- Official languages: English, Welsh
- Language family (Welsh): Celtic
- Interesting facts (Welsh): UK’s oldest language, 28 letters including ll, features mutations
As footy-on-the-box memories go, it’s up there with watching second-tier Argentinian players chase the referee around every week on TransWorld Sport.
Before satellite saturation and the frustrations of internet streaming, getting your football-watching fix was not something you took for granted. But if you lived in Wales or near enough to pick up the signal, Welsh-language channel S4C had an ace in the hole with Sgorio and its continental football highlights.
Sgorio (lit. “score”) thrives to this day, and has played its part in spreading the use of Welsh in the context of football. The title is a bona-fide football catchphrase in Cymru, best said while holding the last o excitably for a good 5 seconds. And thanks to the show, there are many – such as your author – who have no other talent for the language but can reel off phrases like arbediad campus gan Casillas – “great save by Casillas” – with a positively bardic flourish.
(OK, I’ve never met an actual bard to have this confirmed).
Thanks to a lengthy campaign of repression down the centuries, English is the dominant language in Wales, and among the national team it’s no different. That said, the government works to ensure that Welsh continues to be taught, learned and used, while the media does its bit in keeping the language of football alive and kicking.
What Welsh is like
Cymraeg has its share of throaty sounds and can be a difficult one to get your mouth around, as well as being musical, expressive and host to some lovely turns of phrase.
It’s from a separate language family to English, and so bears little resemblence, apart from where loan-words creep in. This difference might explain why some were baffled, and gave Aaron Ramsey stick for tweeting in Welsh.
Welsh words like cwtch (cuddle) and cariad (love) have crossed into the English spoken in Wales, while penguin (pen meaning head and guin meaning white) is a nice example of a word that the language has (we think) given to the wider world (pingvin – Croatian, pengouin – French etc).
Much of the language of football involves direct translation or borrowing from English, but there are a couple of suitably poetic exceptions.
If Gareth Bale were to ditch the CR7-valve-punt-thunderbastards and give his free kicks a more sensual curl, it would be known as a crymanu. This comes from the noun cryman, meaning “scythe”, and gives a nice visual idea of the arc a well-struck ball should take.
An interesting old North Wallian expression comes in the form of cicio gwynt. This literally means “to kick the wind”, but is also used for “to play football” and, tellingly, “to waste one’s time in unprofitable pastimes”. How much this reflected attitudes towards the game in 19th century Wales, we can’t say, although traditionally the North has been more predisposed to football than much of the South.
Who speaks what
Welsh speakers include Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies and Owain Fôn Williams. Assistant national coach Osian Roberts is also fluent, while captain Ashley Williams is learning.
Allen, Ramsey and Davies are from the south, and are known as hwntws (from tu hwnt roughly meaning ‘far away over there’ or ‘beyond’), while Fôn Williams is a Gog (from gogledd, meaning “north”).
This means some big differences in vocabulary, grammar and accent. A useful football sentence like “Do you want a cup of tea?” could be phrased anything from Dach chi isio panad? in Fon Williams’ native Gwynedd, to Ych chi’n moyn dishgled?, or Ych chi isie paned? in the south
What the crowd sings
The Welsh national anthem – Hen Wlad fy Nhadau (“Land of my fathers”) – is belted out with some gusto before the games, and is sung in Welsh. Various national team managers including Gary Speed have worked to encourage players to learn how to sing the anthem, with it often being taught fo-net-i-ca-lee.
As may be obvious, we at TLOF have a real soft spot for Welsh, and how could we not?
With thanks to Fran Dimech at S4C, Mathew Thomas with the Welsh Language Commissioner, Andrew Hawke at the Dictionary of the Welsh Language and, once again, Dr. Jonathan Ervine at the University of Bangor.