Malwod noeth

Last night I went for my second meeting of the Bangor Polyglots (their third meeting overall).

When I first arrived, shortly after my brass band practice had finished, the only people already there were the three from last week; I don’t know if anyone else had been and gone before I got there.  I was able to greet both Rhian and Sam in Icelandic, as I’ve been working through a free online course that Sam pointed me to last week.  However, I haven’t yet got as far as learning the plural forms of the greetings, so I had to greet them individually.

Fairly shortly after I arrived we were joined by Edith, who is from Germany and teaches German through the medium of Welsh at Bangor University.  She speaks several other languages in addition to German, Welsh and English, including Finnish, Icelandic and French, and she’s planning soon to add Greek to the list.  As well as the modern languages, she has a good knowledge of Old Norse and Middle Welsh (and, I suspect, probably a few other archaic languages too).  She’s from the southern part of Germany and speaks the local Swabian dialect in addition to standard HIgh German (in fact, I think she was only half joking – if at all – when she said that German was her first foreign language).

A bit later we were joined by Jochen, who is also German, works at the university (in the music department) and speaks several languages to a high standard.  I have met Jochen several times on the local music scene, although we have never previously spoken to each other at great length.  He brought with him a girl from Paris who is over here to do a gig with him (she’s a singer).  Unfortunately I didn’t catch her name, or at least didn’t manage to make it stick in my memory, and since we were at opposite ends of the table I didn’t get much chance to speak to her.

Once everyone was there, we got a truly multilingual conversation going, with usually at least two threads running concurrently and languages being mixed freely.  French and German seemed to dominate, with a fairly healthy amount of Welsh and relatively little English.  Bits of other languages were used or spoken about, with a particular emphasis on Finnish in the discussion at my end of the table (and I also threw in a bit of Hungarian – which is similarly structured to Finnish but somewhat more familiar to me, although my knowledge of it is still extremely rudimentary – for comparison).

Last week, I learned that the Cornish word for snail is bulhorn, which has immediately become my favourite word for snail that I’ve so far discovered in any language and will probably retain that position for quite some time.  It is quite different from the Welsh word, malwoden, and while I don’t know the etymology of either word it seems obvious (and may well indeed be true) that they come from totally different roots.  This week there was some further discussion about snails and I learned (or possibly relearned, as it’s likely to be a word I once knew and had forgotten) that the German for snail is die Schnecke.  Even better, the German for slug is Nacktschnecke, which literally means “naked snail”.  I still loathe slugs, and resent the devastation they regularly wreak on my attempts to grow pretty much anything in my garden, but I think that’s a cool name for them.

I’m looking forward to many more meetings with the Bangor Polyglots.  The only trouble is that there are so many languages to learn and so little time to do it.

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  1. Yenlit

     /  2013/02/20

    There’s another slimy slug/snail ‘gastropod’ word running along side bulhorn in Cornish: melhwessenn
    (variants: melhwesen f, melhwes; melhwejen. “melwidgeon” in the English dialect of Cornwall)
    which resembles South-west Wales dialect variants of standard Welsh “malwoden/malwen” ie. Caerfyrddin: malweden > malhweden with aspirated ‘w’ which also resembles Breton forms: melc’hwedenn and melc’hwenn (snail)

    As you know the word has various forms in different parts of Wales.
    North: malwen (malwen gragen) North-west: malwen noethlymun = slug “naked gastropod”
    North-west Wales: malwan (Bangor: malwan grogan)
    South: malwoden
    Ceredigion: malwaden (malwaden â chragen / â cragen = snail)
    Brycheiniog: molwoden
    South-east Wales: molwetan molwedan

    • Diolch am hynny.

      I wasn’t aware of all those Welsh dialect forms (even the Bangor one, despite having lived in the area for over 10 years and learned Welsh here).

      It’s interesting that there’s a word (or phrase) for slug, malwen noethlymun, that exactly corresponds to the German term I mentioned in my post. I gather the more standard Welsh words for slug are gwlithen or malwen/malwoden ddu (the latter meaning “black snail”).

      As for Cornish, melhwessenn is clearly cognate to the Welsh and Breton words for snail (all the Welsh ones listed being essentially spelling variations of each other). It’s a nice word, although I prefer bulhorn. I wonder which one is more widely used.

  2. Yenlit

     /  2013/02/20

    There’s quite a few ‘naked snails’ out-n’-about in the linguistic garden as well as in the Welsh one:
    Greek: γυμνοσάλιαγκας (gymnosáliagkas)
    Hungarian: meztelen csiga
    Dutch: naaktslak
    German: Nacktschnecke
    Bulgarian: гол охлюв (gol óhljuv)
    Czeh: Nazí plži

    As well as the Breton slug/snail melc’hwedenn (Fr. limace) there’s also for snail (Fr. escargot) melc’hwed-krogennek (melc’hwedenn-grogennek)
    I’m not familiar with a lot of those Welsh dialect forms either and I normally stick to as close to the (North) Welsh standard as possible. It’s a bit like when you ask any Welsh speaker what’s the Welsh for ‘butterfly’ and you get numerous different answers and variations on a theme? In general malwen / malwoden is snails, and gwlithen (plural gwlithod or gwlithenni) is slug (gwlith = dew + -en) but there’s also gwlith-falwen (gwlith-falwod); malwod gwlith; malwen ddu and probably others!


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