Lost in translation

We know that words and language matter – we’re a literary festival, after all. And, in Wales, we have the privilege of a native language that’s more than holding its own despite centuries of challenge from the global lingua franca that is English. 

Whether we’re Welsh speakers, learners or can only manage the odd Bore da, we know that our language is important to us as a nation. And, at this year’s Monty Lit Fest, there are plenty of opportunities to explore language – whether our own or someone else’s – and its relationship with culture and human connection. 

There is a sense, perhaps, that we will always lose something in translation, that we can never quite capture the linguistic nuance that comes from the interplay between culture and language. But that doesn’t mean that that culture is, or needs to be, inaccessible – or that we can’t communicate across linguistic divides. 

Take, for example, the hymns of Wales that we’ll be exploring – and singing – at the Festival’s Cymanfa Ganu. For M Wynn Thomas, author of Poems from the Soul: Twelve of the Great Hymns of Wales, hymns in Wales are different, a deep-rooted part of a people’s culture. We feel the power of the language, whether or not we understand what all the words mean when we sing Calon Lân. 

Carwyn Graves’s new book, Tir, explores the relationship between the Welsh landscape, culture and language. We naturally say we’re going for a walk “up the fridd” without even thinking what that means and the crucial role fridd (mountain pasture) traditionally played – and has the potential to play again – in rural life. It’s just something that’s always been part of our experience. 

One of the main protagonists in Carys Davies’ novel, Clear, is one of the last surviving speakers of a dying language traditionally spoken in Orkney and Shetland. So, when he is unexpectedly visited by someone from the Scottish mainland, they have no words in common – yet are still able to forge a powerful relationship. 

Delyth Badder wants to expand our horizons by sharing Welsh ghost stories that have never before been translated, taking them to readers beyond as well as within Wales and showcasing our deep and rich folkore and heritage. 

Translation might never be fully possible or satisfactory, but, as these four very different books show, it is possible to find meaning and connection beyond the literal. Join us to continue the discussion over this year’s Monty LitFest weekend. 

Tickets are all sessions are available online, or in person at The Montgomery Bookshop or Ivy House Café in Montgomery.