Archivists share phrasebook helping English speak to Welsh ‘peasants’

A 180-year-old phrasebook has been unearthed by archivists to teach English tourists how to speak to Welsh “peasants”.

The Welsh Interpreter was first printed in London in 1838 and carries the quotation “Adapted for Tourists, who may wish to make themselves understood by the peasantry during their rambles through Wales”.

The guide offers a range of Welsh language phrases claimed to be essential to the English traveller to Wales in Victorian times, as well as help with pronunciation.

Phrases include “My good friend, is this the way to ____?” (Fy nghyfaill addfwyn, ai hon yw y ffordd i ____?), and “Are you a Welshman?” (Ai Cymro ydych chwi?).

A page from The Welsh Interpreter (Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives)

Tips for English tourists who choose to explore the Welsh mountainside include being able to tell a Welshman “You are giddy because you look down” (Y’r ydych wedi pendroni o rhan i chwi edrych i lawr) as well as “Do not look down” (Peidiwch ag edrych i lawr).

Introductory remarks in the phrasebook say: “If any apology were necessary for presenting ‘The Welsh Interpreter’ to the notice of the public, it might suffice simply to state the impossibility of English tourists being understood by the mass of the Welsh peasantry, of whom it may be exceedingly convenient occasionally to ask a few useful and necessary questions, especially while travelling through the more obscure and remote districts.”

Welsh phrases in The Welsh Interpreter phrasebook (Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives)

It was written by Thomas Roberts of Llwynrhudol, Pwllheli, a businessman and a co-founder of London’s Cymreigyddion Society, a social, cultural and debating society for ex-pats living in the English capital.

The hardback version belonged to Welsh barrister and author Enoch Salisbury, who died in 1890, and whose life collection of Welsh phrasebooks and textbooks – considered the earliest library dedicated to all things Welsh – is now available online and in person at Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives service.

This phrasebook has been shared as part of the annual Explore Your Archive week, organised by the UK Archives and Records Association, and supported in Wales by Archives and Records Council Wales.

Other historical items unearthed by archivists and shared for the campaign include a Welsh poster from the 1930s promoting the “medicinal” properties of wine and spirits.

A 1932 poster detailing the “medicinal properties of wine” (Pembrokeshire Archives)

The poster, from James Williams Ltd, former alcohol wholesalers based in Narberth, Pembrokeshire, describes Champagne as “a remedy for pneumonia, bronchitis and influenzas”, Burgundy “to help anaemia and exhaustion” and claims Brandy can “reduce temperatures and helps the action of the heart”.

Hayden Burns, chair of Archives and Records Council Wales, said: “The historic collections held by Welsh archive services are the documented memory of the people, events and places of Wales.

“They tell our stories and in doing so, they connect us with the past and give us a sense of identity.”

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