The Welsh are called Britons in Valhalla. The British were the Celtic speaking people who had inhabited Britain before the Roman conquest. Their language, Common Brittonic, was originally spoken across Britain. After the Anglo-Saxon colonization of England, it was replaced by Old English in most parts of the country. However, Common Breton remained the dominant language in the western parts of Britain and eventually became the Welsh, Cornish, and Cumbric languages. Interestingly, the Sciropescira (Shropshire) story arc in the game features Eivor meeting the historic Welsh king, King Rhodri.
“It’s not clear how much English a person like King Rhodri could have spoken, but again, it’s not impossible that he was bilingual,” says Webb-Davies, a native Welshman. “The Welsh used in the Rhodri Arch consists of a few Middle Welsh as well as formal modern Welsh.”
This level of linguistic detail was an important undertaking for the Ubisoft development team.
“To create the old Welsh used in Western markets, we had the very ingenious Malo Adeux, PhD student in medieval literature at the University of Western Brittany in Brest, and Ifor Ap Dafydd, Development Officer at the National Library of Wales. They had a particularly difficult task, starting with the earliest Middle Welsh sources from the 12th to 15th centuries, and then having to reverse engineer into an even older form. Like rewriting Dickens in Shakespearean! Said Grimwood.
Welsh is also present in the gaming region of Glowecestrescire (Gloucestershire). While modern Gloucestershire is part of England, its representation in Valhalla is surprisingly Welsh, with many figures having names such as Tewdwr, Cynon, and Modron – and references to the pre-Roman pagan culture that existed in Britain, like the Wicker Man and the horned god Cernunnos.
It is in this region that the player meets Brigid, a woman who can only converse in Welsh, during a pagan festival that involves revelry, obligatory strange skulls and antlers. I don’t speak Welsh, but I could understand colloquial Welsh words like given, meaning good; maes, which means field; and bed, which means bed. At the end of their meeting, she said “Thank you”Which translates into Welsh as“ Thank you ”. I also recognized a lot of borrowed words in English.
“Brigid is an interesting case, she speaks in a very informal style mixed with English words. This phenomenon is called code switching and is a common feature of the way bilinguals speak, then like today, ”explains Webb-Davies. “It is sometimes very difficult to follow Brigid, even as a native Welsh and Welsh linguist – and her speech is sometimes non-grammatical; I suspect it was sent via translation software! “
The reason for Brigid’s unusual speech has been revealed by the Ubisoft team. “Brigid is a special case”, Russell Lee, screenwriter for Valhalla, says WIRED. “The writer has just put ‘unintelligible’ in the screenplay and the actress has offered her own version of the incomprehensible ‘Welsh’!”
Gaelic and the Picts
Gaelic is present in the game as the language spoken by the Picts, a group of people who resided in the area that is now modern Scotland. Gaelic was introduced to Scotland by Irish settlers between the 4th and 5th century AD. By the 9th century, Gaelic had become the dominant language in most of Scotland.
There was also a distinct Picte language, but it was already in decline by the time Valhalla is set. While not much is known about the language, evidence from place name research suggests that Pictish was likely closely related to British languages such as Welsh. A good example is the “Aber” component of the Scottish place name “Aberdeen”, which literally means “mouth of the river” in Brittonic. Traces of this place name element can be found in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany today, but it is not found in Ireland, suggesting that it is a Breton word rather than Gaelic.