Time for a rant.

I notice that an Englishman called Mike Parker has written a book on Anglo-Welsh relations. Here’s the BBC article about it. This is probably a good thing (though I haven’t read the book). I particularly like his mention of the claim that “Welsh has no vowels and sounds like someone spitting”, adding that:

the people who write this kind of tosh usually think that they are the first to come up with such a pithy put-down; you can practically hear them howling with laughter at their own originality and wit.

I agree. This is very annoying.

Let’s just put paid to on particular piece of bollocks:

First, the distinction between vowels and consonants is a matter of phonetics and phonology. It is more or less irrelevant with regard to a writing system. In English, the letter ‘y’ can represent both vowels (as in ‘happy’) and consonants (as in ‘yet’). This does not mean that ‘y’ is both a vowel and a consonant, or one, or the other, or neither. It means that ‘y’ can be used to represent both. The word ‘happy’ contains two vowels and two consonants (at least the way I say it). Just because you write it with a double ‘p’ makes no difference. The double P represents one consonant.

A picture of a man working is not the same thing as a man that is actually working.

OK, so this sounds pedantic. I admit it’s reasonable that in a writing system where ‘a’ never represents anything but a vowel, and ‘t’ never represents anything but a consonant, it’s perfectly reasonable to call a a vowel and t a consonant. Fine. That is, after all, common usage. It’s also fine as shorthand.

In fact, I’d even stand up for a person’s right to call a letter a consonant where there’s a useful distinction to be made. Just because a botanist classifies a tomato as a fruit based on its seeds, a cook is not wrong to consider it a vegetable based on its taste.

But people get confused: they start to think that a language is its writing system and, even worse, start to assume that the letters used to represent sounds in a foreign language should be used in the same way as in their own. This leads them to such fatuous questions as ‘Is a ‘h’ a vowel in the word ‘honest’?’ (From Yahoo answers).

I knew a(n English) boy in school who refused to accept that ‘billet’ could represent any word that sound like ‘bee-ay’ — which is how he’d presumably have spelt the French word for ticket. Similarly, some English people seem obsessed with the idea that Welsh has fewer vowels than English. In fact, my dialect of Welsh has about the same number of vowel contrasts as RP English (about 13), and quite a few more diphthongs (I can count about 13).

Look, w and y very often represent vowels in Welsh. Get used to it. And come up with some new hilarious comments on Welsh.


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