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Swansea or Abertawe?

Professor Helen Fulton discusses the challenges in creating a map in two languages


In April 2023, we published Swansea and Mumbles/Abertawe a’r Mwmbwls, our first folding map of a Welsh city, and also our first map in two languages. The map reveals the city’s layered history from Norman stronghold to ‘Copperopolis’, thanks to the concentration there of copper-smelting in the 18th and 19thcenturies and the city’s extensive port and transport facilities. Mumbles/Mwmbwls, by contrast, owed its development to limestone quarrying and then to tourism. The map project was led by our Trustee Professor Helen Fulton of Bristol University, with much input from local historians.


Publishing a map in two languages posed interesting challenges, as Helen explains:


‘Given Swansea’s past, we decided on two main time-frames to display on the map, firstly the medieval town and the visible traces left by the castle, the market and the medieval street plan, and secondly, industrial Swansea, from the late 18th century to 1919. This was the period of Swansea’s economic heyday, when it was a wealthy town full of rich industrialists who owned the copperworks which dominated world copper production throughout the 19th century. It was no wonder that Swansea was considered to be the capital of Wales.


‘But there is another dimension to Swansea, as in the whole of Wales, and that is its bilingualism. As soon as the Trust decided to make a map of a Welsh city, we knew that it would have to be bilingual, to recognise the importance and indeed the legal status of Welsh as the first and oldest language of Wales, still spoken and used in daily life by over half a million people.


‘Given the limited size of the HTT maps, it was not practical to try and fit both Welsh and English text on to a single map – what we did was to produce two maps, identical with regard to the actual cartography, but with all the written information in Welsh on one map and in English on the other map. Even then, it was not a simple matter of translating all the English text into Welsh, because the different audiences for each map require slightly different information.



‘For example, a reference in the gazetteer to Non-conformist places of worship required the addition of the gloss ‘chapels’ in the English version, whereas no such explanation was needed in the Welsh version. There is also the issue of street names, most of which are in English in Swansea, with a small number of bilingual names, such as ‘Stryd y Gwynt’ (Wind Street). How many should we translate into Welsh for the Welsh map?



‘Through trial and error, we formulated a policy on street names. English street names that were in use in 1919 but have since disappeared remained as English names and are not translated on the Welsh map. For streets that were there in 1919 and are still there today, we used Welsh forms where available, or simply translated those that could reasonably be translated, such as ‘Stryd yr Undeb’ (Union Street). Streets that appeared after 1919, that is, after the historical period of the map, we have mainly left in English.


‘We have learnt a lot from our experience of producing the first-ever bilingual map in Welsh and English, and we hope to perfect our methods in subsequent maps of Welsh historic towns.


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