This is the twentieth 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.
One of the challenges of learning another language is discovering that the language you are learning may have more than one word corresponding to a single one in your own language, or indeed that your own language may have many words corresponding to just one in the language you are endeavouring to learn. Such was my experience, in both respects, in learning Welsh as a first-language English-speaker. The first major surprise was the enormous range of possibilities of expressing something as simple in English as ‘yes’ and ‘no’. What’s the Welsh for ‘yes’? Well, it depends. How about ‘no’ then? Hmmm… what’s the question?
However, discovering that Welsh had two words for the verb ‘to know’ did not come as a complete surprise, as by the time I had begun to learn Welsh I was already taking my first steps in French and German. I knew that both of those languages had one verb for knowing facts i.e. savoir in French and wissen in German and another for knowing people and places i.e. connaître in French and kennen in German. So at a conceptual level, differentiating between gwybod (for knowing facts) and adnabod (for knowing people or places or for recognising people and things) made sense. English was the odd one out – in the same way that French, German and Welsh had grammatical gender, but English did not. Welsh was just another European language.Sign in to read more