There is an amusing web quiz on BuzzFeed that asks whether a word is nonsense or a Welsh word. This does not sound as if it would be a very hard game, but it is. One commenter on the quiz noted that she had taken twelve years of mandatory Welsh education and had gotten only an 8/15, which amounts to basically random guessing, which shows that the education in the Welsh language did not take. What makes this test so amusing is that Welsh has some very odd words. The title of this particular post, means “I must learn,” and it would be easy for people to think that ddysgu was a total nonsense set of letters, rather than a fairly ordinary word in a language not that far removed from our own. To be sure, there are a lot of odd ordinary words in Welsh: ymddeol means to retire, yfwch is the command form of the common verb “to drink,” and library is llyfrgell. These are odd words, and so Welsh deservedly, at least to English speakers, is a suitable language to compare genuine if unusual looking words with total nonsense syllables, where only someone who had some idea that w has a particular vowel sound and that y was counted (like in English and Esperanto and other languages) as a semi-vowel, and other related rules.
As much as it might be fun to sport the eccentricities of Welsh vocabulary and grammar, it should be noted that Welsh is not all made up of odd and seemingly unpronounceable words. Many Welsh words, as one might expect from an area that has long been ruled over by imperialistic Englishmen, has many loan words from English that have been merely transliterated, and so the vocabulary is not as foreign as one would think without having investigated it. Since none of the languages of the Celtic subfamily of the Indo-European language family are particularly well known outside of the fringes of Western Europe, namely Western Ireland, parts of Wales, the highlands of Scotland, the far reaches of Cornwall, and parts of Brittany, along with the Isle of Man, few people do investigate Welsh more than odd place names and the occasional internet quiz. When it comes to communicating with other people, we often tend to be immensely incurious sorts of people.
I must admit that I find this to be rather puzzling, being someone who is intensely curious about communication and very interested in the quirks and eccentricities of language. This is not to say that I have always mastered communication, quite the contrary, but I think it is the fact that I have struggled both to understand others and to make myself understood that gives me a sense of sympathy with others who struggle, and in my experience there have been many people who struggle in their own ways. Whether one is dealing with socially awkward people who struggle to find the words, in any language, natural or made up, to communicate with others what is going on inside of them, or one is dealing with people struggling to learn English so that they may better themselves and understand the material of coursework, or one is dealing with children struggling to express themselves and act appropriately to the world around them, I have spent a great deal of my life around people whose struggles with communication and understanding were not that unfamiliar to me .
The struggles of understanding languages and understanding how the world works are not so alien as they seem, languages being far more abstract and obviously conventional than the way most of our minds work. In both cases, there is a tension between our own subjective existence, where we spend all of our time and a great deal of our care and concern, and an alien world outside that works according to rules and conventions that we do not understand and frequently rebel against. The fact that there is a gap between appearances and reality, between our own internal world and the external one, to say nothing of the gap between the state of our hearts and minds and spirits with our Creator, means that communication is going to be a problem. It is the opacity of our existence that forces upon us the task of communication, and that opacity is everywhere to be found. We may lament the struggles we face understanding others and being understood, and I do, but most of us are not willing to resolve that problem by living transparently, where everything about us may be easily understood, and by being relentless in our pursuit of understanding. As in so much else in life, we ultimately get from communication what we want, even if we are not consciously aware of what it is that we actually want.
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