why do they speak welsh in patagonia

Music is helping to keep the Welsh language alive in Patagonia, harpist and composer Catrin Finch has said. She has been in the Welsh-speaking part of Argentina with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC NOW). Ysgol yr Hendre, the bilingual Welsh-Spanish school in Trelew, has hosted performances during a week of events. Ms Finch said it was "incredible" to visit a Patagonian school where all the pupils speak Welsh. "I think it's the music that is keeping the language alive," she said after the school visit. "Obviously I've lived in Wales my entire life, and you hear about Patagonia but you never quite get it, you never quite believe that people really do speak Welsh here. "
She said it was "incredible" to visit a school where "they all speak Welsh, and they know the songs we have been singing to them". "They almost know them better than we do," she added. "It's an incredible experience.


When you look out of the window at the countryside, what you see is so different to what we see in Wales, and yet there is a little patch here that is speaking Welsh. It is amazing. " As well as the workshops and performances for schools, members of the orchestra are also taking part in activities with community choirs and amateur orchestras. The week's performances include a Noson Lawen, an evening of traditional Welsh music, in the town of Gaiman and a gala concert in a converted wool warehouse in Trelew. After its week in Patagonia, BBC NOW will continue its first tour of South America with performances in Buenos Aires, Chile and Uruguay. Welsh is my first language. Growing up in an age where the language was legitimately under threat has given me an appreciation for its journey and survival and, consequently, an enormous sense of pride.


The greatest moment of resonance for me happened when I travelled to Chubut in southern Patagonia. The Welsh travelled there in 1865 in order to set up a colony and it is still spoken there today. I arrived, picked up a car and had been driving through the desert for some time. I pulled in to buy petrol. The old attendant filled up the car and said something in Spanish I couldnБt understand. He then shouted to his wife in perfect Welsh, БwhatБs 45 in English? Б I was stunned. Not only for the surrealism of the moment but because his accent sounded like someone who had never left Wales let alone been raised in a desert. I then crossed Argentina on horseback with 30 gauchos, all of Welsh descent. About half of them spoke Welsh Б the elders speaking it with the same accent as my grandfather, the younger ones speaking it with a strong Argentine accent.


Maybe one of my favourite things about speaking a minority language is using it outside of Wales to talk when you donБt want others to know what youБre saying. Although, that went spectacularly wrong once on a train in England when describing a young lady to a friend who had his back to her. She answered her phone and began speaking in Welsh and looked at me. Thankfully, I was incredibly complimentary. To me the most important thing is the survival of my language. However thereБs no doubt it has enormously enriched my skill set as an actor. It gives another perspective on language as a whole and I enjoy the detective work of etymology when you see the crossovers in other languages. This piece is part of the exhibition The languages that changed my life being held at the Guardian offices in London, 13-31 October. Read more stories like this:

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