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Phrasebook teaching English tourists how to speak to Welsh ‘peasants’ unearthed

23 Nov 2020 3 minute read
Snowdon from Llyn Nantlle, North Wales in the early 19th century

Archivists have unearthed a phrasebook that teaches English tourists how to speak to Welsh “peasants”.

The 180-year-old guide, called the Welsh Interpreter was first printed in London in 1838 and carries the quotation “Adapted for Tourists, who may wish to make themselves understood by the peasantry during their rambles through Wales”.

The book offers a range of Welsh language phrases claimed to be essential to the English traveller to Wales in Victorian times, as well as help with pronunciation.

It was written by Thomas Roberts of Llwynrhudol, Pwllheli, a businessman and a co-founder of London’s Cymreigyddion Society, a social, cultural and debating society.

Phrases in the book include “My good friend, is this the way to ____?” (Fy nghyfaill addfwyn, ai hon yw y ffordd i ____?), and “Are you a Welshman?” (Ai Cymro ydych chwi?).

It also includes tips for English tourists who choose to explore the Welsh mountainside such as being able to tell a Welshman “You are giddy because you look down” (Y’r ydych wedi pendroni o rhan i chwi edrych i lawr) as well as “Do not look down” (Peidiwch ag edrych i lawr).



The phrasebook’s introductory remarks say: “If any apology were necessary for presenting ‘The Welsh Interpreter’ to the notice of the public, it might suffice simply to state the impossibility of English tourists being understood by the mass of the Welsh peasantry, of whom it may be exceedingly convenient occasionally to ask a few useful and necessary questions, especially while travelling through the more obscure and remote districts.”

The hardback version belonged to Welsh barrister and author Enoch Salisbury, who died in 1890. His life collection of Welsh phrasebooks and textbooks is considered to be the earliest library dedicated to all things Welsh. It is now available online and in person at Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives service.

The phrasebook has been shared as part of the annual Explore Your Archive week, which is organised by the UK Archives and Records Association. It is supported in Wales by Archives and Records Council Wales.

Hayden Burns, chair of Archives and Records Council Wales, told the PA: “The historic collections held by Welsh archive services are the documented memory of the people, events and places of Wales.

“They tell our stories and in doing so, they connect us with the past and give us a sense of identity.”

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