(written July 2006)
“Yr Wyddgrug”. The sign flashed by the window quickly, but my mind reeled in the attempt to find sounds to go with what my eyes saw.
This sign, seemed to be the antithesis of Turkish which is a wonderfully phonetic language, the letters holding single values in all instances and hence anyone who learns the individual letter sounds can “pronounce” words intelligibly so that a Turk can understand, whilst at the same time the speaker may not understand what they are saying.
Ah, but this was not Turkish – and for me it was a mind befuddling collection of consonants occasionally interrupted by a stray vowel. My mind went blank, my tongue went limp – I hadn’t the vaguest idea on what sounds I should produce based on the characters before my eyes.
T., however, is much better at spelling and sounding out words than I am. I fall at the lowest of hurdles, but she sails on, pronouncing words she has never seen with an ease and grace that is a beauty to behold. Whilst I fumble around squeaking and squawking she lets the new words roll off her tongue clearing up, for me, the mystery of how to say the new word. She is great.
But now she had met her match. It is not saying much when I say “I have no idea how to say….”. That is kind of my normal, default setting. But for T. to be stumped by a new constellation of, well, consonants, now that is saying something.
“Hebryngwr” another sign swung into view. My mouth puzzled over what it would do with an ‘ngwr’ – still don’t know. T. was likewise rendered speechless.
Good word – no doubt. Full of meaning – I’m sure. But not for us.
“Ffyrdd drwodd” – double ffs and double dds; I’m at sea here – lost…
“Dim marciau ffordd” – normally an over abundance of consonants, tightly grouped together leaving me vainly groping in the dark for the sounds to link those little guys together, and now we have vowels, a whole torrent of them, like someone reciting the vowels, ‘iau’ – ‘iau’ what am I going to do with that?
I know…. sit in silence.
Now let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with the signs. And I must emphasis that there is nothing wrong with the language. But we, lacking even the most rudimentary understanding of the Welsh language, were totally bereft of what the signs meant and the good directions and important warnings they provided. We lacked the knowledge, the tools, the training necessary to benefit from the signs posted at the side of the road. A six year Welsh child would be better than us.
All was not lost – the signs were bi-lingual – unlike us.
Ultimately the directions were received and the warnings heeded. But to appreciate the beauty of the Welsh language and the delightful sounds and nuance of the language, the translation into English doesn’t aid one bit. The meaning is there, the beauty is lost. The understanding has come, but the allure, the attraction, the grace of the language is veiled and hidden from our view.
Okay, we understood the translation, but we lost so much in the process, yes, even the renderings of simple road signs.
And so, here in this land of Turkey, the goal is not to present something veiled and hard to understand, translated from a foreign and confusing tongue, but to see native born men and women expressing fully in the Turkish language, with natural, local idiom and speech the wonders and beauty of God. The message is of eternal importance, touching the mind, the heart and the soul of every believer – and for the Turks, that means in Turkish….
If, in the Grace of the LORD, we have opportunity to once again travel in the beautiful Welsh countryside, I would first like to learn, at least some of the rudiments of the Welsh language, to taste some of the sweetness of the language, to dip, even a wee bit into the well of that ancient tongue.