not a loanword from Welsh. The Welsh word for a harp is ‘telyn’.

Corgi

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Corgi

Correct!

Corgi means a dwarf dog in Welsh. The Pembroke Welsh corgi and the Cardigan Welsh corgi are named after two areas in Wales.