What Does A Language Mean To People

Map of Aotearoa New Zealand overlaid upon the UK

I have called two countries home, Wales and New Zealand.
I have called two countries home, Cymru and Aotearoa.

Whilst I can only converse with one language and therefore possess one overriding world view I am deeply aware that this is just one of many many ways of viewing the human experience.

Language is everything. Your language is everything, all languages are everything.
Languages also convey unique cultures. Cherokee, for example, has no word for goodbye, only “I will see you again”. Likewise, no phrase exists for “I’m sorry”. On the other hand, it has special expressions all its own. One word – oo-kah-huh-sdee –represents the mouth-watering, cheek-pinching delight experienced when seeing an adorable baby or a kitten. “All of these things convey a culture, a way of interpreting human behaviour and emotion that’s not conveyed the same way as in the English language,” Belt says. Without the language, the culture itself might teeter, or even disappear. “If we are to survive, to continue on and to exist as a people with a distinct and unique culture,” he continues, “then we have to have a language.”

“It’s very hard as an English speaker to understand that,” adds Lenore Grenoble, a linguist at the University of Chicago. “But you just hear that time and time again: that people feel the loss of their language in a very personal way.”

[source: BBC: Languages: Why we must save dying tongues]

I don't, as I write this, have the words to express what someone's culture means to an individual. We can all see it and it's loss when it's taken away or loss, but when it's deep within I can't explain the warmth and safety and solidity that it imbues. Check out the faces of those singing this Welsh song ... 

"Yma o Hyd", Dafydd Iwan (1983)

Dwyt ti'm yn cofio Macsen
Does neb yn ei nabod o
Mae mil a chwe chant o flynyddoedd
Yn amser rhy hir i'r co'
Pan aeth Magnus Maximus o Gymru
Yn y flwyddyn tri-chant-wyth-tri
A'n gadael yn genedl gyfan
A heddiw: wele ni!

You don't remember Macsen,
nobody knows him.
One thousand and six hundred years,
a time too long to remember.
When Magnus Maximus left Wales,
in the year 383,
leaving us a whole nation,
and today - look at us!

Ry'n ni yma o hyd
Ry'n ni yma o hyd
Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth
Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth
Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth
Ry'n ni yma o hyd
Ry'n ni yma o hyd
Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth
Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth
Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth
Ry'n ni yma o hyd

We are still here,
we are still here,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything.
We are still here,
we are still here,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything,
in spite of everyone and everything.
We are still here.

Chwythed y gwynt o'r Dwyrain
Rhued y storm o'r môr
Hollted y mellt yr wybren
A gwaedded y daran encôr
Llifed dagrau'r gwangalon
A llyfed y taeog y llawr
Er dued yw'r fagddu o'n cwmpas
Ry'n ni'n barod am doriad y wawr!

Let the wind blow from the East,
let the storm roar from the sea,
let the lightning split the heavens,
and the thunder shout "encore!"
Let the tears of the faint-hearted flow,
and the servile lick the floor.
Despite the blackness around us,
we are ready for the breaking of the dawn!

Cofiwn i Facsen Wledig
Adael ein gwlad yn un darn
A bloeddiwn gerbron y gwledydd
Mi fyddwn yma tan Ddydd y Farn!
Er gwaetha pob Dic Siôn Dafydd
Er gwaetha 'rhen Fagi a'i chriw
Byddwn yma hyd ddiwedd amser
A bydd yr iaith Gymraeg yn fyw!

We remember that Macsen the Emperor
left our country in one whole piece.
And we shall shout before the nations,
"We'll be here until Judgement Day!"
Despite every Dic Siôn Dafydd,
despite old Maggie and her crew,
we'll be here until the end of time,
and the Welsh language will be alive!

[source: Yma o Hyd full lyrics, meaning and why Wales football fans started singing it]

I dedicate this post to Siaron, trysor Cymreig go iawn i'r iaith.

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