19 July 2021

Not only in Welsh

Every language has its quirks. Welsh is no exception. I do find it weird, for instance, that some numbers are gender specific and some aren't. If you can't remember what gender a noun is, you should not have two, three or four of them, because two, three and four have masculine and feminine forms. If you just have five or six it doesn't matter; the number of stays the same, whatever the gender of the noun. But something that bothered me more is that "only", as in "there were only apples", in Welsh is "dim ond", which literally translates to something like "nothing but". "Dim" means "not". That means that in Welsh, the sentence "there were only apples" is negative. And sometimes I want to use negative sentence that features the word "only". But how do you do that if any sentence with that phrase in it is already negative?

When in my summer class, we were asked to translate the sentence that had "only" in it, I saw my chance. I asked her how you would make that sentence negative. The sentence was something like "there are only two left", and that sentence can have a negative. Maybe someone tells you there are only two, say, tickets left, but you have information that they don't have, and you can tell them that there are not only two left; actually, there are 10 left! So how do you do that? Then it became clear I wasn't the only one who struggled with that; a bloke from Harlech clearly chimed with my request, and started to jump up and down too. And the tutor had to think about it a bit. But she came up with an answer!

She found a way by going formal; both "not" and "only" are concepts you expressed differently in formal Welsh. So she exchanged "dim" in the middle of the sentence for "nid" at the start, and "dim ond" for "yn unig". And that's how she managed it! No weird repetition of "dim", which would make the sentence ungrammatical. So now I can finally say something like "there weren't only apples" in Welsh! And I will sound like a 50s newsreader but I don't care. If this would be the only thing I learned in the summer school, it has been worth it!

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