Speak English! Or Else…

On Tuesday I discussed the slow but steady linguistic change currently taking place in Wales, with increasing numbers of Welsh people returning to their native language, largely due to a positive political environment in which equality legislation and clearly defined language policies have shaped the cultural landscape of the nation. Over the last two decades virtually all the political parties in Wales have embraced the concept of bilingualism and it has transformed the country. The days of politicians paying lip service to the Welsh language, or being actively hostile and discriminatory to Welsh speakers, have slowly faded away.

The institutional bigotry of English-speaking Wales has been broken, if not entirely erased. It can still kick back, as is evident from this report on the bizarre claims by businessmen in the Welsh-speaking region of Ceredigion that the transformation of the last bilingual English-and-Welsh speaking school in the area into a monolingual Welsh-speaking school (to meet the needs of local parents and children) will threaten jobs and the economy. Apparently speaking a language other than English means you will be punished by being made unemployed. I wonder has anyone told that to the Germans? Or the Japanese? Not to mention the Chinese.

From Wales Online:

“A row has erupted over plans to phase out teaching pupils in English at a primary school in a Welsh language stronghold.

Business leaders say the move could hinder the economy.

Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi is the last remaining dual language primary school in the Cardigan area, with the nearest school teaching in English more than 20 miles away in New Quay.

All other eight schools within an eight-mile radius offer education through the medium of Welsh. The decision has ignited a row with business leaders who say the move could deter potential businesses and workforces from moving to the area.

Cardigan and District Chamber of Commerce said changing the status of the school will also have a “negative effect” on the expansion of existing businesses.

More than 1,000 people signed a petition against the change last year but the authority’s education cabinet gave the go ahead for the scheme last month.

Supporters say only a small number of pupils are currently taught in English and education director Eifion Evans said the change would be introduced gradually over a period of time, starting from September 2013.

Pupils already at the school will continue to be educated in Welsh and English during their time in the school. The school would become a full Welsh medium school in September 2019.

The Chamber has called for a delay on the move until a full consultation is carried out with firms in the area.

“We are objecting on the grounds that there has been inadequate consultation in relation to the effect such a change will have on the ability of local businesses to expand, and on the ability to attract new businesses,” said chairman Paul Oakley.

In a letter to the education authority, he said Ceredigion has the lowest earnings in Wales with a large community that desperately needs better paid jobs.

Welsh Government figures show the average weekly earnings in Ceredigion are the lowest in the country but house prices are disproportionately high.

Ceredigion remains one of the strongholds of the Welsh language, with 61% of those in the economically active age group speaking it.

Mr Oakley said the authority has said it has no evidence that the medium of education is an issue for prospective businesses.

“Quite who the education authority has consulted on these assertions is not clear but the obvious contact – the Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 50 local businesses – has not been consulted, and would not agree with that,” he said.

“Key skills required by companies to move into new areas will be more difficult to recruit if there is no English stream in the local school.”

Councillor Ian ap Dewi, chairman of the council’s education scrutiny committee, said the decision was a very positive development for Cardigan and for the county.

“This is a big step and I congratulate the school for taking it. Welsh medium education is completely natural and normal.”

He added that late-comers to the Welsh language who move in from non-Welsh speaking areas will be able to attend to county’s language centre to prepare them for Welsh medium education.

Meinir Jones, spokeswoman for the Welsh Language Board, said: “Parents will still be able to help their child by reading bilingual books with them, by using audio books, and by taking an interest in school life and offer practical help if needed.

“In many parts of Wales the vast majority of children in Welsh-medium schools come from non-Welsh-speaking homes, so the schools are experienced in dealing with such situations.”

Reading the report one is left wondering if this is a case of Anglophone businessmen in Ceredigion issuing “warnings”: or issuing threats. Take away our English language and we will take away your jobs? Less a case of expressing the virtues of English and instead a simple case of expressing the inherent supremacism of some English-speakers.

What next? The “Blue Book” and the “Welsh Not” sign for children’s necks?

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Comments
13 Responses to “Speak English! Or Else…”
  1. Congratulations, you beat me to it; I was about to email you this http://www.tivysideadvertiser.co.uk/news/9638462.School_s_Welsh_medium_plan_criticised_by_local_businesses/?ref=mr
    Mr Oakley doesn’t seem to have any experience or knowledge of Welsh Medium Education and his comments are based wholly on ignorance and prejudice. What is sad is that he represents a Chamber of Trade many of whose members are Welsh speaking indigenous businesses. We as Celtic nations are far too complacant and comfortable and fail to see the dangers of right wing White flight from England. It will be interesting to see how the indigenous Welsh businesses will react to Mr Oakley as chair of the Chamber of Trade?

    • On the ball for once ;-)

      The whole “English = Jobs” argument is such utter nonsense. Have these people never heard of China? Or Brazil? Or Indonesia? Having English as second language is a wonderful advantage and entirely sensible. It works for the Dutch, Danes, Poles and many others. But they still maintain and celebrate their own languages and cultures. And certainly don’t regard their native tongues as in any way disadvantageous.

      I wish the anglophone supremacists were honest with themselves and with everyone else and admitted that their opposition to the the indigenous languages of the Celtic nations is based solely on prejudice and discrimination. They are simply “linguistic nationalists” hiding behind a series of false flags.

      • Siôn Jones says:

        Monoglot people like this seem to actually lack the cognitive function neccessary to imagine that languages other than their own have any legitimacy at all. They are not ‘proper’ languages, and the natives only use them at all to annoy the ‘white man’, who has only deigned to live amongst them to lead them out of their benighted, uncivilised darkness.

        • Thanks for the Comment, Siôn, and I agree. The “colonial paradigm”, settler versus native, really is applicable here. Of course, as in Ireland, it is made vastly more complex by there now being no clear distinction between both.

          Some of the most thoroughly “native” people (in terms of language, culture and identity), can have entirely “settler” origins, while the most “anti-native” people (in language, culture and identity) can have entirely “native” origins.

          There is the John Smith who is a fluent Irish-speaker and rejects English as his native tongue and the Seán McGowan who is a fluent English-speaker and rejects Irish as his native tongue.

          In Wales you have very similar scenarios.

          • Siôn Jones says:

            It is the same in Wales. My Brother in law came to Wales to study medieval Welsh, which he had encountered in Cambridge along with Norse and old English. He was so surprised to find it a living language that he went to the trouble of learning modern Welsh, met and married my sister, raised a brood of fiercely Welsh children, and enjoys a glittering academic career as an accepted expert in the language, and its poetry. Another brother in law, a welsh speaker, married a Welsh girl from cwmbran, and raised his children anglophone, despite himself teaching Welsh in a secondary school. Origin does not determine outcome, but the white fighters who come here do tend to lord it over us, just because they have property windfalls in the bank.

  2. Lisa W says:

    We’re a Welsh speaking family living in a large city. I speak only Welsh to my four children at home and they attend Welsh medium schools, Welsh social events and a Welsh language church. Their English is also excellent, delivered through English lessons in school and also aquired I guess by a kind of osmosis. Speaking Welsh has never been a hindrance to them, in fact the opposite. All four are very open to other cultures and languages and have learned French and German easily and well. Their Welsh medium education has had many other cognitive and cultural advantages too. Personally I can see no arguments against Welsh medium, whether parents speak Welsh or not.

    • I quite agree, Lisa. That is certainly the experience of other bilingual nations and education systems. Bilingual kids have been consistently proven to display higher levels of cognitive ability than monolingual children. That is the result of not just one study but dozens over the last thirty years and in many different countries.

      And we all know that skills learned in infancy and childhood are directly linked to educational qualifications, social mobility, employment opportunities, etc. in later life.

      If you want the best for your children enhancing their linguistic abilities pays long-term dividends.

      Thank you for taking the time to Comment. Much appreciated.

  3. Looking at this may I quote the Irish experience in loosing its language in the 19th and 20th century and a comparison with another small agricultural country”

    This decline appears to have little beneficial effect on the Irish economy. In the words of the eminent historian Professor Joe Lee in his monumental study of Ireland in the 20th century. He speaks of dairy exports to Britain,

    “(in 1870) …Denmark began to enter the dairying industry seriously…..The Danish performance easily eclipsed the Irish one. There were many reasons for this…abandoning their obscure language in favour of English was not one of them..” (Ireland 1912-1985 Page 663)

    On the previouis page he states “…it is hardly going too far tio say that but for the loss of the language, there would be little discussion about identity in the republic. With language little else seems to be required”

    Indeed all of us, not least our Government Ministers and now it seems, certain Welsh business men, would benefit from reading this particular chapter of Professor Lee’s book.

  4. I see the BBC have finally caught up with this today, reporting how bi- lingual ism enhances cognitive function. A couple of years ago Prof. Antonella Sorce from Edinburgh University gave a talk in Stornoway about this very issue. My son, like most of his friends, will be going into Garlic medium education after the summer. I don’t have a lot of Gaelic myself, but my husband does. It just seems to have become the norm here now (Eilean Siar),and after decades of being stigmatised, older folk are feeling more at ease with their native tongue, and also willing to speak to Gaelic learners. It doesn’t mean the language is safe though, and stories like this one are so frustrating.

    • I agree, Jacqui. Intergenerational language use/exchange (as they say!) is the thing. If the adults don’t speak the language to the children it simply doesn’t get passed on. That is certainly what was happening in Ireland up to a few decades ago in the Gaeltachtaí or Irish-speaking regions where some Irish-speaking parents would only speak English to their children and would punish them if they caught them speaking Irish (in some cases young teachers were boycotted or ostracised in local schools by Irish-speaking parents for insisting on educating the children through Irish, despite the fact that in most cases it was their daily or cradle language). The post-colonial shame factor with speaking Irish was enormous.

      That has now swung right around and today Irish carries accusations of being an elitist language of the rich, the intelligentsia and the upper middle classes. Claims all made by Anglophones of course who in previous years claimed it was the language of the poor, ignorant and uneducated. It doesn’t matter what the accusation is of course. It just has to be made to put the language and those who speak it down.

      Quick look at your blog. Wonderful! :-)

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