Dydd gŵyl Dewi Sant hapus!

Today is the 1st of March (at least where I’m sitting, but not where WordPress’s clock/calendar is located), which is commemorated in some parts of the Christian Church as St David’s day. It is a date of some significance in our family. This year it falls on Wednesday, indeed on Ash Wednesday, which is commemorated in most parts of the Christian Church. This is coincidental, as Ash Wednesday, which is linked to the lunar calendar calculation of Easter, can fall anywhere between 4 February and 10 March. 1 March 2006 also fell on a Wednesday, which is not surprising, as the calendar repeats every 11 + 11 + 6 years. 1 March 2006 was also Ash Wednesday, which is surprising, as the date of Easter jumps around the calendar seemingly randomly. (If there is a pattern, it certainly plays out over longer periods than 11 years.)

The only reason I remember this is that at that time I was singing in a church choir which rehearses on Wednesday evening, but on that day instead sang a solemn Eucharist for Ash Wednesday. (Later the same year I went to Korea for the first time, which is another way I can specify years.) Before the service we were chatting in general about the service and the music we were going to sing. I said to a co-chorister, ‘It’s also St David’s day’. He said, ‘Why is he a saint?’. I said, ‘He was the patron saint of Wales’. He looked puzzled and said, ‘What did he do to deserve that?’. I looked puzzled and said, ‘He lived there’. He said ‘Oh, /weɪlz/ [Wales]! I thought you said /ʍeɪlz/ [whales]’.

Some (?most) English speakers do not distinguish between /w/ and /ʍ/, the difference between which is possibly best explained by an example. In other words, they pronounce Wales and whales identically. Apparently, I said /ʍeɪlz/ and not /weɪlz/, which makes two different words, unlike /wɪp/ and /ʍɪp/, which is just ‘saying it weird’. Or at least he processed what I said in that way. He definitely said /weɪlz/ and /ʍeɪlz/ in his last sentence. Of course, I don’t have a recording of the conversation. I would not have said (then – in fact I would not say now), that I systematically distinguish between /w/ and /ʍ/, but apparently I do, or at least did on that occasion. It would be hard to test myself now I’m aware of the issue. Last week, though, a topic in the textbook was feelings, and one of the words was overwhelmed. I noticed myself saying /ʍ/ in the middle of that.


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