Welsh English: Iorwerth talks about life in the village in the 1920s



This recording is an example of a Welsh English speaker.

Iorwerth’s speech is typical of bilingual Welsh/English speakers in Dyfi Valley in Mid Wales. His accent shows a number of typical signs of phonological interference – the use of pronunciation features from his mother tongue, Welsh, in his other language, English.

Welsh influence

Listen, for instance, to the very distinctive <r> sound he uses in the following words: right, three, every, everything, Aberhosan, grocer, country, remember and trap. While most speakers in England produce an <r> sound by raising the tongue towards the roof of the mouth with the sides curled upwards, he uses a uvular ‘r’ – a sound produced at the back of the throat. This is not unlike the <r> sound we associate with French and some German accents and is the usual pronunciation of <r> in the Welsh spoken in North Wales.

The Welsh spoken in the north of Wales also lacks the <j> sound and the <z> sound that we encounter in English words like job and jobs respectively and thus the English spoken by many Welsh speakers in the north is often caricatured as having stereotypical pronunciations such as ‘iss’ for is. Although it is seldom so clear-cut you can hear Iorwerth use a sound similar to <sh> or <ch> here in the final consonant of the word village and an <s> sound on several words, including farms, pigs, was, names, potatoes, things, cars and horses.

Anglo-Welsh grammar

He also uses two grammatical constructions that have been transferred from corresponding constructions in Welsh. Listen, first of all, to the statements my father, he was farming on the farm; and they were all keeping pigs; my mother was doing that; well, all the farm women were doing the same; they were not, uh, depending too much on the shop at that time; well, they were selling everything. The use of a progressive tense usually implies an action is ongoing, so speakers of most dialects of English would have used simple past constructions here – he farmed, theykept, my mother did, all the farm women did, they depended and they sold. The use of a progressive tense for a completed action is, however, particularly common among older speakers whose first language is Welsh.

Use of tag questions

Finally, the use of the phrase isn’t it in the statements a maid or two in the house, like, isn’t it; two or three pigs were killed every autumn, yeah, to get plenty of food, isn’t it; Aberhosan people started to go down on the bus to Machynlleth to do their bit of shopping, isn’t it; there were about two or three horses there working on the farm, isn’t it; and ‘trap’ I think you call it, isn’t it is particularly interesting. We use tag-questions, such as don’t you, couldn’t he, wasn’t it and so on, at the end of statements to confirm that a listener has understood what we are talking about or to invite them to confirm or dispute something we have just said.

In Standard English, however, a tag-question refers back to the subject of the previous clause and thus, for instance, the statement ‘trap’ I think you call it, isn’t it would normally be rendered ‘trap’ I think you call it, don’t you. Many speakers in Wales and in the West Country, however, use an invariant, universal tag-questionisn’t it – in much the same way as French speakers use n’est-ce pas – without modifying the construction. Indeed many younger speakers throughout the UK now use a similar variant, innit, that has been variously ascribed to use among the British Caribbean or British Asian communities, albeit with a very different pronunciation from the one Iorwerth uses here. Perhaps the apparently rapid spread of the all-purpose tag, innit, among young speakers everywhere could in part at least be attributed to the fact that it is also part of a more native British tradition, as evidenced by Iorwerth here.

About the speaker

Iorwerth George Anwyl Jones (b.1922/06/23; male, retired huntsman)



Kerry: Who did what in terms of, uhm, you know, responsibility? Was your father wor, out working all day and your mother stayed in the home or

Iorwerth: Yes, quite.

Kerry: How did it work?

Iorwerth: That's right, yeah. Aye. Oh yeah, yeah, my father, he was farming, you see, on the farm. Yeah, and my mother looking after the, the house, like, yeah. Yes. Aye aye.

Kerry: Do you remember, uhm, when you were, you know, do you have vivid memories of when you were small and the house?

Iorwerth: Oh, yes, yes, yes. Yeah. Oh yes.

Kerry: Did your mother cook a lot?

Iorwerth: She did, yes. And there were, there were, well, all the farms at that time, they had servants – two or three – and a maid or two in, in the house, like, isn't it? And they were all keeping pigs for their, you know. And, uh, two or three pigs were killed every autumn. Yeah. To get plenty of food, isn't it? Yeah, yeah.

Kerry: Were they all cured and salted?

Iorwerth: Oh yes, yes. And my mother was doing that. Well, the l, all the farm-women were doing the same. Yeah, yeah.

Kerry: Where would the, and then you'd hang that and keep that, eat that over the winter?

Iorwerth: Yes, yes, hanging it, uh, in the k, in the back-kitchen or somewhere. Yes.

Kerry: Do you, do you remember the?

Iorwerth: Oh yes. Yeah, yeah. Aye aye.

Kerry: What else did you eat? Did you?

Iorwerth: Well, uh, you see they had plenty of potatoes and everything like that, because they were farming. They were not, uh, not depending too much on the shops at that time.

Kerry: Where were the shops?

Iorwerth: There was a shop in, in Aberhosan, in the village. And a good one, too, yeah.

Kerry: What did it sell? Everything?

Iorwerth: Yes, grocer, like. Well, they were selling everything indeed. Yes. Yeah. Aye.

Kerry: And then, and then there'd be shops in Machynlleth as well, would there?

Iorwerth: Oh yes, yes. And then, uh, things started to change, you see. And the bus was going up to Aberhosan twice a week. And Aber, Aberhosan people started to go down on the bus to Machynlleth to do their bit of shopping, isn't it? And I think that was the first, well, first move, like, isn't it, out in the country.

Kerry: Do you re, do you, has that happened in your lifetime?

Iorwerth: Oh yes. Oh yeah, I remember the shop in Aberhosan there, yes.

Kerry: And how did you get about as a family? Did you have a, what mode of transport did you use?

Iorwerth: Oh yeah, yes. No motor cars. Well, there's a trap and a pony. Yeah.

Kerry: Wonderful.

Iorwerth: Yeah, trap and a pony, yeah, yeah.

Kerry: How lovely! Did you have a, just, a lot of horses or just the one?

Iorwerth: No, there were about two or three horses there working on the farm, isn't it? And the pony, of course, uh, in the trap. 'Trap' I think you call it, isn't it? Yeah.

Kerry: Nice, huh?

Iorwerth: There you are.

Kerry: So you had pigs to eat? And presumably you fed the pigs on the household waste?

Iorwerth: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Yes. Yes, yes.

Kerry: Then you had the horses to work on the farm. What was it? Sheep farming or did he, did your father plough as well, or what?

Iorwerth: Oh plough, yeah. Oh yeah, yeah.

Kerry: Yeah?

Iorwerth: Yes, everything, everything. Aye aye. Wheat and corn, everything like that, you know.

Kerry: I see.

Iorwerth: Yes, yes. Yeah, yeah.

Kerry: And you remember all that?

Iorwerth: Yes.

Welsh English: Iorwerth talks about life in the village in the 1920s
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