Author: Dafydd Jones
Robert and Meagan Davis, co-authors of the Welsh instalment of ‘The Tattoo Handbook’ series, tell their story of their family heritage, learning a foreign language and strengthening a potential world-wide network.
Robert’s family hail from Merthyr and moved to the United States of America to work in the coal industry.
A century and a half on, the Davis family took it upon themselves to learn the Welsh language.
“My family emigrated from Wales around 150 years ago,” Robert said.
“I spent some time living in the UK as a kid. I’ve been to Wales multiple times and took into my head at some point to learn Welsh.
“I mean yes, it’s hard. The funny thing I always like to tell people is that I feel like, at a beginner level, you can learn useful amounts of Welsh more easily than you can learn an equivalent amount of a lot of languages that people more commonly study.
“It’s only when you start going beyond that that you discover that it isn’t just superficially weird, this is hard. But then, you can fully matriculate. I think it’s encouraging for folks who are just starting out, once you’ve got your basic conjugation and you start picking up vocabulary, you can say lots of things!”
Robert’s wife, Meagan, had experience of learning languages prior to adopting the Welsh language and found that it stood her in good stead to tackle a notoriously difficult language to learn.
“I’ve always been kind of a language nerd,” she said.
“I found that my previous experience with French and German, that helped. I found that a lot of other people who have learned other languages have an easier time with Welsh, but it’s very different. Celtic languages are their own beast. It’s been fun though, I’ve enjoyed the challenge.
“I have a Celtic background, mostly Scottish and Irish, no actual Welsh background, but when Rob proposed to me, he invited me to join him on a Welsh course that he’d been attending yearly with Cymdeithas Madog and that was my first opportunity to learn Welsh.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I took it on because I felt the importance of passing on Welsh to our future children, and now that we have a two-year-old daughter, I’m glad we did.”
Both Robert and Meagan expressed they have built strong bonds whilst learning Welsh, in a growing community of learners.
“We do have a pretty healthy online community. We communicate with people in other parts of the US fairly often,” Meagan said.
“The Welsh speaking and Welsh learning community in the US is pretty tightly networked. Folks see each other at courses, they communicate online, they have events.
“That’s one of the wonderful things about the Welsh learning community, it’s been very welcoming. I came in as a complete beginner, but it’s very easy to make friends with folks who have this in common.
“For whatever reason, the folks who want to learn Welsh in North America are lovely people, very warm and in that way, they reflect most of the Welsh people we know.”
Encouragement for the Welsh language was found in the form of the Office of National Statistics’ findings in 2018 that the number of Welsh speakers had grown by approximately 150,000 since 2008.
The Davis family believe the power of the internet will be key in the language’s future growth.
“Online communities have gone a long way,” Meagan insisted.
“Cymdeithas Madog is actually working right now to have some sort of conversation sessions on a monthly basis just so people can hear other people speak Welsh, wherever they want to join in. Building those communication opportunities is important.”
“We’ve seen a lot of interest,” Robert added. “The number of folks trying to learn Welsh on their own has grown significantly and the big thing we keep hearing that folks need is an opportunity to practise and hear someone speak Welsh who knows what they’re doing and is confident.
“They can hear that and be shaped by that. If more of those opportunities were being publicised, then I can see that naturally strengthening the global community of Welsh learners and speakers.”
Robert and Meagan are co-authors of ‘The Welsh Tattoo Handbook: Authentic Words and Phrases in the Celtic Language of Wales’, which guides those wanting a tattoo in Welsh in avoiding a costly spelling or grammatical mistake.
The pair expressed that the opportunity to be involved in the Welsh instalment of the series was one that fell on their doorstep.
‘’One of our Welsh speaking friends is actually friends with the publisher and we knew that the publisher was wanting to add Welsh to the series of Celtic tattoo handbooks. That person thought of us, thought that we would do a good job and sort of facilitated the connection,” Robert said.
“We did a book proposal to sort of show the publisher we know what we’re talking about and we felt like we were all on a wavelength for the project.
“That’s how it got kicked off, it really just fell on our laps. Two and a half years of work later, it became a book. It was exciting. It’s nice to try and do something for the language.
‘’We care about the representation of Welsh in the world. It’s a fun way for someone to get in touch with their heritage.
‘’I think there’s just no need for there to be bad Welsh out there. I mean, every time you see one of those signs that’s been mistranslated or something, you just cringe, right?
“So the idea of somebody who just wants to connect with their heritage, the idea that they’d be walking around with a tattoo that says ‘Cymru am ddim’ instead of ‘’Cymru rhydd’’ on it makes me want to barf, so I’m happy to help!
“Then, there’s this element of the book that we’re hoping that some people, who encounter Welsh through it, might be motivated to think they maybe they can do more than just get a tattoo and if that’s something we can help them with, then the more the better.”