The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.

When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.

If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.

What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.

I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.

I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.

The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.

“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.

“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”

“London,” he said.

I did not get the job.

Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.

As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.

At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.

At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.

In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.

It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.

“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.

“No idea,” he told me.

We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.

It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.

It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.

One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.

“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.

By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.

Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.

My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.

So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.

But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.

Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.

But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.

It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.

My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.

Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.

The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.

Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.

English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel –  S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.

While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.

Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.

Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.

Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.

What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?

Dim sense.

18 Comments

Filed under History, Politics, Wales

18 responses to “The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

  1. andy5759

    Some years ago I had a camping holiday in the Elan Valley. All Road signs were dual language, Welsh in bigger type than the English below. With one exception; on the Aberystwyth mountain road the languages were transposed to place DANGER above and bigger than the Welsh. Presumably political correctness once at least nodded towards practicality.

    iechyd da.

  2. ...or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named
    Get real, it always been called Abertiefi by those who live there, with Cardigan being the sole name on maps and signs until recently due to the One Nation, One Language policy of the state for the last few centuries.

    But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.
    Then your Welsh friends are not that well informed. In the 1901 census (beginning of the 20th century), out of a population of two million, 1 million spoke Welsh, with a significant proportion of those being monoglot Welsh I should imagine.
    First wave of people who came to work in the coalfields of the south east mainly came from within Wales (many form the quarrying areas of Arfon, in north west), so Welsh was the community language of the miners for quite some time.

    You may (or probably may not) be interested to know that while proportion of Welsh speakers is higher in the north west and south west, the distirbution of Welsh speakers throughout Wales roughly correlates with the whole population’s distibution.

    An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.
    I think someone else is feeling a little insecure….

    • Steven Jones

      I live in Abergavenny and you are as likely to find a Russian speaker as a Welsh one. Same with the Rhondda where my wife is from.

      We are wasting our taxes for something that in most parts of Wales is pointless. Make that all of Wales.

  3. fullcatastrophe

    Why such anger? Why such disdain ? English is a glorious language as is Welsh. This is NOT a competition.

  4. Neilyn

    Yn wir!

    I just love the slight of hand – English is established but Welsh is imposed! You couldn’t make it up, er, could you?

  5. jimbob

    Yep Welsh is useless in this day and age and what a way to waste a massive amount of money when everyone speaks English anyway! It shield be in the history books as a “once used” language much like Latin! Of coarse its an imposed language why else would you learn such a language! You would be much better served learning Chinese and that’s a fact!

    • Martha

      Jimbob,

      It might be worth learning to spell and use grammar correctly in your own language before criticising others’.

      Sincerely,
      Martha Cymro.

  6. Claire

    What you’ve just said isn’t a truth, it’s an opinion. And Wales isn’t moving away from speaking English at all, almost every Country in the world speaks English as it is the national language. Just because Welsh is hardly spoken, doesn’t mean people should just forget about it. It is one of the oldest languages out there, and should not be forgotten. The Welsh are pushing more to speak Welsh because they WANT to keep it alive. It’s a part of their identity and culture. You could say the same thing about many, many other languages out there, that are hardly used around the world. Languages aren’t just out there to be spoken by EVERYONE, in fact what would be the point in that? It would mean, everyone was the same. What would be the point in seperate Countries? If you believe all that, you may as well believe everyone should be one Country. Language helps seperate people, and is a mark of being different, and celebrating where you are from.
    I think putting up Welsh signs is a good idea, I’m Welsh and no I don’t speak Welsh, but the signs have helped me to learn more. Also I think biased people like you, don’t seem to realise how hard it is for people to speak Welsh now, children are hardly taught it in schools, instead most schools force children to learn English first, despite the fact that I am sure many people wish they could speak Welsh. I know I wish I could.
    I also love the fact that when I am returning to Wales from England I see the Welsh signs, I feel a sense of relief and comfort, knowing I am home. If the Welsh language were to be forgotten then Wales would pretty much be the same as England? Welsh people like to be different, and seperated and to stick to their heritage, just like every Country out there. And quite frankly couldn’t care less if other Countries spoke it or not. As it is our language to try to keep alive and do what we want with it.

  7. Andy

    Consider that a language is a culture’s greatest asset. The fallacy of the blogger’s article is that Welsh is dying. It is not. It’s true that Welsh has nearly been eliminated. But it is seeing quite a renissance in the 21st century. Far from dying, Welsh is thriving via the growth and popularity of Welsh medium schools. Parents in spots as Anglified as Abergavenny, Newport and Cwmbran are very happy with the quality of these schools. The next step in restoring the popularity of the Welsh language is to make sure this generation of Welsh learners uses the language in ordinary conversation. But that will come in time. This generation is making sure the language is anchored to the culture and the landscape, thus saving not only words, but a nation.

  8. Angharad

    typical that a person who isnt welsh thinks the welsh language is pointless, if you had done your ‘reasearch’ properly you would notice that a lot of people have to be able to speak welsh to get a job here! you also said if a language is dead let it die? i assure you that the language is not dead! the majority of the people i know can speak welsh and most of them prefer it to english, i find it hilarious that you have wrote this as i have met many people from ireland, scotland and england that have said they dont like the language as they find it ignorant if people speak welsh instead of english when they are in wales, do you think they would say that if they were visiting france? people like you that dont know their arse from their elbow should remeber that our countries make up great britain and each county makes the UK unique in its own way!

  9. Bethan

    I can not believe someone could be so ignorant and narrow minded to write such a blog. I have to admit I couldn’t read to the end of the pointless blog because it made me so angry, and frankly reading it would be a waste of time. But I have to correct you on you’re awful sarcasm when you say ‘Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named’. I assumed when I read the title, that it would have been written by someone who has no clue on the History of Wales and it’s language otherwise such a blog wouldn’t have been written, and I was right. Welsh is a much older language than English, and therefore I think you’ll find that ‘Cardiff’ came from the welsh name Caerdydd, because ignorant people such as yourself could not pronounce the Welsh name for the city.
    I have so much more I could say about this, but I have much better things to do than correct you on your ignorance

  10. Sean

    As a welsh speaker I think I have some insight into the issue.

    While a language is part of a nations history for practicalities sake people should use whatever language is understood by the people, that language is English. Whether or not Welsh speakers exist the vast majority of the populous is English first language and the entirety of it is English speaking so it is more cost effective and practical to use a single language unless someones rights are actually being hindered (Such as defending them self in court).

    Welsh Speakers SHOULD NOT have an advantage in Wales over the English speaking majority, that’s a prejudice that’s unfounded. I’ve been told all my life that I should have a better advantage in the Welsh job market because of my Welsh skills, but why should I? Whenever I do work and on the extremely rare occasion a Welsh speaking customer enters the shop I cannot reply to her questions (Which will be in English) through Welsh because then I’m an impolite eavesdropper.

    To those of you who are saying that taking the Welsh out of Wales is like asking the French not to speak French you are missing the point. French is the language of France because of widespread use, not because of history, many french dialects have died off throughout history too. English is the language of daily life in Wales, and indeed a huge amount of the rest of the world. Asking Wales to stop speaking Welsh is more akin to asking those in Normandy to stop speaking Norman, which most of them have.

    On the subject of names, a cities ancient name does not matter, the English do not call London Londinium, and the Welsh do not need to call their cities by their ancient names either, it’s a simple matter of preference on that account.

    In the end the issue is whether or not Welsh should be pushed as hard as it is. Culturally it has significance, historically as well, and of course it is important for the minority who do use it in their daily lives. However languages cannot be forced, people will speak however they are comfortable. Throughout my years in Welsh medium education I know that almost all those who came from English speaking families would speak English despite being fluent welsh speakers, it was just easier, no amount of detentions given to us or national pride days were going to change that; and of the great many people who studied second language throughout their education? I don’t know a single one who went on in their studies post high-school.

    In the end I believe that by all means Wales should keep Welsh, but should not force it. Welsh speakers should not have advantage over the rest of the population, and a minority language should take second stage to global languages such as English, Spanish and Mandarin.

  11. I’ve written a blog that goes into detail in answering some of the misconceptions about the Welsh language here: http://whywelsh.wordpress.com/

  12. I must say that I struggle immensely with the “Welsh first” policy in Wales. Welsh people don’t seem to like this emphasis on Welsh first either. Indeed, Welsh is not first for anybody at all: anyone who can speak Welsh is fluent in English. The language silliness harms Wales. Businesses think in terms of Money (not Welsh) first; resourcing bilingual comms is not remunerative.

  13. Rhys Lloyd

    Couple of things. I do agree that the name Y Fenni is ridiculous. I can tell you, as a fluent Welsh speaker, that it was originally (long time ago) Abergafenni, meaning Mouth of the Gafenni (the Gafenni river). It is spelt English as that region was mostly ruled by English lords after the Norman conquest who changed it.

    As for Cardiff and Caerdydd, it’s original name was Caerdyf meaning “Fort /Castle of the Taff” (the River Taff).

    My point is, please don’t say half renamed. The names of villages and cities have been translated from Welsh to English, and like for Abergavenny, back to Welsh really poorly.

    I live in South Wales and the language has been past down to me through my family, so I feel like I inherited. I can tell you that I love the fact that I can read and write and speak and do maths and physics and history and everything g through this medium. However I do agree with you that I don’t need to be told by the Assembly how I use and spread the Welsh language. I do use a lot of Wenglish as we used to call it in school but only if it’s necessary. But as English and Welsh have different origins , translating like for like sometimes sounds off to me as maybe it doesn’t flow as much. But that’s the same for every language. It’s part of me now, dug into my brain and it isn’t a burden. And when I see signs in shops or on roads or hear people speak through the medium of Welsh, I feel part of something and important, a very human reaction.

    I hope this is a balanced argument that has shown you why as a fluent Welsh speaker I am proud of it.

    Thanks, Rhys Lloyd. (Fyi, the name Lloyd was originally Llwyd which is Welsh for Grey).

  14. Anonymous (don't start)

    I am only seeing this 7 years later and this blog couldn’t be more ignorant if it tried. The lack of a simple knowledge in this write up is just insulting. I only need to start with
    “Half-re-named” Caerdydd
    You really couldnt be more wrong could you? You don’t understand do you? It was and has been called Caerdydd long before anyone called it Cardiff.

    And to comment on meibion glyndwr without knowing their real cause is just plain stupid.
    And for your information the Welsh language was pretty stable and had a majority speaking it until the early to mid 20th century, not 19th century. You just don’t know how it feels to see your culture, language, industry and frankly your identity get stolen from a corrupt London government and anti-Welsh bigots. I hope this comment and 7 years have been enough for you to see the truth.
    How does being a minority ever make anything “useless”, put any other minority in place of the cymru cymraeg and you would have many more problems coming at you!

    CYMRU AM BYTH!

  15. SL Euroman

    Petty regional languages are, like ethnically divided & “pure” regions, simply no longer a viable reality in the modern world.

    Despite that fact the petty nationalist’s mindset never changes, “good old” racism is no longer in vogue and unlikely to get you far.But the dividers will look for any division to cling to and attempt to propagate.

    The nationalistic xenophobes can still get away with linguistic warfare. Somehow trying to promote language divisions is given an air of nobility & romance rather then ridiculed for what it truly is.

    Modern Wales is a multi-ethnic predominantly English speaking country that has to survive in an ever-interconnected world just like Scotland, Ireland, and everywhere else.

    The decline in minority languages is simply the tangible evidence of this inescapable reality, the progress of humanity slowly eroding it’s differences. One day humanity will just be one mid-line shade of brown, and it’ll speak one common language, some mix of all the current major global languages.

    If Wales is serious about using language education to further improve it’s lot in the modern world, it’d let Welsh die gracefully, since all things must eventually end. It’d then focus it’s efforts to teach language on those tongues which are genuinely valuable. Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi, German, French.

    Welsh would be near the bottom of that hypothetical list of Useful Languages.

  16. Di Day

    I am only seeing this years after as an English person who used to live and work in Abergavenny about 40 years ago and is considering returning there to live. Welsh was then both spoken and being learnt by my Welsh and English colleagues and of course now, the language flourishes in Wales. I wasn’t discriminated against when I applied for a position there, I never learnt the language but would do now. I think the purpose of this person’s blog is solely to gain attention (it’s called negative attention seeking), to be listened to. Maybe no-one does on a day to day basis?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.