Peithiau a maip

Recently I heard about a series of programmes on S4C (the Welsh language TV channel) presented by the naturalist Iolo Williams, in which he visits Native American communities and learns about their cultures, languages and the natural world around them. The programmes are in Welsh, apart from odd bits of English and Native American languages, and subtitles in English or Welsh are available.

In the programme I just watched, which focuses on the Lakota, Iolo uses a number of Welsh words I hadn’t heard before:

- paith (pl. peithiau) = prairie
- ci y paith (pl. cŵn y paith) = prairie dog
- meipen (pl. maip) = turnip – in this context a type of wild food found on the prairie – psoralea esculenta*
- toddi = to melt – here it is used in the context of taming wild horses

Other Welsh words for prairie include gwastatir (“level land”) and gweundir (“grass (?) land”).

The English word prairie comes from the French prairie, from the Old French praerie, from Vulgar Latin *prataria, from Latin pratum (meadow – originally “a hollow”). The existed as prayere in Middle English, but fell out of use, and then was reborrowed from French to describe the American plains, where immigrants wagons where known as “prairie schooners” [source].

*Psoralea esculenta – a herbaceous perennial plant native to prairies and dry woodlands of central North America with an edible starchy tuberous root. English names for the plant include tipsin, teepsenee, breadroot, breadroot scurf pea, pomme blanche, and prairie turnip, and the Lakota name is Timpsula [source].

Diolch i Siôn Jobbins am yr awgrym

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This entry was posted in Language, Welsh, Words and phrases.

7 Responses to Peithiau a maip

  1. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Your post evokes the complexity of plural-formation in Welsh. The Teach Yourself Welsh book that I had 30 years or so ago said that the rules for forming the plural of a Welsh noun were very complicated, but I couldn’t detect any rules at all. Are there any? Is it possible to guess what the plural of a noun you are meeting for the first time is likely to be? On the whole I prefer the way nouns are made plural in Provençal: leave them exactly as they are.

  2. Yenlit says:

    ‘Gweundir’ (grass (?) land) is ‘gwaun + tir’ from ‘gwaun’ (pl. gweunydd) meaning ‘meadow’; ‘moorland’; ‘heathland’. There’s also the plant ‘gweunwellt’ meadowgrass.

  3. Yenlit says:

    Oh yeah, the plural of ‘paith’ is ‘peithiau’ as far as I know although I could be wrong?

  4. Simon says:

    ACB – there are quite a few different ways of forming plurals of nouns in Welsh and they are generally not predictable from the singular. Most plurals involve adding an ending (there are 12 to choose from) and/or making an internal vowel change, though in some cases the plural is completely different to the singular, e.g. ci (dog) cŵn (dogs), tŷ (house), tai (houses). There don’t seem to be any widely-applicable rules.

    Yenlit – you’re right, the plural of paith is peithiau.

  5. Yenlit says:

    Also Simon, turnip singular is ‘erfinen’ or ‘meipen’ the plural is ‘erfin’ and ‘maip’.

  6. DA says:

    The only rule which can be applied to Welsh plurals is “Always learn the plural at the same time as you learn the singular.”
    Has anyone heard the plural of a plural being used? I remember hearing farmers talking of sheep’s feet as a plural of “traed”, pronouncing it “tradau”, on the basis that if a sheep as feet, then many sheep must have feets! I also watched Iolo Williams’s great programmes and I am sure that he used the same type of construction for the plural of eyes, “llygadau”, if I remember rightly, when he was with trackers who were keeping their “lots of pairs of eyes” peeled for tracks. Very interesting and well done programmes.

  7. Yenlit says:

    DA – yeah, you’re right I’m sure I’ve heard a double plural of ‘esgid’ (esgideuau) meaning ‘pairs of shoes’ and in the bible there’s the double plural of corpse ‘celain’ pl. ‘celanedd’ double pl. ‘celaneddau’ meaning ‘piles of dead bodies’. And even though the standard dictionary plural of the English loan word monkey ‘mwnci’ is pl. mwncïod you do see due to the confusion with the ‘ci’ (dog) ending a plural ‘mwncwn’ and even ‘mwncwns’ an English/Welsh double plural.