Sound and vision blog

11 August 2010

Voices of the UK - A cwtch on the couch

Following on from the last Voices of the UK post about code-switching in Northwest Wales, this week we have speakers from the south of Wales, from Treorchy in the Rhondda. This is an area not so often perceived as bilingual: according to the Welsh Language Board’s 2004 survey, 12.9% of the population of Rhondda Cynon Taf (the local authority area) identify as able to speak Welsh compared to 71.9% in Gwynedd (where last week’s post about Bethesda referred to). To access the WLB report click here (p.48).

However in the south of the country there is much talk of “Wenglish”. This doesn't really imply full code-switching between the two languages, but it is often informally used to express certain aspects of pronunciation or regional vocab that are found in English spoken in “the Valleys”. Globally, speaker communities seem to have become quite fond of blending the ‘-nglish’ part of the word (a sub-morpheme – morphologists take note!) with the name of other languages: there is Hinglish (for the code-switched Hindi-English spoken by an estimated third of a billion people in urban India) and Singlish, the name given to the creolised English spoken in Singapore. But we're getting off the point!

The Wenglish that our Treorchy group are addressing refers to those words that (probably) come from Welsh and that are used in their community. Have a listen to their discussion about the word cwtch here  (note: Blaencwm is a village a couple of miles up the road from Treorchy).

Cwtch is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) with the particular spelling <cwtch> from 1983 onwards. It's also in Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary (EDD) as <cooch> (1898-1905), although Wright notes that no one surveyed for the compilation of the EDD knew the word. So the earliest known written form <cooch> is from  J.D. Robertson’s "Gloss. Words County of Gloucester" published in 1890. The OED suggests that it derives from Welsh cwts, meaning resting place, and that this most likely was a borrowing/adaptation of English couch.

As our speakers say, the word now has both its noun meaning, that of ‘cubby hole’, and verb meaning, that of ‘to cuddle’, plus other related forms such as ‘coal store’ and as a dog command. It is possibly more familiar to non-Wenglish British speakers over the last couple of years because it featured in the BBC drama Gavin and Stacey, set in Barry, South Wales. The scene where Stacey asks Gavin to “give us a cwtch” isn’t available online but here is a token scene starring Stacey’s best friend Nessa – note the all-purpose Wenglish response tidy.


Dear Reader of 13th October,

Apologies if the article isn't clear - the post is about a word (cwtch) used in Welsh English with various meanings: to cuddle, a small space under the stairs etc. Please do email us off-blog if there is anything else you'd like me to clarify. Unfortunately we've had to remove the link to the commercial site you posted as part of your comment.

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