A Few Words about ‘Gairglo’, the Welsh Language ‘Wordle’, by Steve Morris

Steve Morris, Honorary Research Fellow
in Applied Linguistics at Swansea University

This is a translation of a short comment piece (in Welsh) by Applied Linguistics Honorary Research Fellow Steve Morris which appeared on the Golwg 360 website in February 2020 It relates to a Welsh language version of ‘Wordle’ – ‘Gairglo’ – created by Dr Rodolfo Piskorski, a Brazilian who has learnt Welsh and was the first person to sit the UK citizenship test through the medium of Welsh.

Recently, there was an article in the Times newspaper discussing ‘The 27 easiest ways to lift your mood‘. Number 17 on their list was ‘Be a winner at Wordle‘, evidence not only of the game’s popularity but also of how playing it every day can have a positive impact on making us feel good. And thanks to Dr Rodolfo Piskorski from Cardiff University, we now have a Welsh language version of the game – Gairglo (Gair word + clo lock – a lovely coining of the word Wordle into Welsh).

Like many other people, I have enjoyed spending five or more minutes trying to guess the word of the day and many of us who do succeed in getting it then go on to social media (mainly Twitter) to vaunt our success to others.

I must agree with Rodolfo as well, that using a strategy is an important part of the game and using a strategy is an important part of learning new vocabulary in general. In our book Welsh Words (2019), one of the top tips given by Professor Paul Meara (a word-wide expert on vocabulary acquisition and Emeritus Professor of Applied Linguistics at Swansea) is to set yourself a target of learning a specific amount of new words every day. Gairglo (like Wordle) is a fun and strategic way of working towards that target.

Rodolfo notes that games like this have the potential to contribute to (the Welsh Government) efforts to create a million speakers – users – of Welsh – and that ‘…having a corpus and language technology [in Welsh] is vitally important.’ A corpus can give us information about how frequently words are used in a language and, of course, when we know that, we can predict which words are likely to be more familiar to users of a specific language and which words are likely to more unfamiliar to them.

For example, I have just completed today’s Gairglo [20 January 2022] and (after six attempts!), succeeded in finding the word of the day ‘cosbi‘ [= in English to ‘punish’]. Looking in the National Corpus of Contemporary Welsh (CorCenCC ), a corpus of over 11 million Welsh words published in 2020, it can be seen that ‘cosbi’ isn’t a word which occurs very frequently in Welsh (there are 126 instances of the word). It’s interesting to see also that CorCenCC shows it often collocates with the word ‘cwrt >> cwrt cosbi‘ [lit. punishment/penalty court >> penalty box/area in football/rugby].

From the point of view of how often someone might hear or see the word, therefore, CorCenCC gives us evidence that ‘cosbi‘ might be quite challenging to players of Gairglo (compared to verb-nouns such as dweud – to say, tell -, newid – to change – or torri – to break, which are in the highest 1K frequency band) – but that’s what’s great about games like Gairglo and Wordle! We like the challenge and all the better if we can learn something at the same time: that’s why games like this make us feel good!!

For Welsh learners too, Gairglo is a really useful resource.  We can see that there’s potential for CorCenCC and the National Centre for Learning Welsh to work together to create versions of Gairglo based on the core vocabulary associated with the five national (CEFR) learning levels for Welsh.  In addition, I’m sure that many school and university students play Wordle regularly and it’s fantastic that Gairglo is now available for them to be able to do that in Welsh as well. Obrigado Rodolfo e parabéns! Looking forward to see what’s coming next!

Steve Morris – Swansea, January 2022