Two disheartening news items from Celtic Britain, one from Cornwall and one from Wales, both making the headlines.
In Cornwall, in the run-up to the London Olympics and the “jubilee” celebrations for the British head of state, the famous tourist attraction of Penn an Wlas or Land’s End, the picturesque peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, has suffered what can be only described as an act of cultural vandalism. From the BBC:
“The removal of a Cornish translation of “Land’s End” from above the entrance to the landmark has been criticised by Cornish language advocates.
The Cornish Language Partnership said that the removal of the words “Penn an Wlas” was an act of “linguistic cleansing”.
Maga, the Cornish Language Partnership, said there were about 300 fluent speakers in the county, but that “an awful lot more people than that” had a “smattering” of the language.
Maga development manager Jenefer Lowe said the partnership was “really surprised” the attraction had made the change.
She said: “The language is growing and we are getting more signage all over Cornwall.
“We also know from tourism statistics that visitors are interested in the language and supportive of it.”
Land’s End general manager David Bryans said the changes had been made during a refurbishment which was carried out to maximise the appeal of the attraction and “bring as much tourism to Cornwall as possible.”
He said: “Land’s End is an international tourist attraction and we have a multi-cultural ethos.
“In keeping with that, we have tried to make the entrance as welcoming as possible to as many people as possible.
“As visitors will see, our welcome in Cornish is still displayed prominently and proudly at the entrance alongside international languages such as German, Spanish and Italian.”
A “multi-cultural ethos”? What a laughable excuse. The original sign was in English and Cornish, side by side and of equal scale. Now the Cornish language has been relegated to a minor sign-board somewhere in the park. Multi-cultural? What she meant was “monoculture”, and English monoculturalism at that.
As always we have yet another case of discrimination dressed up as reasonableness. To make matters worse in the last few weeks a number of local people belonging to various Cornish nationalist groups, both political and cultural, have been visited at their homes and places of work by British police demanding to know what if any plans they have in relation to the Jubilee or Olympic celebrations in the country (of Cornwall, that is). Some of those who have been subject to this questioning have described it as being quite intimidating – which is, perhaps, the point.
Meanwhile the Welsh cousins of the Cornish have their own trouble with petty-minded Anglophones in a story that has engulfed a local English-language newspaper, The Western Mail, the self-styled “national newspaper of Wales”. In the London Independent Rob Williams presents a fair analysis:
“Who’d be a newspaper editor in the age of Twitter eh?
In the good old pre-digital era negative feedback on the morning splash would – if you’ve really upset people – start to filter in around lunchtime.
In the brave new world of social networking, however, your offerings are barely off stone before you’re having them handed back to you in a little package marked ‘how you got it wrong – and why I’ll never buy your newspaper again.’
This morning the editor of ‘The National Newspaper Of Wales’, the Western Mail, will be getting many such digital packages.
It’s an unusual occurrence, a Welsh newspaper getting attention outside of Wales – but at 8.30am the hashtag #westernfail was trending in the UK on Twitter.
It was doing so because of a front page editorial about the Welsh language.
It is sensitive, complicated and as one commenter put it this morning on Twitter – ‘tricky biscuits’ journalistically.
Said biscuits are especially tricky if you’re not a Welsh language speaker yourself.
Which is why it’s particularly difficult to understand the decision of the Western Mail editor to publish a front page comment article, written in what can only be politely described as intemperate language, attacking the cost of translation services in the Welsh Assembly.
The story summarized is this: Eight Welsh Assembly Ministers have proposed that the written records of every meeting that takes place in National Assembly be translated into Welsh.
The piece, by veteran Welsh political reporter Martin Shipton, cites a ’senior Assembly source’, as saying that the cost of this translation could be up to £400,000 a year.
The article is written as a comment piece and an editorial, stating with a confidence that I suspect is rapidly dissipating this morning that, ‘We say that at a time when budgets are squeezed and public services are being cut, this is a luxury we cannot afford.’
The front page, as pictured above right, also has a number of mug shots of the Assembly Members, above an exasperated headline (incidentally not used online) – ‘An astounding £400k on translation: What world are these AMs living in?’
There are a number of interesting questions that immediately come out of the article.
How accurate is the front page figure of £400k? And why was the issue handled in such a clunky way?
Rather than investigate the issue in depth posing the pros and cons the Western Mail decided it would be better to tell their readers what to think (a dangerous move at the best of times – particularly so with the Welsh), and to mock the Assembly members proposing the translation changes.
Predictably the response when the front page was Tweeted last night was in general furious – this unsurprisingly has continued this morning.
Some of the choice comments from politicians include,
Paul Flynn @Paulflynnmp
Western Mail commits commercial suicide. Nothing on the extraordinary expense of Olympics & Jubilee but gleeful on attacks on Welsh speakers.
Leighton Andrews @LeightonAndrews
Wasn’t the Western Mail editor recently campaigning to keep the Welsh Government spending public money on ads in a paper read by very few?
Alun Davies @AlunDaviesAM
I am appalled to see this morning’s Western Mail. As a Welsh speaker I do not want to waste money on a paper that attacks my language.
Elsewhere comments were equally scathing
Myfanwy Davies @DrMyfanwyDavies
What’s the point of self proclaimed national newspaper that undermines the national language? #westernfail
Jonathan Davies @jmd1004
400k spent on translators, 1.3bn spent on the Jubilee… enough said #Westernfail
The Western Mail will not be darkening the desks at Melys HQ in future. #westernfail
…and you know you’re in trouble when the weather girl gets involved:
Sian Lloyd @SianWeather
@WesternMail_Ed @Walesonline Have you lost your marbles guys? #westernfail
There is clearly a debate to be had over the cost of translation and how worthwhile a measure this would be, as Welsh political commentator Daran Hill puts it,
“Translation services always come with a cost. As a general rule I’ve always preferred that simultaneous verbal translation is prioritised over written translation if a choice has to be made.
But there is a big difference between translating obscure documents and the democratic proceedings of our national parliament.
The Committee members are not being extremist in suggesting committee proceedings of The Assembly be translated. It is a perfectly mainstream and principled position to take.”
Undoubtedly a complex issue then.
But Hill, like many others points out that the language of the article today was unusually strident, and that’s perhaps why the Western Mail is reaping the whirlwind…”
Dewi over on Slugger O’Toole reaches similar conclusions.
All in all a depressing few days for our Celtic cousins in the east.
- If It’s Good Enough For The Welsh, Why Is It Not Good Enough For The Irish? (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Speak English! Or Else… (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Western Mail journalist stands by translation article (blogs.journalism.co.uk)
- The Western Mail reverts to an old old type… (sluggerotoole.com)
- Wales News: Should we spend £400K to translate records of every Assembly meeting? (walesonline.co.uk)
- Wales News: Paul Murphy MP warns against ‘excessive’ spending on Welsh language schemes (walesonline.co.uk)
- Bilingual public services plan (bbc.co.uk)
- Wales News: £400,000-a-year meeting translation plan for National Assembly (walesonline.co.uk)