This is the seventeenth contribution to our Welsh Keywords series – inspired by Raymond Williams’ Keywords – which offers contemporary perspectives on contested meanings of words in Welsh and how these shifting meanings continue to shape our society.More excerpts from Planet 221
by Greg Hill
In the Introduction to his work Keywords, Raymond Williams defines two senses in which such words are significant. In Wales both ‘translate’ and ‘cyfieithu’ are certainly keywords in the first of his two senses: ‘significant, binding words in certain activities and their interpretation’. What I’d like to look at here is the sense in which they are, in his second sense, ‘significant, indicative words in certain forms of thought’. To do this I will look at the role of translation in Wales today and the significance of the word ‘cyfieithu’ as an indicator of cultural identity. There are in fact two words for ‘translate’ in Welsh. The one most commonly used is cyfieithu. The other is trosi, which equates more exactly with the English word ‘translate’ in the sense of a passing over from one language to another. Cyfieithu, due to the prefix ‘cyf’, which is suggestive of unity and togetherness, implies a bringing together of languages rather than a movement between them. The fact that cyfieithu is the more common word may therefore be regarded as a significant indicator of the importance of translation in the bilingual community that is Wales.
This is so as much for those who do not need the translations as for those who do. But what can be regarded as a mutual association (cyfundeb) might also be regarded by others using the term cyfieithu as no more than a transaction, despite the unifying connotation of ‘cyf’ as opposed to ‘trans’. Certainly many of the formal translations found on signage and correspondence created by public bodies, businesses and other groups are in the latter category. Necessary as such transactions are, they are only productive of meaning in the context of a felt perception that the Welsh language is a necessary component of Welsh identity. Where it can be argued that translations are undertaken in order for something to be shared rather than simply text passed on for someone else to use, the full potential of the word in Welsh is realised. In this sense, cyfieithu can be regarded as a verb implying partnership rather than an indicator of difference.Buy the issue or subscribe here
Greg Hill was editor of The Anglo-Welsh Review and has contributed poetry and criticism to publications in Wales and beyond. His poetry collection Creatures was published in 2015.
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