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Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

24/02/2012

Let me transport you, by the magic of the Internet, to Wales. The ancient Celtic language of Welsh has been making something of a come-back in recent years, but most of the estimated 611,000 Welsh speakers live in the north; that’s 22% of the population, by the way, and 315,000 of them regard themselves as fluent. In 2008, Swansea Council (in South Wales) wanted to stop heavy goods vehicles using a residential road near an ASDA store. They decided to put up a new sign on the corner of Clase Road and Pant-y-Blawd Road in the Morriston area. By all the gods, look at the depth of research that goes into this.

All official signs throughout Wales are required to be bi-lingual, so the English text for a new road sign was sent by email to the council’s in-house translation service. Clear and fluent wording was received in Welsh, by return. Cynics among us have long learned to be suspicious of any local government body that does anything that quickly. This is what they got, and this is what they put on the sign:

Suspicion would have been right. The Welsh text was just an automated response, and actually read: “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated”.

Today’s headline? Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – in its full majesty, instead of disappearing off the right-hand margin – is a village on the island of Anglesey, and is a made-up name. Originally Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll, it was expanded in the 1860s as a publicity stunt in an attempt to boost tourism. People flocked across the Menai Strait to be photographed against the railway station’s sign. My mother (who definitely isn’t Welsh) taught me how to say it, as a party-trick, when I was 5. It means “St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near the rapid whirlpool and the church of St. Tysilio with a red cave”.

Here, let Peter Sellers teach you:

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