A language in crisis: Welsh names that are too welsh for welsh people

The Welsh language has faced many threats in its lengthy history, from the banning of the Welsh language in the Act of Union in 1586 to the mass migration of Anglophones during the Industrial Revolution - but is the threat of its own people too much?

As you cross over the famous Severn Bridge and into Celtic territory, there is no shortage of Welsh-English bilingual signs. The Welsh language (yr iaith Cymraeg) embraces you from the moment you enter Wales. It's these signs that often form the best jokes - 'Is that jibberish?' or, even better, trying to pronounce 'Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantisiliolgogogoch'. Yet these 'jokes' are no longer said by non-natives. They are said by Welsh people themselves.

Over the years, place names that are 'hard to pronounce' have become Anglicised. The beautiful Llyn Bochlwyd, a lake found in Snowdonia, is now known by many as 'Lake Australia'. Why? Because its shape resembles that of Australia on the map.

Such naivety erodes hundreds of years of Welsh history. Lake Australia's etymology links back to an ancient myth that tells the tale of an old grey stag making a miraculous escape as it's while being hunted down. It plunges into a lake and swims to safety as it holds its grey face above the water. Hence the name Llyn Bochlwyd (Llyn = lake, Bochlwyd = grey cheek). But sure, it looks like Australia, so let's call it that.

A petition claiming that Wales is 'losing its heritage' has gathered over 15,000 signatures and is set to be debated in the Senedd (the Welsh Parliament). However, some key Welsh figures have spoken out against such anglophone attitudes. Welsh comedian, Tudor Owen, said in a BBC-produced video, Replacing Welsh place names with English ones just because some people can’t pronounce them or they just don’t like the sound of them is not ok...We have a choice, do we keep these names and stories and tell them to the generations that will inhabit this land after we’re gone, or do we let them be deleted because they’re difficult to pronounce?”

Not only does this present a threat to Welsh culture, but the language as well. A language already facing problems of its own. Up until 1850, 90% of the population spoke Welsh. Now 29.8% can communicate in it while the vast majority prefer English. What 'communicate' means, well, that's down to the individual.

Continue reading this article in our November issue...