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George Borrow

places mentioned

Cumro and Cumraeg

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THE original home of the Cumro was Southern Hindustan, the extreme point of which, Cape Comorin, derived from him its name. It may be here asked what is the exact meaning of the word Cumro? The true meaning of the word is a youth. It is connected with a Sanscrit word, signifying a youth, and likewise a prince. It is surprising how similar in meaning the names of several nations are: Cumro, a youth; Gael, a hero;24 Roman, one who is comely, a husband;25 Frank or Frenchman, a free, brave fellow; Dane, an honest man; Turk, a handsome lad; Arab, a sprightly fellow. Lastly, Romany Chal, the name by which the Gypsy styles himself, signifying not an Egyptian, but a lad of Rome.26

The language of the Cumro is called after him Cumraeg. Of Cumric there are three dialects, the speech of Cumru or Wales; that of Armorica or, as the Welsh call it, Llydaw, and the Cornish, which is no longer spoken, and only exists in books and in the names of places. The Cumric bears considerable affinity to the Gaelic, or the language of the Gael, of which there are also three dialects, the Irish, the speech of the Scottish Highlanders, and the Manx, which last is rapidly becoming extinct. The Cumric and Gaelic have not only a great many thousand words in common, but also a remarkable grammatical feature, the mutation and dropping of certain initial consonants under certain circumstances, which feature is peculiar to the Celtic languages. The number of Sanscritic words which the Cumric and Gaelic possess is considerable. Of the two the Gaelic possesses the most, and those have generally more of the Sanscritic character, than the words of the same class which are to be found in the Welsh. The Welsh, however, frequently possesses the primary word when the Irish does not. Of this the following is an instance. One of the numerous Irish words for a mountain is codadh. This word is almost identical with the Sanscrit kuta, which also signifies a mountain; but kuta and codadh are only secondary words. The Sanscrit possesses the radical of kuta, and that is kuda, to heap up, but the Irish does not possess the radical of codadh. The Welsh, without possessing any word for a hill at all like codadh, has the primary or radical word; that word is codi, to rise or raise, almost identical in sound and sense with the Sanscrit kuda. Till a house is raised there is no house, and there is no hill till the Nara or Omnipotent says ARISE.

The Welsh is one of the most copious languages of the world, as it contains at least eighty thousand words. It has seven vowels; w in Welsh being pronounced like oo, and y like u and i. Its most remarkable feature is the mutation of initial consonants, to explain which properly would require more space than I can afford.27 The nouns are of two numbers, the singular and plural, and a few have a dual number. The genders are three, the Masculine, the Feminine and the Neuter. There are twelve plural terminations of nouns, of which the most common is au. Some substantives are what the grammarians call aggregate plurals,28 "which are not used in the plural without the addition of diminutive terminations, for example adar, birds, aderyn, a bird; gwenyn, bees, gwenynen, a single bee." There are different kinds of adjectives; some have a plural, some have none; some have a feminine form, others have not; the most common plural termination is ion. It is said by some that the verb has properly no present tense, the future being used instead. The verbs present many difficulties, and there are many defective and irregular ones. In the irregularities of its verbs the Welsh language very much resembles the Irish.

The numerals require some particular notice: forty, sixty and eighty are expressed by deugain, trigain, and pedwarugain, literally, two twenties, three twenties, and four twenties; whilst fifty, seventy, and ninety are expressed by words corresponding with ten after two twenties, ten after three twenties, and ten after four twenties. Whether the Welsh had ever a less clumsy way of expressing the above numbers is unknown - something similar is observable in French, and the same practice prevails in the modern Gaelic; in the ancient Gaelic, however, there are such numerals as ceathrachad, seasgad, and naochad, which correspond with quadraginta, sexaginta, and nonaginta. The numerals dau, tri, and pedwar, or two, three, and four, have feminine forms, becoming when preceding feminine nouns, dwy, tair, and pedair. In Gaelic no numeral has a feminine form; certain numerals, however, have an influence over nouns which others have not, and before cead, a hundred, and mile, a thousand, do, two, is changed into da, for it is not customary to say do chead, two hundred, and do mhile, two thousand, but da chead and da mhile.29 With respect to pedwar, the Welsh for four, I have to observe that it bears no similitude to the word for the same number in Gaelic; the word for four in Gaelic is ceathair, and the difference between ceathair and pedwar is great indeed. Ceathair is what may be called a Sanscritic numeral; and it is pleasant to trace it in various shapes, through various languages, up to the grand speech of India: Irish, ceathair; Latin, quatuor; Greek, tessares; Russian, cheturi; Persian, chahar; Sanscrit, chatur. As to pedwar, it bears some resemblance to the English four, the German vier, is almost identical with the Wallachian patrou, and is very much like the Homeric word [Greek text which cannot be reproduced], but beyond Wallachia and Greece we find nothing like it, bearing the same meaning, though it is right to mention that the Sanscrit word pada signifies a QUARTER, as well as a foot. It is curious that the Irish word for five, cuig, is in like manner quite as perplexing as the Welsh word for four. The Irish word for five is not a Sanscritic word, pump, the Welsh word for five, is. Pantschan is the Sanscrit word for five, and pump is linked to pantschan by the AEolick pempe, the Greek pente and pemptos, the Russian piat and the Persian Pantsch; but what is cuig connected with? Why it is connected with the Latin quinque, and perhaps with the Arabic khamsa; but higher up than Arabia we find nothing like it; or if one thinks one recognises it, it is under such a disguise that one is rather timorous about swearing to it - and now nothing more on the subject of numerals.

I have said that the Welsh is exceedingly copious. Its copiousness, however, does not proceed, like that of the English, from borrowing from other languages. It has certainly words in common with other tongues, but no tongue, at any rate in Europe, can prove that it has a better claim than the Welsh to any word which it has in common with that language. No language has a better supply of simple words for the narration of events than the Welsh, and simple words are the proper garb of narration; and no language abounds more with terms calculated to express the abstrusest ideas of the meta-physician. Whoever doubts its capability for the purpose of narration, let him peruse the Welsh Historical Triads, in which are told the most remarkable events which befell the early Cumry; and whosoever doubts its power for the purpose of abstruse reasoning, let him study a work called Rhetorick, by Master William Salisbury, written about the year 1570, and I think he will admit that there is no hyperbole, or, as a Welshman would call it, GORWIREB, in what I have said with respect to the capabilities of the Welsh language.

As to its sounds - I have to observe that at the will of a master it can be sublimely sonorous, terribly sharp, diabolically guttural and sibilant, and sweet and harmonious to a remarkable degree. What more sublimely sonorous than certain hymns of Taliesin; more sharp and clashing than certain lines of Gwalchmai and Dafydd Benfras, describing battles; more diabolically grating than the Drunkard's Choke-pear by Rhys Goch, and more sweet than the lines of poor Gronwy Owen to the Muse? Ah, those lines of his to the Muse are sweeter even than the verses of Horace, of which they profess to be an imitation. What lines in Horace's ode can vie in sweetness with

"Tydi roit a diwair wen
Lais eos i lysowen!"

"Thou couldst endow, with thy dear smile,
With voice of lark the lizard vile!"

Eos signifies a nightingale, and Lysowen an eel. Perhaps in no language but the Welsh, could an eel be mentioned in lofty poetry: Lysowen is perfect music.

Having stated that there are Welsh and Sanscrit words which correspond, more or less, in sound and meaning, I here place side by side a small number of such words, in order that the reader may compare them.

Aber, a meeting of waters, an outflowing; Avon, a river; Aw, a flowing Ap, apah, water; apaga, a river; Persian, ab, water; Wallachian, apa
Anal, breath Anila, air
Arian, silver
Aur, gold
Ara, brass; Gypsy, harko, copper30
Athu, to go At'ha; Russian, iti
Bod, being, existence Bhavat, bhuta
Brenin, a king Bharanda, a lord; Russian barin
Caer, a wall, a city Griha, geha, a house; Hindustani, ghar; Gypsy, kair, kaer
Cain, fine, bright Kanta, pleasing, beautiful;
Kana, to shine
Canu, to sing Gana, singing
Cathyl, a hymn Kheli a song; Gypsy, gillie
Coed, a wood, trees Kut'ha, kuti, a tree
Cumro, a Welshman Kumara, a youth, a prince
Daear, daeren, the earth Dhara, fem. dharani
Dant, a tooth Danta
Dawn, a gift Dana
Derw, an oak Daru, timber
Dewr, bold, brave Dhira
Drwg, bad Durgati, hell; Durga, the goddess of destruction
Duw, God Deva, a god
Dwfr, dwfyr, water Tivara, the ocean (Tiber, Tevere)
Dwr, water Uda; Greek, [Text which cannot be reproduced] Sanscrit, dhlira, the ocean; Persian, deria, dooria, the sea; Gypsy, dooria
En, a being, a soul, that which lives An, to breathe, to live; ana, breath; Irish, an, a man, fire
Gair, a word Gir, gira, speech
Gwr, a man Gwres, heat Vira, a hero, strong, fire; Lat. vir, a man; Dutch, vuur, fire; Turkish, er, a man; Heb., ur, fire
Geneth, girl Kani
Geni, to be born Jana
Gwybod, to know Vid
Hocedu, to cheat Kuhaka, deceit
Huan, the sun Ina
Ieuanc,young Youvan
Ir, fresh, juicy Irdra, juiciness Ira, water
Llances, a girl Lagnika
Lleidyr, a thief Lata
Maen, a stone Mani, a gem
Mam, mother Ma
Marw, to die Mara, death
Mawr, great Maha
Medd, mead Mad'hu, honey
Meddwi, to intoxicate Mad, to intoxicate; Mada, intoxication; Mada, pleasure; Madya, wine; Matta, intoxicated; Gypsy, matto, drunk; Gr. [Text which cannot be reproduced], wine, [Text which cannot be reproduced], to be drunk
Medr, a measure Matra
Nad, a cry Nad, to speak; Nada, sound
Nant, ravine, rivulet Nadi, a river
Neath, Nedd, name of a river; nedd, a dingle, what is low, deep (Nith, Nithsdale) Nicha, low, deep; nichaga, a river, that which descends; nitha, water
Nef, heaven Nabhas; Russian, nabeca, the heavens; Lat., nubes, a cloud
Neidiaw, to leap; Nata, to dance; Nata, dancing
Ner, the Almighty, the Lord, the Creator Nara, that which animates every thing, the spirit of God31
Nerth, strength, power Nara, man, the spirit of God; Gr. [text which cannot be reproduced], a man, [text which cannot be reproduced] strength; Persian, nar, a male; Arabic, nar, fire
Noddwr, a protector Natha
Nos, night Nisa
Pair, a cauldron Pit'hara
Ped, a foot; pedair, four Pad, a foot; pada, a quarter
Pridd, earth Prithivi, the earth
Prif, principal, prime Prabhu, a lord, a ruler
Rhen, the Lord Rajan, a king
Rhian, a lady Hindustani, rani
Rhod, a wheel Ratha, a car
Swm, being together Sam
Swynwr, a wizard, sorcerer Sanvanana, a witch; Hindustani, syani
Tad, father Tata
Tan, fire Dahana
Tant, a string Tantu
Tanu, to expand Tana
Toriad, a breaking, cutting Dari, cutting
Uchafedd, height Uchch'ya
Ych, ox Ukshan

The Nara is called by the Tartars soukdoun, and by the Chinese ki: "Principe qui est dans le ciel, sur la terre, dans l'homme, et dans toutes les choses materielles et immaterielles." - DICTIOINNAIRE TARTARE MANTCHOU, par Amyot. Tome second, p, 124.

In the above list of Cumric and Sanscrit words there are certainly some remarkable instances of correspondence in sound and sense, the most interesting of which is that afforded by Ner, the Cumric word for the Lord, and Nara, the Sanscrit word for the Spirit of God. From comparing the words in that list one might feel disposed to rush to the conclusion that the Cumric sprang from the Sanscrit, the sacred language of sunny Hindustan. But to do so would be unwise, for deeper study would show that if the Welsh has some hundreds of words in common with the Sanscrit, it has thousands upon thousands which are not to be found in that tongue, after making all possible allowance for change and modification. No subject connected with what is called philosophy is more mortifying to proud human reason than the investigation of languages, for in what do the researches of the most unwearied philologist terminate but a chaos of doubt and perplexity, else why such exclamations as these? Why is the Wallachian word for water Sanscrit? for what is the difference between apa and ap? Wallachian is formed from Latin and Sclavonian; why then is not the word for water either woda or aqua, or a modification of either? Why is the Arabic word for the sea Irish, for what is the difference between bahar, the Arabic word for sea, and beathra, an old Irish word for water, pronounced barra, whence the river Barrow? How is it that one of the names of the Ganges is Welsh; for what is the difference between Dhur, a name of that river, and dwr, the common Welsh word for water? How is it that aequor, a Latin word for the sea, so much resembles AEgir, the name of the Norse God of the sea? and how is it that Asaer, the appellative of the Northern Gods, is so like Asura, the family name of certain Hindu demons? Why does the scanty Gailk, the language of the Isle of Man, possess more Sanscrit words than the mighty Arabic, the richest of all tongues; and why has the Welsh only four words for a hill, and its sister language the Irish fifty-five? How is it that the names of so many streams in various countries, for example Donau, Dwina, Don, and Tyne, so much resemble Dhuni, a Sanscrit word for a river? How is it that the Sanscrit devila stands for what is wise and virtuous, and the English devil for all that is desperate and wicked? How is it that Alp and Apennine, Celtic words for a hill, so much resemble ap and apah, Sanscrit words for water? Why does the Sanscrit kalya mean to-morrow as well as yesterday, and the Gypsy merripen life as well as death? How is it that ur, a Gaelic word for fire, is so like ura the Basque word for water, and Ure the name of an English stream? Why does neron, the Modern Greek word for water, so little resemble the ancient Greek [text which cannot be reproduced] and so much resemble the Sanscrit nira? and how is it that nara, which like nira signifies water, so much resembles nara, the word for man and the Divinity? How is it that Nereus, the name of an ancient Greek water god, and Nar, the Arabic word for fire, are so very like Ner, the Welsh word for the Creator? How is it that a certain Scottish river bears the name of the wife of Oceanus, for what is Teith but Teithys? How indeed! and why indeed! to these and a thousand similar questions. Ah man, man! human reason will never answer them, and you may run wild about them, unless, dropping your pride, you are content to turn for a solution of your doubts to a certain old volume, once considered a book of divine revelation, but now a collection of old wives' tales, the Bible.

24 Sanscrit, Kali, a hero.

25 Sanscrit, Rama, Ramana, a husband.

26 Romany chal, son of Rome, lad of Rome. Romany chi, daughter of Rome, girl of Rome. Chal, chiel, child, the Russian cheloviek, a man, and the Sanscrit Jana, to be born, are all kindred words.

27 For a clear and satisfactory account of this system see Owen's Welsh Grammar, p. 13.

28 Owen's Grammar, p. 40.

29 Pronounced vile or wile - here the principle of literal mutation is at work.

30 Lat. aurum, gold; AERis, of brass. Perhaps the true meaning of ara, aurum, &., is unrefined metal; if so, we have the root of them all in our own word ore.

31 "The Eternal, the divine imperishable spirit pervading the universe." - WILSON'S SANSCRIT DICTIONARY, p. 453.

George Borrow, Wild Wales: Its People, Language and Scenery (Oxford, Mississippi, 1996)

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