The Things We Give Welsh Learners: y Babi Sinsir
So I was going through our bookshelf yesterday, because we’re fast approaching the point where we need a clear-out, and I came across one of my all-time favourite creations ever, probably even beating shit like the wheel and penicillin. Years back, before leaving The Man to pursue his dreams of being a sort of professional clown-thing, my husband used to be a translator for Neath Port Talbot Council; as is often the way with Welsh councils, though, owing to a lack of money and also everywhere is really close to each other (this country is 150 miles wide at its widest point, and about 47 miles at the thin bit. Ver ver small), NPT Council’s translating department was shared by Swansea Council. Thus it was that, in the halcyon days of circa 2009, the two decided to team up and produce a new Welsh language book for learners between them, and thus it got sent through to Steffan to proof read it.
A Thing You May Not Know: Welsh is one of ten indigenous languages to Britain, arguably the oldest, and has been viciously oppressed over the last millennium and a half as part of England’s big If You Destroy Their Culture They’ll Be Glad To Be Ruled By You policy. These days, it’s nonetheless still spoken by approximately a fifth of the Welsh population; a hell of a feat, considering, but the suppression of it continues to this day (just in cleverer, sneakier ways now than whipping people’s children if they’re heard.) But it is classified as Endangered. Thanks to Welsh-language schools now being a thing (though supply is much lower than demand), transmission rates to the younger generation are pretty good; but, Welsh is peculiarly dependent on adult learners.
This means that learner books might have to appeal to both children and adults while using very simple language, which I explain in case it in some way justifies the bewildering weirdness of what I’m about to show you; because at first glance, this book is simply for children. But it’s… Well.
I present to you, with translations in bold and commentary by me, Y Babi Sinsir.
Literally, “the Ginger Baby”, but they mean ‘ginger’ as in ‘gingerbread’. Literal ginger. Not the colour.
This is Mr Jones. This is Mrs Jones.
What’s wrong, Mrs Jones? I want a baby.
Note: there will be some confusion in this book about whether the narrator is speaking, or anyone else. It might seem cut and dried here, but there are no speech marks around “Dw i eisiau babi”, whereas later speech marks are used, and also in two pages’ time the narrator will actively pass a value judgement using first person, so… Well.
But, so far so good.
Mrs Jones is making a Babi Sinsir.
… okay, so I like this page because of the capitalisation of Babi Sinsir and the lack of definite article. She’s just making a Babi Sinsir. You know, a Babi Sinsir? Magical baby made of gingerbread that you make if you can’t conceive but can’t afford IVF? Yeah. A Babi Sinsir. That’s right.
Let it be known that this is Not A Thing in Welsh folklore or mythology. What the fuck. How does this work. Where does the magic come from? Do you need a faerie ingredient? Will the next page tell us?
This is the Babi Sinsir. I like the Babi Sinsir.
But it is apparently shit-capable and needs a nappy. It’s good that the narrator likes it anyway.
The Babi Sinsir is bad. He’s running.
“Come back, Babi Sinsir.”
Look how Worried the Joneses are. Funny how they don’t seem to be calling that enthusiastically, though. I’d have expected an exclamation mark at least. Did Mrs Jones always have a massive left arm? I can’t remember.
“Run, run, catch me. I’m the Babi Sinsir.”
Yeah, okay, so that’s the Welsh for “Run! Run! As fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!”, but once again, I’m going to have to draw attention to the lack of expressive punctuation here. It really feels like this naughty Babi Sinsir’s heart is just not in this.
“Come and help, Mr Horse.” “Run, run, catch me. I’m the Babi Sinsir.”
Cool, look, a floating horse has come to help.
The pen there, incidentally, was an attempt by the translators to work out who was talking. I can’t imagine why. This dialogue is on fire, everyone can tell.
“Come and help, Mrs Cow.” “Run, run, catch me. I’m the Babi Sinsir.”
Now they have been joined in their high-speed zombie shuffle by a married floating cow who is, if I’m not much mistaken, high as shit.
“Come and help, Mr Goat.”
“Run, run, catch me. I’m the Babi Sinsir.”
I’m starting to suspect the artist only knew how to draw the legs on animals in one way.
“Come and help, Mr Dog.”
“Run, run, Catch me. I’m the Babi Sinsir.”
Yes, that dog is definitely here to ‘help’. Also… the Babi Sinsir is literally within reach of Mrs Jones’ massive left arm now. Why is she not just picking him up?
“Come and help, Miss Cat.” “Run, run, Catch me. I’m the Babi Sinsir.”
You may be wondering at this point if this is just… the whole book. An ever-increasing flock of floating zombie creatures shuffling after a naughty gingerbread baby in a nappy who is committing the cardinal sin of running. I mean… where can they go from here, amirite? A sheep? A squirrel? A chicken? We can hit a hundred pages this way, easy. The concern is the artist, whom I think was stretched a bit beyond their means on this project anyway.
BUT WORRY NOT! Shit’s about to go down, guys.
Oh no! Here comes Mr Wolf. Mr Wolf runs and catches the Babi Sinsir.
THAT IS A FOX
THAT IS A GODDAMN FOX YOU HEATHEN FUCK
WHAT THE FUCK
AND WHY THE FUCK IS IT WEARING CLOTHES WHEN NONE OF THE OTHER ANIMALS WERE
WHY IS IT DRESSED IN DUNGAREES LIKE A LAZY FARMHAND ON AN AMERICAN RANCH IN THE 1800S
This doesn’t bode well for the -
Half of the Babi Sinsir is left.
Quarter of the Babi Sinsir is left.
WHY DOES IT STILL LOOK SAD AND HORRIFIED WHY IS IT STILL ALIVE OH MY GOD
The Babi Sinsir has gone! There’s tasty.
I realise this is not the main point to make here, but two pages ago it had eaten half of that nappy, and now it’s whole again and delicately discarded to one side, I just want
It’s okay, right? This happens in fairytales? Little Red Riding Hood? Someone will eviscerate the fox and out will come the Babi Sinsir…’s pieces, and they can be baked back together…?
No one cares!
Mrs Jones is making another Babi Sinsir.
The new Babi Sinsir loves Mrs Jones.
…okay, so there’s a lot for us all to take in right now, and we’re all going to get through it at different speeds. But I’m just going to draw attention to the fact that Mr Jones is now merely depicted as a picture on the wall, and the new Babi Sinsir apparently only loves Mrs Jones, and…
Okay so they just lost their beloved baby gingerbread son because he got eaten alive by a fox in dungarees calling itself a wolf, right? Mrs Jones apparently couldn’t give less of a fuck if she tried, as long as she has some flour and ginger left over to make another. This one she made to love her.
Mr Jones, I presume, had a total mental breakdown and drank himself to death. At the very least, he’s left her, look. All she has left is the photo.
But does dim ots! Mae’r Babi Sinsir newydd yn caru Mrs Jones.
And that is the story of Y Babi Sinsir, aka the greatest work of literature ever written.