Saturday, December 29, 2012

A row over 'Pum deg wyth punt, chwedeg dau'

What are we to make of the little altercation which took place in the Spar shop in Pwllheli today. Many of you will be scratching your heads when you read about it - and you will. Its guaranteed to make all the UK media because it makes us Welsh look silly. The serious point behind it will not be understood at all. No doubt there will be much amusement. This is what I understand happened;

Former Archdruid of the Gorsedd of Bards, 83yr old Dr Robyn Lewis collected up goods worth |£58. 62p from the shelves of the Spar shop. At the till he was asked by a cashier in the English Language for the money. Dr Lewis insisted on being asked for "Pum deg wyth punt, chwedeg dau". There must have been a bit of a stand-off because store manager, Mr Conrad Davies decided to call in the police to sort out the disturbance. To make the situation worse, the first police officer on the scene was a monoglot English speaker - so a bilingual back-up was called to sort things out. It seems all was settled in the end when another cashier, who could speak Welsh asked Dr Lewis for the money in the way he demanded.

On one level this is no more than an amusing little story. I rather like stubborn principled people like Dr Robyn Lewis. He has a reputation for this sort of thing, and took it upon himself to make a point. He wanted to be spoken to in his own language, in his own country, and why not. He would have been completely stuck in Berriew though, unless I happened to be picking up my Telegraph and in a position to help him out. The point he was making is that retail units should, wherever possible, ensure customers who want to be served in Welsh can be.

I have two observations/questions about this. I do think the Spar in Pwllheli could put up a sign identifying a till where Welsh is available. It would be a sensible marketing ploy if nothing else. There would be quite a lot of Welsh speakers in Pwllheli. But the bigger issue for me is that we (Welsh speakers) are being mocked and laughed at in the UK media. I am not at all sure that this type of story is helpful to the Welsh Language.


Anonymous said...

A couple of points - why on earth did the shop think it a proper course of action to call the police to what was obviously an incident that could so easily be settled?

- why in such a Welsh speaking area do North Wales police think it proper to deploy police officers who cannot communicate in the first language of much of the population. Are the police our servants or our masters?

- who gave this non-story to the London press and what were their motives in doing so?

- as a unionist you must ask yourself what is the problem with a Union where so much of the unionist press only has contempt for Wales, its language and its people?

Gommsteruk said...

I get really cheesed off with being described as a 'monoglot English speaker’, especially as my mother was from Aberdeen, Scotland and my father was from County Armagh, Northern Ireland and my children learnt to speak Welsh in Montgomeryshire schools.
I like to think it was my parents who taught me to be more racially tolerant!
Ian Gomm

Dylan said...

It's even more complicated than that. The cashier was a Welsh-speaker and their conversation was in Welsh. But for whatever reason, many Welsh-speakers tend to pronounce sums like this in English. For example, while £8 would be a simple "wyth bunt", £8.67 would be "eight pound sixty-seven". Code-switching can be a strange and arbitrary thing.

The girl was perfectly fluent, but Mr Lewys, stubborn old eccentric that he is, insisted that she use the Welsh phrase.

I'm very much a language nationalist but I think this was a poor choice of battle on his part. It seems to have been more of a quibble about purity than a noble stand for language rights, and it's probably rather counter-productive. I hope he hasn't instilled some horrible inferiority complex in her. Still, it's strange that the police needed to be summoned.

On the other hand again, fair play to him for spending £58.62 in a local Spar!

Anonymous said...

You're missing the crucial fact that the person serving Robyn Lewis had been speaking Welsh to him up until the point where he was asked to pay.
Many people use the English number system when speaking Welsh and switching between both languages is both a normal thing to do in North Wales and the person's own choice.
I dread to think what this incident has done to the confidence levels of the poor Spar employee - who was speaking Welsh!!

Anonymous said...

Nice blog, Glyn.

This event seems to have a lot to do with the complexes of Welsh speakers especially those who speak Welsh fluently but count in English. Why they do this, I don't know - maybe down to education and also a deep wish to confirm that English, not Welsh, is the language of business and by counting in English they wish to 'side' with this diminshed role of Welsh. I don't know.

Both sides seem to be somewhat stubborn. However, I think Robyn Lewys has been unfairly treated. I can well imagine the Daily Mail's reason if a shop assistant couldn't count in English.

It seems Robyn Lewis chose to spend almost £60 in Spar Pwllheli - who spends £60 in Spar!? He may have decided he wanted to support the local Spar franchise which has a very good name for stocking local and Welsh produce. If this is the case, then I'm not surprised he's so frustrated. He's gone to the effort, at some financial cost, to support a local shop because it is local and the shop assistant can't/won't pay him the courtesy of fulfilling the transaction in Welsh.

I'm with Robyn Lewys - though, I'd tend to feel there are other ways of getting the point over. However, it seems the woman was equally stubborn.

This leads me to think, why shouldn't we expect a transaction in Welsh in Pwllheli or Berriw?

I've been served in English by Arab street vendors in Jerusalem, Romanian street vendors in Berlin, check-out assistants in Helskinkietc etc. The BBC can find shoeless orphans in the middle of Africa who can speak English, is it really too much to expect people in Wales to be able to count to 100 in Welsh (which actually means learning about 15 words not a 100)?

Shouldn't a shop assistant be able and willing to show some respect to a customer (who's purchase was probably the same as her daily wage) not to be humiliated by calling the police?

Are we as a nation so unabitious and so ready to go for the lowest common denominator?

As you know Glyn, there are two ways of counting in Welsh. The classical way which counts in twenties (ugain). So, forty is deugain (two twenties) etc. This is like in French, vingt, as the French language adopted the Celtic Gaulish system as the language evolved.

However the modern counting system which is mostly used in schools was invented by the Welsh in Patagonia. The Welsh colony was formed there in 1865 so that the Welsh could lead a full life in Welsh. As Welsh was banned in Wales by the British government (and with the support of many Welsh speakers) the Welsh in Patagonia had to start a Welsh language curriculum from scratch.

They soon realised that the classical way of counting was too clumsy and so invented an easier way of counting which could be used more readily for mathematics and book-keeping (the first accounting book-keeping in Welsh was also from Patagonia, not Wales).

They invented the easier way. This is simple. As your posting says 'pum deg wyth punt, chwedeg dau'. Literary, 'five ten eight pounds, six ten two'.

I failed my O Level German but I can still remember 'Acht und Funfzig Pfunt, Zwei und Sechzig pfenning'.

If street vendors, check-out girls, failed German pupils can learn to count in their second or third language it's absolutely bizarre that anyone in Wales can't count in Welsh or, that they refuse to count in Welsh to a paying customer. More so in a capitalis consumer culture like ours.

I don't wish the lady in the shop any illwill. But Robyn Lewys has done us all a great service in highlighting this bizarre situation.

Cardiff Cardi

Glyn Davies said...

Dr Robyn Lewys is an eccentric character whom we should treat as a national treasure. He's awkward and likes to make his point. Reminds me of Lord Elis Thomas (hope Dafydd never sees this). I'll forgive him his eccentricities and point-making because he cares about Wales and her culture. Seems to me completely over the top. I too hope the cashier involved is not upset about what happened. What inspired me to comment was how annoyed I become when the Welsh Language is subject of ridicule and mirth by London based media.

Hendre said...

One disquieting aspect are the 'urban myths' which have grown up around the Welsh language. I recently saw one comment on a 'below the line' section of a newspaper article where someone stated that you had to be Welsh-speaking in order to be a civil servant in Wales (and all paid for by the English taxpayer of course...).

It was disappointing that the Western Mail printed a letter this week which regurgitated as gospel the, as yet, unsubstantiated claims made by Bilingo.

I think the Welsh Language Commissioner needs to set up a Welsh language urban myth rebuttal unit as part of her remit!

Dylan said...

Another point is that there's something rather sinister about the Daily Mail's recent obsession about Welsh-speakers (cf that whole Bilingo nonsense, the "Welsh Taliban" etc). Is a silly argument between a shop employee and an eccentric old man really "news"? It's all very weird, and a clear theme has emerged.

Regarding the previous comment, it's true that it's a frustratingly persistent myth. In reality, my understanding is that only 11% of Welsh civil service staff speaks the language. That, of course, is not much more than half the percentage of the wider Welsh population. Welsh-speakers are severely underrepresented in the government's workforce.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that this incident ever happened, it relects the lack of confidence of many Welsh speakers with numerical skills in Welsh. I, as a nationalist and language campaigner, think there are much more important things to campaign about than this. Very sad

Anonymous said...

What a lot of fuss about nothing. I'm afraid this kind of exercise by a Welsh Nationalist will do nothing but harm his cause.
The majority of people living in Wales speak English as their first language, and I'm not referring to "incomers" as the Welsh Nats like to call them. I am Welsh, born in Wales to Welsh parents, educated in Wales and apart from a brief interlude over the border to work for 10 years, have worked and still work in Wales.
I do not speak Welsh as I was born in South Wales, but does this make me any less Welsh than a Welsh speaker? I did learn Welsh in school, but have never needed to speak it as none of my family (large and extended)could either.
I think it was an ignorant thing for Mr Lewis to do, and has, as you say Glyn, made Wales look parochial and very small minded.
This is not a helpful image of Wales, and I'm sorry that Mr Lewis felt he needed to do this.
I hope on reflection, he has had the decency to apologise to the shop girl for his rudeness, which at the end of the day was ill mannered behaviour and to be deplored.