Welsh Wikipedia Gives Me Hope

August 29th, 2019 by If you say, “Alexa, faint o’r gloch yw hi?” the smart speaker will not understand that you are asking for the time of day. That’s because Welsh is not one of the eight languages currently supported by Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices. Gareth Morlais, a Welsh language and digital media specialist for the Welsh government, has argued for years that this language gap is disturbing. In a 2017 presentation, Morlais noted that the Welsh language, then ranked 172nd in the world by number of speakers, was not supported by Alexa, Twitter, or Google’s search interface. At the time, Alexa only spoke and understood two languages: English and German. “The technology actually tells you which language your family can speak at home, which is a horror story,” Morlais said. “What we need to do here is try to shape the technology so that it speaks the same language that we want to speak.” Although Alexa still does not speak or understand Welsh, the Celtic language’s presence in tech has increased dramatically within a short period. Google announced in February that it had expanded its offerings in Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drive to include Welsh. And Google Translate—infamous since 2009 for its Scymraeg, or scummy Welsh—has, according to the BBC, recently taken a great leap forward in terms of the accuracy and quality of its Welsh translations. Morlais and others attribute this in part to the fact that there are now more than 100,000 articles on the Welsh version of Wikipedia, known as Wicipedia. Like other language editions, Wicipedia is a separate website with its own content, not simply a translation of English Wikipedia, a distinction that matters for both users and big tech companies. Back in 2017, Morlais observed, “There appears to be an indication that there is a link between the languages with the most Wikipedia articles or pages and the languages that are supported by the digital giants.” Google Translate and other technologies use artificial neural networks to learn from example, training themselves with language data from rich internet sources like Welsh Wikipedia. The Welsh community is not alone in using wiki-technology to promote its language. This year’s Celtic Knot conference in Cornwall, England, included several indigenous languages with their own Wikipedia editions. The original idea, as the name suggests, was to focus on Celtic languages, including Irish, Breton, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, and Cornish (which was declared extinct merely a decade ago), as well as Scots.* But as word got out about a Wikipedia minority language conference, others began to join, representing, for example, the Sámi language spoken in parts of Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia; the Berber family of languages spoken in Northern Africa; and the Basque and Catalan communities. (In his 2017 presentation, Morlais noted that Catalan was one of the few minority languages supported by Google search, an accomplishment he linked to the fact that Catalan already had more than 500,000 articles on its language edition of Wikipedia.) Read more: Slate

Cwtch: The hug invented by the Welsh

July 1st, 2018 by I’m a quarter Welsh. My darling grandmother grew up in the Rhondda Valley, a small mining town where her father was the school principal. She didn’t speak a lot of Welsh, other than to delight us by reciting the longest train station name in the world (Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch). I was always aware, though, of the word ‘cwtch’. She didn’t use it often, but I knew it was special; it was almost said in a whisper. I remember her using it once in hospital, when we first thought she was dying. It’s a special sort of cuddle, she said. And that it is: a ‘cwtch’ (pronounced ‘kutch’, to rhyme with ‘butch’) is the Welsh word for a cuddle or hug, but it’s also so much more than that. Its second meaning is a cubbyhole or cupboard; a small space in which to store things safely. Blend those two meanings and you get a better idea of what the word means: it’s the wrapping of your arms around someone to make them feel safe in the world. It’s precisely what my grandmother needed, and gave, as she started to see her life slip away from her. I remember nuzzling into her neck, smelling the Youth Dew perfume she wore on her papery skin, and feeling like there was no safer space in the world. That is exactly how a cwtch ought to make you feel: safe, warm, comforted. It’s an emotionally significant embrace and an intrinsically Welsh word that evokes a sense of home. My grandmother was some 17,000km from her Welsh home when she died in her sunburnt adopted home of Sydney, Australia. It is of little surprise to me that she would use that word then, wanting, probably, to transport herself back to where she grew up. It’s in times of fear, danger, distress and melancholy that we most need a cwtch. It’s not a casual gesture of affection; it’s a profound one, and it was invented by the Welsh. “It’s not just a cuddle or a hug – it’s something special and something I wouldn’t do with everyone,” said Amy Jones, a Welsh Londoner whose mother comes from Cardiff and father from the Valleys. “A cwtch is what my parents would give me when I was young and had fallen over, it’s something my husband and I do on the sofa when we’re in a blissful cocoon, it’s what I give my friends when they’re stressed or sad. A cwtch is something you do when you’re overflowing with joy and love at another person’s sheer existence in your life that you can’t help but try and squeeze that love into them; it’s a safe space of love and comfort for someone who needs it; it’s all the best parts of being alive and loving someone, in a pair of arms. Hugs are for everyone; cwtches are only for a few, very special people in my life.” Read more: BBC Travel

Inuit delegation look to Wales for language preservation lessons

December 17th, 2016 by Jeela Palluq-Cloutier, executive director of the Nunavut Language Authority, and her 16 fellow travellers are Inuit — representatives from Nunavut, Labrador, northern Quebec and the Northwest Territories. They were invited to Wales by Prince Charles in order to try and learn how to save a dying language. “In some areas of Canada’s north, the Inuit language is really thriving,” explains Palluq-Cloutier. “But there are communities where it’s gone down to 20 percent. And the speakers are only the elderly people — the youth are not speaking it anymore. So in those areas, we’re trying to bring the language back.” Wales might seem like an odd detour on the journey to revive an Inuit language but the Welsh language survival story speaks volumes. Welsh is believed be around 4,000 years old, making it the oldest language in Britain but during the mid-1900s, it almost became extinct. The language was rescued thanks to a concerted campaign over the past 25 years, which saw Welsh declared an official language and Welsh education made compulsory in public schools. Read more: Global News

Brexit may threaten the many minority languages of Britain

June 22nd, 2016 by The Cornish language has come back from the dead. Once officially branded “extinct” by the UN, the language, spoken primarily in Cornwall in Southwest England, was upgraded to “endangered” in 2010. Cornish may have come back, but its situation remains precarious. Ethnologue, a research project that catalogs the world’s languages, says that there are “no known” speakers of Cornish as a first language, though it mentions an “emerging” population of second-language speakers. Now, advocates of minority languages in the UK and Europe are warning that a British exit from the EU, or “Brexit,” could remove what little support Cornish and its linguistic counterparts already have. Voters in Britain go to the polls tomorrow (June 23) to decide whether to remain or leave the EU. “The indirect effect of Brexit on our languages is potentially disastrous,” reads a joint letter signed by representatives of various minority languages in the UK, including Welsh, Scots, Irish, and Cornish. The letter is backed by the European Language Equality Network, a non-profit group that campaigns to protect Europe’s less-spoken languages. Read more: Quartz

New book about the early history of the Welsh language finally published – in Welsh

March 9th, 2016 by It’s ironic, but until now, books about the early history of the Welsh language have not been available to read in Welsh. Students often have to turn to English resources if they want to benefit from the latest research in the field. Now a new e-book, published last week by a Russian academic sheds new light on the subject. Llawlyfr Hen Gymraeg (‘Old Welsh Handbook’) by Dr Alexander Falileyev is the first comprehensive description of Old Welsh to be published in the Welsh language. Old Welsh refers to the period between the ninth century and the early twelfth century in the history of the language. Read more: Wales Online‎

Music ‘helping to keep Welsh language alive in Patagonia’

October 30th, 2015 by Music is helping to keep the Welsh language alive in Patagonia, harpist and composer Catrin Finch has said. She has been in the Welsh-speaking part of Argentina with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC NOW) to mark 150 years since Welsh settlers arrived. Ysgol yr Hendre, the bilingual Welsh-Spanish school in Trelew, has hosted performances during a week of events. Ms Finch said it was "incredible" to visit a Patagonian school where all the pupils speak Welsh. "I think it's the music that is keeping the language alive," she said after the school visit. Read more: BBC News