When Romani people (‘Gypsy’ is what other people called them, and is regarded by some as a slur) first arrived in Britain they spoke their own Romani language, a European language of Indian origin. Over the years the English Romani eventually abandoned the language in favour of a mixture of English grammar with a heavy admixture of Romani words, but up until the first half of the twentieth century some of the Gypsies of Wales still spoke their own dialect of the old language. That meant that it lasted long enough for an Irish scholar working at the University of Liverpool, John Sampson, to learn the language from them and to study it.
So in the early part of the 20th century there appeared in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society – some issues of which are now online because out of copyright – a series of Welsh Gypsy Folk-Tales collected by Sampson. A lot of these are quite fun and interesting, and I find it fascinating in itself that you’ve got stories taken down, say, in Tal-y-llyn or Machynlleth, odd sentences of which could still be understood in Persia or Afghanistan.
I’ve learnt a bit – only a bit – of European Kalderash Romani from books and online, and between that and the English translation Sampson gives I can make sense of these stories, and it struck me as maybe an interesting idea (in terms of trying to make myself do more in Welsh) to try to turn some of them into Welsh instead of English. Obviously, it’s kind of a weird, idle fancy, because it then forces you into making decisions about how much you try to reflect the language of the original story instead of just trying to write normal Welsh (and possibly failing), but I thought I’d give it a go, in case anyone else was interested.
So here’s my first attempt: I’d be very glad of any corrections or improvements to the Welsh. This is a story that’s actually known from other sources as well, and a version of it appeared in my daughter’s comic a while ago, but this one was told to John Sampson by Matthew Wood at Tal-y-llyn sometime before 1910. Sampson’s English follows my Welsh, and Matthew Wood’s original is here. I’ll almost certainly try to do some more, for my own interest, and if anybody likes them I can post them here when I do.
Y Ffŵl efo’r Defaid
Oedd ‘na ffermdy bach, a ‘chydig o fuchod, a thri brawd. Twpsyn oedd un brawd, ac oedd y lleill eisiau ei ladd o. Doedden nhw ddim yn gwybod be’ i wneud. Ddudodd y brawd hŷn, “Jac, tyrd yma. Dan ni’n mynd i fy Nuw annwyl [i’r nef].” “Sut medra’i fynd yno?” “Tyrd efo ni.” “Do i!”
Aethon nhw i nôl sach. “Dos i mewn yma.” Aeth o i mewn y sach. Dyna’r dau frawd yn rhwymo’r sach. Felly mae’r dau’n mynd i ffordd ac oedden nhw’n cario’r sach. Cyrhaeddon nhw dafarn. Wnaethon nhw roi’r sach i lawr ac aethon nhw i mewn y dafarn i gael tipyn o gwrw.
Ac yno daeth dieithr, a defaid. [sef: daeth dieithr heibio efo’i ddefaid]. Oedd hwn [Jac] tu mewn y sach. Wnaeth o weiddi arno fo. "Be’ sy?" ddudodd y dieithr. “Dyma ddyn sy’n mynd i fy Nuw annwyl [i’r nef].” “Sut medra’i fynd yno fy hun?” “Agora’r sach 'ma.”
Agorodd y dyn y sach. A dyna’r llall yn dod allan o’r sach. Wnaeth o roi’r dyn arall i mewn y sach ac ei rwymo. A dyna’r llall yn mynd adre efo’r defaid.
Daeth y dau eraill allan a chymryd y sach ac aethon nhw i ffordd i’r môr. Wnaethon nhw daflu fo i mewn y môr. A dyna’r dau brawd a oedd yn mynd yn ôl. Daethon nhw i’r tŷ lle oedden nhw’n byw, a ddudodd y brawd hŷn i’r llall, “Byddwn ni’n iawn, rŵan.”
Mi welson nhw’r brawd arall a wnaethon [better: oedden] nhw’n synnu at ei weld o efo’r defaid. “Lle gest ti’r defaid’na, Jac?” “Yn y môr, y ffŵl iti!” “Tyrd efo ni, Jac, i ddangos i ni’r lle y gest ti nhw.”
Wnaeth Jac cau’r defaid mewn cae porfa. A dyna’r tri’n mynd i ffordd. “Lle mae o, Jac?” Cyrhaeddodd y tri’r môr. “Arhosa fan hyn,” meddai Jac wrth y brawd hŷn. Wnaeth o sefyll lle ddudodd o wrtha fo, a wnaeth Jac ei daflu fo i mewn y môr. Oedd o’n marw yn y dŵr, ac oedd y dŵr yn berwi. “Beth mae o’n gwneud rŵan?” meddai’r brawd iau. Oedd o’n casglu’r defaid tewaf [meddai Jac]. “Tafla fi i lawr cyn iddo fo’n cael y rhai tew i gyd!”
Ar ôl iddo fo daflu ei ddau brawd i farw yn y dŵr, wedyn aeth Jac gartre.
A dyna ni!
The Fool With the Sheep
There was a little farm-house, and a few cows and three brothers. One of the brothers was a fool, and the other two wanted to get rid of him. They could not think what to do. Said the eldest brother, “Jack, come here. See! we are going to heaven.” How can I go there?" “Come with us.” “Ay, that will I!”
They went to fetch a sack. “Get in here.” He got into the sack. The two brothers fastened it. The two set off bearing the sack. They came to an inn. They put down the sack and went inside for a drop of ale.
Now a stranger comes by with sheep. Our fellow in the sack shouted to him. “What’s the matter?” quoth the stranger. “Here’s a man going to heaven.” “How can I go there myself?” “Open this sack.” The man opened the sack. Out comes Jack. He put the other man into the sack and fastened it up. Here he is, going home with the sheep.
The other two came out, and they took the sack and went off to the sea. They flung it into the water. The two brothers were coming back. They reached the house where they lived. And said the eldest brother to the other, “We shall manage now.”
They beheld the youngest brother, and they were amazed to see him ther with the sheep. “Where didst thou get those sheep, Jack?” “In the sea, you fool.” “Come with us, Jack, and show us the place where thou didst get them.”
Jack put the sheep into a field. Now the three set off. “Where is the place, Jack?” They came to the sea. “Stand here,” said Jack to the eldest brother. He stood where he was told, and Jack flung him into the sea. He was drowning and the water was boiling around him. “What is he doing now?” said the younger brother. “He is picking out the fattest sheep.” “Throw me down before he gets all the fat ones.”
After he had thrown his two brothers into the water to drown, Jack betook himself home.
That is all!