by Tony Bianchi
This is the eighteenth 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.
I’ve just visited Cardiff’s Old Library to take a look at what the Menter Caerdydd website claims to be the capital city’s ‘first Welsh Cultural Centre’. This facility incorporates the existing Cardiff Story museum; otherwise it is dedicated primarily to the promotion of the Welsh language. It offers classes for Welsh learners, a crѐche, a café-bar, and other facilities. At its entrance is the Bodlon gift shop, and it is this space, inevitably, that sets the tone for the whole enterprise. It is attractively laid out. Tasteful. Like all shops, however, its mission is to sell things. As the website reminds us, the enterprise ‘must be self-sufficient’.
Not surprisingly, rendering Welsh into a saleable commodity involves words. What is striking, however, is the degree to which words – either alone or embedded in catchphrases and memes − have become the chief articles of trade. Here in the Old Library, and in a hundred other outlets throughout Wales, they lie in wait to seduce and exhort us. Favourites include slate and wood renditions of cariad (love), subtly distressed to give the desired antique effect. Then there are the fretwork hearts dedicated to ‘Mam’, the croeso doormats, the cartref shelf-sitters, the ‘Cymru’ T-shirts, and the innumerable domestic pieces: a teapot, for example, whose inscription reminds us, with elegant pedantry, that it is meant for te. Wordiest of all is the hessian teulu (family) cushion, which carries a dictionary definition of the word (in typewriter font), just in case we’ve forgotten that, too.Sign in to read more