The leek and the daffodil

(Warning: scattered amidst the daffodils, substantial allusions to some technical linguistics)

From John Wells, a greeting for the day, March 1st:

(#1) Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus! ‘Happy St David’s Day!’ (word by word: ‘Day Festival Davy happy’)

(Note on spelling and pronunciation: the spelling DD represents the voiced fricative /ð/, while the spelling D represents the stop /d/; the spelling Ŵ represents a long vowel, while the spelling W represents a consonant or a vowel, depending on context (see John Wells’s comment below); the spellings Y and U represent a high unrounded vowel — back ɨ or front ɪ, depending on your dialect.)

(Yes, hapus — seen also in Penblwydd hapus i chi! ‘Happy birthday to you! — is a borrowing from English.)

On the day, see my 3/2/15 posting “St. David’s Day”, on:

Saint David, patron saint of Wales. Land of the leek and the daffodil and the Red Dragon national flag (see my 3/1/12 posting “Take a leek” for some discussion of these symbols).

With an image of Fluellen and his leek:


On the nickname Dewi, from Wikipedia:

Dewi is an alternate or diminutive form of the Welsh masculine given name Dafydd (“David”) [anglicized as the slur name Taffy for a stereotypical Welshman]. It is most famously borne by the patron saint of Wales, Saint David (Welsh: Dewi Sant).

And now the descent into some of the technicalities, from a language lesson on the BBC Wales website:

This week it’s St David’s Day – Dydd Gŵyl Dewi. But sometimes you will hear people saying Dydd Gŵyl Ddewi, where they mutate the name Dewi. In fact, both versions are correct – the first version Dydd Gŵyl Dewi refers to the fact that it is the festival of Dewi –

Gŵyl pwy? – whose festival
Gŵyl Dewi – Dewi’s festival of course!

The second version – Gŵyl Ddewi – describes the actual festival rather than explain whose it is [that is, it picks out a particular type of festival] and could be loosely translated as ‘the Dewi festival’. Gŵyl is a [feminine-gender] word, so any adjective [modifying] it would have to take a soft mutation [a systematic morphophonological alternation affecting the initial segments of words in connected speech] –

gŵyl dda – A good festival [da ‘good’]
gŵyl ddiflas – A boring festival [diflas ‘boring, tasteless’]
Gŵyl Ddewi! – Well – a David festival!

We all know that Dydd Gŵyl Dewi falls on March the 1st. But in the same way that we can say in English either March the first or the 1st of March we can say in Welsh – Mawrth y cyntaf or y Cyntaf o Fawrth. Of course if you use the second pattern – y Cyntaf o Fawrth – you must remember to mutate the [name of the] month after the preposition ‘o’. So Mawrth becomes Fawrth [the spelling F represents a /v/].

Further technicality, inserted into my nostalgic 2/16/19 posting “President’s Day weekend in Berkeley”:

A significant part of [“The general case: basic form versus default form” (Berkeley Linguistics Society, 1986)] was taken up with what I call shape alternations in [morpho]phonology (largely in connection with Welsh mutations) … Here’s a brief post-1986 statement, from my “Some choices in the theory of morphology” (Levine, Formal Grammar, 1992), where it follows a lengthy and intricate discussion of (inflectionalforms of lexemes [at this point there comes a reproduced passage on shape alternations, as in English a ~ an for the indefinite article] — “related to what has been labeled, in other contexts, external sandhiphrase phonologypostlexical phonology, and precompiled lexical phonology, inter alia”]

Now go out and smell the daffodils (perhaps in the snow).


7 Responses to “The leek and the daffodil”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    It occurs to me that, instead of greeting every new month with “Rabbit rabbit rabbit” as the first utterance of the day, for March it should be “Dragon dragon dragon”.

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    I was well into my adulthood before I realized that “Fluellen” was Shakespeare’s spelling of the name more commonly spelled “Llewellyn” these days.

    And I can’t get out and smell the daffodils — it’s going to take a fair amount more climate change before any daffodil dares bloom as early as March 1 in New England.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The Welsh voiceless lateral fricative [ɬ] spelled with an LL (as in LLOYD) is anglicized as [l] (losing the frication) or [fl] (FLOYD, splitting the segment into a labial fricative piece f followed by a lateral piece), occasionally [kl] (CLOYD, splitting the segment into a velar fricative piece x — which is then pronounced as a stop, k — followed by a lateral piece). (The high frequency of the friction noise in [ɬ] pretty much guarantees that it will be heard as a peripheral fricative (f or x, with high-frequency noise) rather than a coronal fricative (s or š, with much lower-frequency noise).)

      As for daffodils in New England, well, yes, you don’t get them in nature for St. David’s Day. But there are blooming potted plants, and cut flowers. The markets are always optimistic about spring.

      • Robert Coren Says:

        I had somehow absorbed that “Floyd” and “Lloyd” were the same name without making the “Fluellen/Llewellyn” connection.

  3. [BLOG] Some Friday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] St. David’s Day, Arnold Zwicky pays tribute to the daffodil and to the […]

  4. John Wells Says:

    It’s not exactly true that “the spelling Ŵ represents a vowel, while the spelling W represents a consonant”. The spelling W, like the spelling I, can represent either a vowel or a consonant, depending on context; all letters representing vowels bear a circumflex if the vowel concerned is long, in an environment where this is not triggered by the nature of the following consonant. So in dan ‘under’ the vowel is short, while in tân ‘fire’ it is long; in dim ‘not’ it is short, but in tîm ‘team’ long; in twr ‘heap’ it is short, but in tŵr ‘tower’ long.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Thanks, John. Now clarified in the text. The crucial point in my posting was that ŵ in gŵyl represents a vowel, not a consonant (like the consonant represented by w in gwyn ‘white, holy’).

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