Llŷn's Monoglots


"Home, where English can sound like Arabic"

To a small and diminishing band of people living in a secluded corner of the Llŷn Peninsula of North Wales the English language is as foreign as Chinese or Arabic. They are the last of the Welsh monoglots.

People like Mrs Mary Roberts of Uwchmynydd, near Aberdaron, who after 91 years, is able to speak only six words of English, and doesn’t want to learn any more.

In any other part of Wales this could be an oddity and a handicap in life, but this part of the narrow finger of Caernarvonshire owes little allegiance to the Queen’s English.

The lack of what has never been needed is no loss to them. And they do not feel inferior even when the strident English accents of caravan and camping visitors to this delightful holiday area drowns the native tones.


No one knows how many monoglots there are in the area, because of the very seclusion which has made Welsh the only essential tongue in their long, happy and invariably healthy lives.

Most are in their eighties now and the last of their kind, a fascinating, and authentic survival of the general pattern of the Welsh country life in the 19th century.

Mrs Mary Roberts has spent all her working life within three miles of her farm, and in 66 years ventured in recent years only as far as Anglesey. Three years ago she visited Harlech for the first time. Occasional trips to Pwllheli, Caernarvon and Bangor had been her farthest journeys. The little English she learned in her schooldays was soon forgotten, because it was never needed around the farm. Until World War II and the holiday invasion which came after it she heard almost no English, except on the radio. “No one then stayed in the hotels or down in the village, so I heard no English spoken from one year to the next”

Bad Day.

She never really thought about English after leaving school. English newspapers were occasionally brought home from Pwllheli by one of the family. Mrs Roberts is bright and cheerful, her eyesight good and her mind sharp, and she has a quick sense of Welsh humour. She has come to terms with the holidaymakers. If it rains she will tell the campers “Bad day” When the sun shines she says, “Good day”. Her other greeting in English is “How are you?” She became a hired farm servant at 13 and earned £7 10s a year. The hard work kept her strong and healthy. She dislikes television and only occasionally is persuaded to watch a Welsh programme. But she never misses the Sunday morning radio service and hymn singing.

Mrs Jane Jones aged 88, lives three miles away at Bryn-y-Gloch farm in Llangwnadl and perhaps an even rarer case of a perfectly happy monoglot. She also started life as a hired servant on local farms, but has never slept away from home for a night in more than 60 years she has been at the farm. She occasionally visited Pwllheli, once had a day-trip to Caernarvon and only once visited Aberdaron six miles away. English is completely foreign to Mrs Jones, but she reckons she can detect the cultured English visitor from others. She says she had not been through the farm gate to the main road for the past three years. Others say it is probably more than 10 years. She was born only a mile from her present home and has, except for a brief excursions, spent all her life within a square mile. “There was no end to the day’s work, from morning till night in the old days,” she said. “But we did not find it hard, we took our time and were always happy working. I never wanted to go anywhere, not even to the village,” Her daughter and son-in-law, Mr and Mrs John Williams, who live at the farm with her say she had pneumonia about 40 years ago, but has not seen a doctor since.

Too Late.

A few fields away at Plas Morfa, lives her 90-year-old brother, Mr Ifan Roberts, he speaks no English, but his wife had a good English education at Howell’s School, Dendigh.

Near Nefyn lives another elderly, once-monoglot Welsh man, who married a monoglot English woman. Through necessity each learned the other’s tongue.

Jack Bryn y Gloch, Jane's son in law.

Bryn y Gloch, Llangwnadl

Mrs Jane Jones insists that neither Mrs Helen Thomas, aged 87, of Yr Oerfa, nor Mrs Martha Evans, aged 88, of Penclawdd, know or speak any English. Others that she and her daughter confirm as monoglots are Miss Sarah Hughes, aged 86, of Bryn, Llangwnadl, and Mrs Mary Jones, aged 88, of Gwyddel, Uwchmynydd. Mr Owen Roberts, another octogenarian of Afan, and Miss Ann Williams, aged 80, of Bryn Trefgraig, both of Llangwnadl, can speak no English. Mr William Thomas, aged 88, of Y Fron, Aberdaron, reads an English paper every day, but claims he does not speak the language. There are also Mrs Margaret Williams, aged 88, of Glanrafon, Aberdaron, and Mrs Janet Parry who is 90, and lives at Ty Anelog, Aberdaron.

These are the known monoglots in the area, but it is almost certain there are many more quietly living their lives in blissful seclusion. Good health, contented minds and the sea-grit remoteness of this corner of Wales have combined to naturally resist any of today’s English inroads on the Welsh language and culture. The intrusion of cars, television and visitors on Llŷn’s good roads have come too late to affect them. “Those in their seventies have nearly all some rough knowledge at least of English, even if they don’t use it, and this is true of many here, even in middle-age,” said the local clergyman Rev Robert Williams. He says he is still a newcomer after 15 years in his parish.

A headmaster who has carried out research into the monoglot population of the peninsula called last night for an accurate record to be compiled before the last survivors die. Mr John Morris, headmaster of Aberdaron Primary School, told me, “No one really knows how many there are in these parts.” “So many of the old people have had hardly any contact with English or with English people that it is not easy to estimate, other than with the real monoglots, how much English they know.


A team from St Fagans Folk Museum has visited the monoglots of Llŷn and plan to go again, furthering their studies in Welsh dialects. Headed by Mr Vincent H Phillips, keeper of all Traditions and Dialects, they have compared the monoglots’ dialects and taped them for their archives, taken details of old folk songs and made a photographic record of old farmhouses. “The stories they tell of farm life many years ago provide useful information for the museum,” he said. “We hope to go to the area again, but we face the problems of finance and finding enough researchers to investigate before some of these very old people are lost to us.”

(Footnote) Mrs Jane Jones, Bryn y Gloch, Llangwnadl, died in 1980 when she was 100 years old.


From a local newspaper dated 1968

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