On the use of the word ‘gotten’

Many UK readers have wondered about–and objected strongly to–the use of the word ‘gotten’ in my books. Since the word is not in common usage in England right now, it seems odd to them to read it at all, and a glaring ‘Americanism’ in a book set in the medieval period. At first glance, this might appear to be yet another instance of ‘two countries separated by a common language,’ but as it turns out, the history of the word ‘gotten’ is a lot more interesting than that. Gotten’ is, in fact, an English word that was in use in England at the time America was colonized by the English. It is found in the King James version of the Bible, and maybe even because of that, over the centuries, the Americans kept on using it and the English did Read more…

Welsh Idioms

To understand a language’s idioms, is to be fluent in the language.  Maybe this isn’t entirely true, but it’s close. When I lived in England, I remember being stumped by the phrase, “it’s like money for old rope.”  I didn’t know if that meant: 1) someone had given me money for old rope–in which case, that was a good thing; or 2) I was paying money for old rope–meaning I was getting ripped off.  As it turns out, the saying “originates from the days of public hangings. It was a perquisite of the hangman to keep the rope used to hang his ‘customer’. The rope, however, was popular with the macabre crowds, so the hangman used to cut the rope up and sell it.”  That still doesn’t tell me whether paying for it a good or bad thing 🙂  This site tells me “if a job Read more…

Welsh Names and Places from the Books

  Aberystwyth –Ah-bare-IH-stwith Bwlch y Ddeufaen – Boolk ah THEY-vine (the ‘th’ is soft as in ‘forth’) Cadfael – CAD-vile Cadwallon – Cad-WA/SH/-on Caernarfon – (‘ae’ makes a long i sound like in ‘kite’) Kire-NAR-von Dafydd – DAH-vith Dolgellau – Doll-GE/SH/-ay Deheubarth – deh-HAY-barth Dolwyddelan – dole-with-EH-lan (the ‘th’ is soft as in ‘forth’) Gruffydd – GRIFF-ith Gwalchmai – GWALK-my (‘ai’ makes a long i sound like in ‘kite) Gwenllian – Gwen-/SH/EE-an Gwladys – Goo-LAD-iss Gwynedd – GWIN-eth Hywel – H’wel Ieuan – ieu sounds like the cheer, ‘yay’ so YAY-an Llywelyn – /sh/ew-ELL-in Maentwrog – MIGHNT-wrog Meilyr – MY-lir Owain – OH-wine Rhuddlan – RITH-lan Rhun – Rin Rhys – Reese Sion – Shawn Tudur – TIH-deer Usk – Isk

The Evolution of Welsh

The first thing you learn in linguistics is that languages evolve.  The second is that they are arbitrary.   This does not mean language isn’t important, or that it isn’t integral to culture. (see this article on Quebec’s policing of language).  It does mean that there is nothing inherent in the word ‘spoon’ that denotes the rounded tool with which you cook or eat. Medieval Welsh, or Middle Welsh, was the language spoken in the 12th to 14th centuries.  Like when a modern English-speaker attempts to read Chaucer in English, it is possible for a modern Welsh speaker to read middle Welsh, which is the language of much of the Welsh literature (Four Tales of the Mabinogi, for example) that we have, although the tales themselves are much older.  You can find out about learning it here: http://www.celt.dias.ie/publications/cat/cat_h.html#H.2 The root of the changes between medieval and modern Welsh lie in Read more…

Welsh Surnames

It is a standing joke among people who know Wales that there are only a handful of Welsh surnames (last names), consisting primarily of Jones, Evans, Roberts, Thomas, Williams, and Davies. Among English speakers, these last names are clearly derived from first names. Why is that? Why don’t the Welsh have the huge variety of surnames like the English do? The answer lies in the moment that the Welsh switched from the patronymic system of names (Sarah ferch Ronald; Carew ap Daniel) where a child’s name contained a first name, then ‘son of’ or ‘daughter of’, and then their father’s name, to a system where everyone in the family had the same surname. In England, this transition occurred soon after the Norman conquest of 1066. “Before the Norman Conquest of Britain, people did not have hereditary surnames: they were known Read more…

Scots, Scottish, and Gaelic … what’s the difference?

What language were people speaking in 13th century Scotland? Undoubtedly, that is a question that keeps most people up at night. In a nutshell, in 1288, in Scotland, people spoke three local languages regularly.  At the time, they called them:  French, English, and Scottish. What is confusing is that those are not the names used to refer to these languages NOW.  French, was Norman French. Robert the Bruce, a great King of Scotland, descended from the Gaelic Earls of Carrick, and on his father’s side from “ancestors in Brix, in Flanders. In 1124, King David I granted the massive estates of Annandale to his follower, Robert de Brus, in order to secure the border. The name, Robert, was very common in the family. Brought up at Turnberry Castle, Bruce was a product of his lineage, speaking Gaelic, Scots and Norman Read more…

How did Latin get into English?

It was the Romans right? Well, ultimately, but not necessarily because they conquered Britian in 43 AD. The Romans controlled Britain from 43 AD to when they marched away in the beginning of the 5th century.  During that time, they built roads, towns, forts, and established a government.  Upon their departure, the ‘dark ages’ consumed Britain, with the assistance of several invading groups (Angles, Saxons, Jutes, plus Picts, Scots, Irish). The people who lived in Britain at the time were Celtic and spoke a language that eventually became what we know today as Welsh.  As the story goes, these invading groups pushed the Britons into Wales until a real wall (Offa’s Dyke) permanently created a barrier between them. Latin had been spoken by the Romans, of course, and had entered the Welsh language as a result.  “These borrowed words are Read more…