An Excerpt from The Bendithion Chronicles, by Harrison Solow:
"In the Wales in which I lived, much more than language was used to ‘speak’ Welsh, to convey thought, meaning, nuance, ipseity and warning, those unarticulated elements alive in the shadow of words, where the most profound communication took place, always through the ‘Welsh manner of thought’. It is beyond my powers of definition to impale this elusive phrase on a pin and preserve it in a glass case for readers unfamiliar with Wales, but it may be possible to demonstrate it...
Here, in the land of bard and song, where the ear is the primary instrument, the word clywed means ‘to hear’. But in a private, colloquial sense that is not found in the dictionary, it also means to taste, to smell, to be inclined toward – and to feel. It wasn’t that I spoke the language precisely or even well, according to textbook standards; it was that they felt it. They understood it.
As Timothy said radiantly to his colleague and friend, Alun, when I was trying out my Welsh in the Post Office during my first week of Welsh classes, “We can hear the Welsh in it, can’t we?”
Somehow, it seemed, the language became intelligible not by my ability to speak it, but by their ability to hear it. Like a mother’s instinctive understanding of her infant’s rudimentary linguistic noises, their hearing was feeling and their feeling, understanding. Their perception gave it signification. They ‘heard the Welsh in it’.
The language that I spoke and the language that they heard may have been two entirely different things, physically, audially, but they were reciprocal. Meaning was transmitted. Welshness was received. What connected them was a little space, a hidden place, a hinterland, where both languages met and touched and merged on the border of understanding that none of us would ever call love.
In Living in Rural Wales, by Noragh Jones, the argument is made, and strongly, that the Welsh “did not (and for the most part still do not) see the necessity for English [speaking] people to speak Welsh, and are reluctant for various reasons to help incomers learn the language...” They are “not emotionally ready to share their language with strangers” or to talk to people “who have learnt the language but not the stories that are part of it, the state of mind that is natural to it.”
This is so far from my experience as to be difficult to comprehend. It seemed to me that every Welsh speaking person I knew in the town was taking my Welsh courses right along with me – they all expressed an eager interest and entered into a lively participation: the postmen asked to see and corrected my homework (and the Welsh of my teachers, as they saw fit); they and the butcher read and commented on my compositions (including lively discussions among themselves involving complex investigations of mutations, nuance, and content conducted in rapid Welsh that soon left me far behind); the shopkeepers listened with almost parental delight to my recitations of childish poems and Urdd songs learned in those first weeks of Welsh classes.
The mayor (my neighbour and supplier of particularly delicious jams, an ambrosial crab-apple jelly and other delights) sat down with me in her house and over tea and her marvellous cakes, told me those stories “that are part of it” and the genealogy of (it seemed) everyone in the town. Others subsequently added to them until I could see a network form almost before my eyes, a matrix into which I was soon so inextricably woven that I would naturally, without realising it, ask after the health of ‘Auntie Laura’ instead of Mrs. Jones, or console a third cousin twice removed of an acquaintance about his loss after a death in the village.
The bank clerks painstakingly and with a great deal of encouragement helped me do my banking in Welsh, and ever sensitive to my disinclination to resort to English, kindly wrote numbers on pieces of scrap paper in front of me to make sure we both understood the same amounts. My doctor let me describe symptoms in my early, halting Welsh with impressive patience. This was a particularly touching and engaging (and bizarre) exercise as he repeated in English everything I said in Welsh and then repeated it all again, very slowly, in Welsh (undoubtedly corrected) pretending he had never said anything in English. Afterwards he would give me great, public and undeserved credit in the main office for having conducted a doctor’s visit entirely in Welsh.
My closest friend, Beryl, whose supportive pedagogical process was an enhanced and more personal version of the doctor’s, went over every word of my returned assignments, explained my mistakes, taught me the difference between University Welsh and local Welsh, honed my pronunciation and gave me synonyms that were less formal for the vocabulary I had learned.
Other friends drove me often to remote and tiny places where Welshness was discernible and if not discernible, palpable, just to sit silently among ruins and rocks, sheep and bluebells, visible and invisible walls, places I would never have found and if by some strange chance had come across, would never have found again. My landlord and his wife took me to Welsh events in Aberystwyth and Aberaeron and elsewhere and spoke Welsh to me from the day I was able to manage a single coherent Welsh sentence. Welsh staff in the university spoke to me only in Welsh (for as long as my limited abilities could sustain a conversation) and Welsh friends began to invite me to all-Welsh gatherings.
I was invited to the 18th birthday parties of young people (some I hadn’t even met), Sunday lunches, rugby reunions and chapel services. Also to sing in the Plygain, to help organise the Twmpath, to sit with the Welsh Department at university functions at which seating was arranged by department (and at which I was expected to sit with the English Department), and to join the Welsh-speaking volunteers at the Eisteddfod where all day long no word of English would be heard.
My Welsh teacher and subsequent dear friend took me to her childhood home, which was as secluded and inaccessible as anywhere I have been, including the vast backwoods of Canada or the Rocky Mountains in the American West, or those unnamed, unadvertised, no-phone-number restaurants in Hollywood for movie professionals only. There was just no way to get there if you hadn’t been there already. All the way, she seemed to be implanting tribal memories.
Like that of so many of my closest friends, behind every description, language lesson or recounting of history was an insistent and silent whisper, “Remember this…”
End of excerpt
©2004-2011 Harrison Solow
 I know this is a cliché. It is also absolutely and stunningly my experience. A cliché can also be a truth.
 There is a ‘Welsh in Welsh’ that does the real talking. This mysterious aspect of language does not extend to all languages, in my experience. I have taught hundreds of students of all ages and levels to speak (American) English.* There is simply no equivalent. Not in America. I could never say, “I heard the American” in a student’s speech. I know that some of what constitutes “the Welsh in it” has to do with inflection, emotion, and identification with the wellspring behind the words. Most of it, however, is simply indefinable.
* ‘American’ in this thesis refers to The United States of America, or to the language spoken there, despite the fact that other countries in North and South America claim the continental title. This for two reasons. 1) It is a universal colloquialism. No one has ever, to my knowledge, referred to anyone from my country as a ‘United Statesian’; and 2) other countries on these continents have names like Canada and Peru. As the United States of America includes the word ‘America’, it is merely a shortened version of the name of the country.
 The word ‘English’ is a problematic one at times in Wales. It can mean the English language, people who don’t speak Welsh but do speak English no matter where they are from, and/or the English people (and all of these at times with fairly negative connotations among many first language Welsh speakers). According to Carol Trosset, “Learners are “English” people who speak Welsh, and that without being either fluent or native Welsh speakers, thereby defying all the basic tenets of the classification […]” – Carol S. Trosset, ‘The Social Identity of Welsh Learners’, Language in Society Vol. 15, No. 2 (June 1986), p. 172. Published by: Cambridge University Press. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4167746 However, to my knowledge, I was never called ‘English’ by anyone. Just ‘American’.
 Noragh Jones, Living in Rural Wales (Llandysul: Gomer Press, 1993) p.135. Hence, as mentioned above, the prerequisite of the ‘Welsh manner of thought.’
 I marked my papers before handing them in as the ‘homework done by Harrison’ and the ‘corrections made by the Post’.
 Very important in Wales. “The solidarity of the kindred is a constant source of surprise to the stranger. Relatives are expected to be loyal to one another and there can be no more disparaging criticism than that a man has behaved shabbily toward a brother or cousin.” — Alwyn D. Rees, Life in a Welsh Countryside: A Social Study of Llanfihangel yng Ngwnyfa (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1996), p. 79.
 “First comes the family, y teulu – like the Jewish family, very firm, very demanding still. Sociologists tell us that even the car and the television have not much weakened the closeness of the averages Evanses, who still tend to live as near to one another as possible […] The old Welsh laws recognized family obligations to the ninth degree of relationship, and Welsh blood-bonds are still ramified, subtle, and potentially dangerous.” — Jan Morris, p. 216.
 A milestone ‘coming of age’ event, as unlike an American teenage party (whether decorous or rowdy) as can be imagined. Grandparents are honoured guests – as are parents and other family – in addition to the celebrant’s young friends. Welsh songs are sung and the person of honour spends as much time with his or her elders as s/he does with friends. The experience is wholly alien to general American culture, though it resembles some Chassidic/Orthodox Jewish rites of passage (the Bar/Bat Mitzvah) in some ways, and the Quinceañera in traditional Latino families. (I have only been to Quinceañera ceremonies of Dominican Republic, Guatemalan, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Uruguayan families and a Cuban ceremony (called a Quince). They all differed, particularly regarding the religious aspects of the ceremony, but the one unifying factor (other than the reason for it) was the presence, primacy and elevation of the family, all generations, with special respect to elders .)
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Causes Harrison Solow Supports
Lupus Foundation of America
Museum of Tolerance