Page last updated at 14:13 GMT, Wednesday, 23 July 2008 15:13 UK

Welsh English speech goes online

Shepherd being interviewed at Rhayader in 1955
The dialect archive offers an ear on how English has been spoken in Wales

Hundreds of recordings of disappearing dialects of English spoken in Wales from the 1960s onwards are being made available for research.

Swansea University researchers taped the "folk-speech" of elderly villagers, and later urban youngsters, to compile the Survey of Anglo-Welsh Dialects.

Archive director Rob Penhallurick said: "In some parts of Wales, English has been spoken for nearly 1,000 years."

Around 500 recordings are available via the British Library's online catalogue.

The archive offers an ear on some of the oldest living varieties of English-spoken in Wales and aims to tie in with a wider survey of English dialects.

It was founded by the dialectologist David Parry, who wanted to map the distinctive English-language dialects of Wales.

From the nationalist point of view, English is just an invader language but that is to ignore the fact that it has been in Wales for close on 1,000 years
Dr Robert Penhallurick, Swansea University

He trained around 30 of his students at Swansea University to conduct interviews with elderly village residents on subjects ranging from farming, nature and the weather to the home and social activities.

The researchers visited 90 locations around Wales, ranging from the border with England to as far west as Gower and south Pembrokeshire.

Dr Parry left the archive to Swansea University on his retirement in 1995.

His successor Dr Rob Penhallurick worked on the project as part of his PhD and then broadened the work to include urban dialects and young people.

Dr Penhallurick, 51, said the decision to offer the archive to the British Library was taken in consultation with his former lecturer as way of securing the collection and making it more widely available.

He said: "Welsh English is one of the earliest examples of English being exported to other countries.

"It's important the we recognise that English is an established language of Wales.

"From the nationalist point of view, English is just an invader language but that is to ignore the fact that it has been in Wales for close on 1,000 years.

"Most of the pronunciation habits of Welsh English are habits that originate from the Welsh language and there are a few Welsh words that are used and a few grammatical constructions have come across as well."

Dr Penhallurick said he usually found his subjects, people aged 60 or over, by writing to the local vicar before visiting a village. He said interviewees always had plenty of stories to tell, as well as cakes to offer.

He added: "It's a kind of record, in part, of early 20th Century village live in Wales. It's a kind of social history resource as well.

"I was aware in some way the people we interviewed had a lot of information that wouldn't have been recorded otherwise.


"Certainly now, 20 or 30 years later, the material does seem significant in additional ways."

Six audio extracts, with transcripts and analysis, feature on the British Library's Sounds Familiar website. Researchers can contact the sound archive to make arrangements to hear more recordings.

Jonnie Robinson is a specialist in sociolinguistics and education at the British Library.

He said: "Despite a supposedly increasingly homogeneous society we all still take great pleasure in travelling to different parts of the country to experience the changing physical landscape and to discover the variety of architectural heritage this country has to offer.

"For many of us there is an equal fascination in hearing the gradual, but nonetheless perceptible change in the nature of the sounds we hear - the accents and dialects that immediately conjure up a sense of the place to which they belong."

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