In Wales, They Speak Welsh, So Get Over It!

The small village of Cynwyd in the narrow, oblong county of Denbighshire, in the north-east of Wales, has a population of less than 600 men, women and children, most of whom rely on local farming or light industry for their livelihoods. While the region was formerly noted for its thriving Welsh-speaking communities today just over 20% of the county’s inhabitants are fluent-speakers, though in Cynwyd itself and the surrounding area these are in a slim majority. Continued institutional neglect and discrimination at a UK government level has long played a part in reducing the numbers of native-speakers in north Wales, however in recent decades this has been coupled with considerable migration from elsewhere in Britain, accelerating the process of linguistic dislocation. In Denbighshire alone some 40% of the resident population were born in England. These changes have added to the disadvantages suffered by local speakers of Welsh in a host of settings, from commerce to schooling, necessitating greater and greater use of the English language.

This pressure to succumb to anglophone supremacy has been aptly illustrated by recent news from Cynwyd, where attempts are being made to bully its tiny community council into abandoning its long-standing practice of publishing Welsh language records in favour of bilingual ones, that is ones in Welsh and English, to meet the demands of a growing anglophone minority. From the BBC:

“A Denbighshire community council has been branded “intransigent” for refusing to change a Welsh-only policy.

The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales said Cynwyd Community Council let residents down by not providing all its documents in English, as well as Welsh.

Karen Roden, a member of the public who made the original complaint, said she backed the Welsh language “100%”- but thought local democracy was being hit.

Karen Roden, who is referred to as Mrs X in the report, told BBC Wales: “I am not expecting them to carry out their business in English to please me.”

But she argued that providing an agenda bilingually would help encourage others to get involved in local democracy.

“I don’t feel you can participate properly if you don’t know what there are discussing,” she said.

Mrs Roden told BBC Wales that she welcomed the findings, but had rejected a suggestion that she should receive £100 for her troubles – adding that she did not want to take money from a community council coffers.

Responding to the report, council clerk Alwyn Jones Parry insisted there was a “reasonable translation process” and there would be no apology to Mrs Roden.

A council reply to the Ombudsman said: “We emphatically say that Cynwyd Community Council believes that we have no case to answer.

“The complaint is without foundation, time wasting, a waste of money, and incorrect use of the Ombudsman.”

The point of legislation requiring bilingualism in circumstances where the speakers of minority native language X are being discriminated against by the speakers of majority foreign language Y – especially through government services – is not to force the native minority X into adopting bilingualism in the handful of regions where they are in a local majority. That self-defeating policy furthers the onward march of the majority language Y, placing added pressure on minority X to abandon their own indigenous tongue. Linguistic equality laws exist primarily to defend and promote the rights of minority speakers, to stabilise and grow their numbers in those territories they inhabit, while at the same time “normalising” the use of their language both locally and beyond their linguistic borders. No minority language population can survive without a substantive number of it members having the choice to exist wholly and solely within that language.

Forcing a Welsh-speaking community in Wales to become bilingual in all circumstances is simply unbarring a cultural door which will allow the English battering-ram to smash its way in. It is inevitable that in time the publication of Welsh language documents will become a perfunctory box-ticking exercise as English becomes the de facto language of local government business. Claiming to fight for “democracy” while in reality making a petty contribution to a centuries-old process of “language murder” is utter hypocrisy. If Mrs. Roden genuinely seeks to participate in her local community while backing the Welsh language “100%” it would be more helpful if she did so by learning the vernacular tongue of the people she shares her home with and not expecting them to conform to her own. Do English-speaking British expatriates in northern France or southern Spain expect the French and Spanish governments to become bilingual to serve their needs? Or is there a reasonable expectation that they – or their descendants – should make some attempt to accommodate themselves to the indigenous cultures in which they choose to live?

As numerous others have stated: “It’s Wales, they speak Welsh, get over it!

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35 comments

  1. The English are the same wherever they go, be it France, Spain, the Scottish Highlands, Wales or the West of Ireland. They’re not there 5 minutes and they’re arrogantly forming and or joining local organisations so as to change the area to better suit themselves. Locals who oppose or highlight this insidious behaviour are often then accused of being backward, inflexible, anti democratic or even anti English. This Welsh community are absolutely correct not to budge on this issue. Unfortunately, it’s the only way to deal with the English, if you concede even an inch, they’ll take a mile.

  2. Like it or not, wales does have a huge problem here. Many (not all) of the people that move to wales from England do not respect welsh culture, identity, language or history. Many of these people develop a hatred for these things and start websites like the one bellow, campaigning to convince the welsh how “useless” they are as a nation. How “crap” the language is and how much wales “needs” England. There are many people like this. They look upon wales as an English region and nothing more. They are a threat to the very fabric of the welsh nation and people are ignoring it. They are ignoring it because they are branded as bigoted or narrow-minded nationalist. Enough is enough. Something needs done before its to late. this guy moved to ynys mon from England and hates anything that is welsh and is active in convincing people to his way of thinking. It works. He alone has caused damage because he has been allowed to. People are to scared to stand up to him. http://www.glasnost.org.uk/

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-27456341

  3. Meanwhile Cymdeithas yr Iaith (The Welsh Language Society) have put in a request for Penarth Community Council in one of the Anglicised parts of South Wales, which operates entirely through English, to publish all their documents bilingually. We’ll see if sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander…
    There’s also the fact of course (which as a Welsh-speaking English-born incomer to Wales I’m allowed to point out, but native speakers aren’t because it’s apparently racist), that 66% of the population of Cynwyd was born in Wales, and 60% of the population speaks Welsh. Just like Borth, near where I live in Mid Wales, is 34% Welsh born and 31% Welsh-speaking. We’ve succeeded to a degree (better in some places than in others) in Cambricising the children of incomers, but we’re failing miserably to Cambricise adult migrants.

    1. Worldwide, the only places where English speaking immigrants adopt the native language are where they have to in order to get by. Welsh fluency as a job requirement is a step in the right direction, and should be extended as far as possible into thr labour force.

      1. Certainly civil servants/public officials should have a set degree of Welsh language knowledge, leading in time, say over the course of a twenty year programme, to full fluency.

  4. I have a huge amount of sympathy here for the Welsh and I sincerely hope they stand up for themselves and refuse to be beaten down by the English. Yes, this has probably got a lot to do with the fact that Im from Kernow and regarded as a second class citizen by the English in my own country! I wish the people of Cynwyd all the best and I hope they win their fight and are not bullied into submission by the English.

  5. Language policies that work in one place and in one linguistic environment don’t make sense in others.

    It’s OK for the Latvians to not learn Russian and to treat it like any other foreign language except English.
    Russian is like French or Spanish – they’re widely spoken and nice to know, but completely optional and it’s OK if you don’t speak them.
    But English is not like that.
    English is the world’s lingua franca – the most widely used language in business, science, technology, international & inter-ethnic communication therefore it’s incredibly stupid to even suggest that it should be optional and that it’s OK to not learn it.

    That’s why language policies that are OK in the Baltics are not OK in the British Isles – you can’t not-learn or try to phase out English.
    What are you going to use in its place? No one outside of the British Isles speaks Welsh or Irish. Which language will you use to communicate with the outside world? Swedish?

    (That’s why when I meet Russians from the Baltics in Ireland I speak English with them, because Russian is not a lingua franca – Russian is a language that was artificially imposed upon us by the colonisers and it’s humiliating to speak it)

    1. It’s ok for Latvians not to learn Russian, Jānis, because the Russian/Soviet occupation and Russification ended after a few decades and not after several centuries. Had the occupation continued and Latvian-speakers became a minority in their own country then Russian would have become the default language of Latvia (which was the process taking place before the 1990s) as it was of the old Warsaw Pact/Russosphere.

      The British Isles, the island of Britain and it’s off-shore islands, could certainly function as separate language units if the right policies were put in place and the general will was there. Why would it be any different from the Baltics, where four languages are in use?

      As for Ireland, which of course is not part of the British isles since it is not British, it could be as much an Irish-speaking unit as Denmark is a Danish-speaking one. What is lacking is any real will in the political-media-business establishment to undo centuries of colonial damage and displacement.

      1. Did you know that Latvia was part of the Russian Empire for centuries not decades?
        And yet we didn’t throw away our language and culture.
        And do you really think that the Latvians would have started to speak among themselves in Russian?
        Why would we do that? When I’m in Ireland I still don’t speak English with other Latvians despite the fact that we’re surrounded by non-Latvians.
        The number of Russian speakers increased because the soviet authorities physically imported them in Latvia not because we started to speak among ourselves in Russian (we didn’t and still don’t – those who don’t agree with our language legislation aren’t part of our nation (and many of them also praise Russia, the USSR and Putin) – that’s why you can’t even become a citizen of Latvia without passing a language exam).

        That’s not the case in Ireland or Wales. Those who speak English among themselves consider themselves to be ethnically Irish and loyal to Ireland and don’t consider the Irish language a part of their identity. You can’t apply Latvian policies in Ireland – that’s a completely different linguistic environment – that would mean that 90+% of Irish citizens are not “real Irish” and must be re-educated and integrated into the “real Irish” society (or told to GTFO back to England or whatever). Your educational system actually tries something like that and as you can see – it doesn’t work at all.
        And as I said – trying to phase out one of Ireland’s strongest assets – the widespread knowledge of the world’s lingua franca would be mind-bogglingly stupid.

        1. Your argument is invalid for the case of Wales at least. You speak about English being different because “lingua franca”. But Latvian is not spoken outside of Latvia and yet it seems normal that it should be not only acknowledge but considered the default language in Latvia. Same for Welsh (and by extant Irish and most languages on Earth) : in Wales, at least in parts where Welsh is dominant, you can rule out English and consider that Welsh being the majority and official language, things are done in Welsh. And if you don’t like it you can go, like you can leave Latvia if you refuse to speak Latvian. And when travelling or interracting with other people that aren’t Welsh, use English, or another language, or a translator, like everybody else. If you consider normal that Lativians speak Latvian with each other but you agree to switch to English when you’re not in Latvia or with Latvians, why couldn’t you accept that from Welsh people? It is, indeed, the same situation. Otherwise you should give up Latvian and accept that Russian being more widely spoken your country should switch to it.

          1. What I’m saying that it’s now possible for the Latvians to genuinely NOT understand or speak Russian if they do not wish to learn it, because it’s treated like any other foreign language and it’s completely optional. You can’t have that in Wales or Ireland, because not learning the world’s lingua franca is extremely stupid – especially in a country where it’s already spoken natively by most of the population..

            1. An important distinction must be made here: in minority language situations, it is far more important for children to be raised in their cultural language, become very fluent in it BEFORE the introduction of English. I believe that studies indicate that introducing a second language should not occur until about the age of 10 or so. This gives the maternal tongue ample time to develope fluency and be strong enough to cope with the English. As we say in Canada, English doesn’t even have to be taught because the children absorb it in the air.

    2. I wonder, would you feel the same way if Russian had become the world language in place of English?

      But here’s another thing, all Scandinavians seem to speak perfect English and use it with foreigners, just as you do. So when a couple of Danish cops in a movie catch up with a Russian they’ve chased to Norway, they say, “Drop the gun, right now” in English, even though they otherwise speak in their own language(s) throughout.
      That’s the big difference between Danes, Latvians etc. on the one hand, and the Welsh, Irish etc. on the other. Europeans learn English, the way educated people once all learned Latin, for international communication, but still keep on speaking their own languages, whereas most Irish, Welsh etc. feel (or at least used to feel) that learning English meant they had to throw their own language away.

      Explain that difference and you may be a lot closer to solving the problem of language loss.

      1. For most Irish and Welsh people English now is their native and often only language. Irish and Welsh can’t really be called “their” languages any more. They are just as foreign to them as they are for me. The problem is not – how to prevent people from throwing away their own language – it’s way too late to do that. The problem nowadays is – how to get native speakers of the world’s lingua franca to learn a language that’s not spoken by anyone. And even more – how to get them to communicate between them in that language instead of English.
        If they don’t see the language of their ancestors as a central part of their identity then no language legislation will change their minds.

        The weird thing is that some Irish people fought to the death to found their own country (and some others even resorted to terrorism and murdering) and yet those same people who otherwise seem to be very nationalistic and patriotic (You have to be in order to voluntarily go into battle for your own country – I would not do that) DO NOT see the language of their ancestors as a central part of their identity.

        1. That I’ve always found very weird, because in Latvia the most nationalistic and patriotic people not only don’t speak Russian – they would find it humiliating and insulting to speak Russian in Latvia. You could even get assaulted for speaking Russian to them 😀 . And yet – Irish nationalists for some reason don’t think like that. (And I mean – die hard nationalists – instead of ordinary people who could not care less whether they live in the UK or Ireland)

          1. The temporal context is fairly significant here and perhaps it is only really relevant to compare Ireland and Latvia on that level: how would Latvian nationalists react AFTER 800 years of colonial rule? Perhaps, in Ireland, after only 1 generation of colonial domination, people did respond with disgust if they had to speak the language of the conquerors.

            I am often overwhelmed by the apologists of American / English cultural imperialism. They all say that we have to lay down and accept it… almost as if English were a Holy language and this globalisation of culture were the way of evolution. It will be almost amusing (and we can start to see this apparently in Africa where more and more Chinese is being learnt as the global language) to see the American / English elite start to panic. You do see this in the US with their response to the rise of hispanophones and calls for declaring English to be the one and true Official Language. The apologists to cultural colonialism tell us that there is only one outcome to the stories of our cultural battles. They believe that simple story that their empire is the only correct way of doing things. But in nature, evolution does not actually have an ultimate destination. It is not linear. There are surprising branches, strange twists, extinctions, evolutionary jumps.

            At present, it is true that most people in Ireland are content to self-identify as an anglophone. It is true that Gaeltacht populations continue to decline. That seems to me to be the Story that most are willing to play out. I’m putting my money on different outcomes… not necessarily the ones I would prefer but which will be the best that can be achieved given the current forces of globalisation. The number of Gaeilgeoirí is increasing outside of the traditional areas. The majority of Irish-speakers will soon be found outside of the Gaeltachta.

            1. With regard to your last comment, I was just reading a study of Irish parents living in Scotland who send their kids to the Scottish Gaelic medium schools in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

              http://www.soillse.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/Irish-parents-and-GME-Soillse-Report-2015-WM-BOR-FINAL.pdf

              Their attitudes to the Irish they learned at home or school in Ireland are interesting in themselves, even though the sample is small (pp 6-11). Many felt that Irish carried more political baggage than does Scottish Gaelic, but what surprised me most was how very few of them were even aware of the existence of Gaelic before coming to live in Scotland.

              Here’s just one quote that’s quite typical (both of this study and things you see generally) “I learned Irish, as most Irish people do, for fourteen years, and kind of enjoyed it but never really felt I could string a sentence together. Although I did reasonably well at Leaving Cert Irish”. WTF! 14 years! Enjoyed it! Did OK in the exam! but “couldn’t string a sentence together” ! Can Irish schools/teachers really be *that* ineffective? And how in the name of sanity can anyone pass a language exam in a modern language without apparently having any idea of the basic syntax? What were they doing for all those hundreds of class hours, surely the basic patterns of the language should have been absorbed simply through familiarity and repetition, regardless of formal teaching. Do Irish pupils have some massive mental block against Irish? If so where does it come from? They start quite young, and young kids generally soak up languages like a sponge.

              Also some of the parents, who remember had kids in GME in Scotland, would not have chosen a Gaelscol had the remained in Ireland. Read it for yourselves, p. 24.

        2. Yes, I feel they way you do. It’s a puzzle isn’t it?

          There are three requirements for a language to be used in everyday life :
          *** Competence — enough people must be able to communicate in it otherwise it’s a non-starter;
          *** Commitment — those who know the language must actually want to speak it, they have to feel it belongs to them; and
          *** Community — there have to be situations where committed speakers can regularly interact.

          In Ireland and Wales the issue of competence has been mainly addressed through the schools, but without the other two requirements all this effort is quite literally ‘just academic’.

          1. Of the 3 requirements, I feel that the decline of traditional communities (regions such as Gaeltacht, communities, village life, family life, economic mobility, etc.) is the most difficult one. It is happening all over the Earth and is the root of the deline of thousands of languages and cultures. The chances of us returning to that way of life of our ancestors is slim. Human relations in large cities do not seem to foster the growth of anything but globalisation and pidgin. Can on-line cultures replace the old ways? Can you actually learn a language with people that you do not physically interact with?

          2. People can set up meeting places or use particular events to create ‘communities in exile’ as it were. I’m told in the past Gaelic speakers in Glasgow would meet near Queen St. Station, where all the outgoing railway lines go over the road giving a long sheltered stretch of pavement, “The Highlandman’s Umbrella”. Now I’ve heard there’s a café for the Gaelic speakers, although I suspect these days it will mainly attract learners — the same shift of balance to the urban centres and ‘new speakers’ that you refer to. ‘Interesting times’ as far as the language itself goes.

  6. I have lived in Wales for several years and I am learning to speak Welsh. The best way I have learnt is through reading bilingual material because it helps me learn new words and contextualise them. It’s sad that there are a few people who still wish to blame me for other people’s actions. Judge me on my own merit and consider that generalising people does no one any merit, including yourself.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Not sure that the opinions expressed here or in the newspaper report or by other commentators were about you specifically since I don’t know your personal circumstances. On a more general note, if I understand the points you are making, I don’t blame non-Welsh people now resident in Wales for the problems faced by Welsh-speakers, native or adopted. What I was countering was the argument put forward which suggests that forcing a Welsh-speaking community to adopt further bilingualism was a good or democratic thing to do when all the evidence of language restoration demonstrates the disastrous nature of such a move. For a minority language to survive, and more importantly for it to prosper, it must have islands or archipelagos of monolingualism (or as near as is possible) where native-speakers can as exist within the native language (again, as far as possible).

      Bilingualism in these circumstances is a rising tide which submerges such islands under the majority language. It does not aid language restoration or the spread of the language but rather works in reverse.

  7. The problem isn’t immigration per say, it’s the failure to sufficiently persuade incomers that they should learn Welsh, or to provide the facilities for them to do so. The vast majority of incomers would be happy to learn Welsh, but the classes are expensive, and quite often at inconvenient times, because we give people free English lessons, but make them pay for Welsh. If we’re serious about bilingualism then Welsh classes for adults need to be free as well. Janis, no-one’s talking about removing the English language from Wales, what we’re trying to achieve is a country where we can all speak Welsh to each other, and also have excellent English for talking to people from outside Wales. With the will and the resources, that’s perfectly achievable (look at Holland). English is a useful international language I agree, but it’s not so useful that we have to stop being Welsh in exchange for speaking it, we can just speak both.

    1. I’ve been advocating for years that the Irish government should provide subsidised, state-regulated language classes to all citizens, adults or children, who wish to avail of them. That includes immigrants. It’s worked in other countries, notably Israel and Québec. Critics and advocates of the Irish language underestimate the costs involved for high quality and certified classes as opposed to voluntary conversation circles and such like. If these were offered for free and came with the guarantee of academic quality I’m sure many more people would take them up. Since we have state schools in virtually every district of the country, plus a fair number of still existing public libraries, why not incorporate them as the physical infrastructure that such classes would be built upon. The next step from that would be dedicated Irish-language centres, free of the “education” stigma some perceive with Irish, one for every major town. Of course something along those lines was promised in the 20 Year Irish language plan – which has quietly died a death in some out-of-the-way bureaucratic corner.

      1. All that sounds like sponsoring an expensive hobby for people with too much free time. Why would I go and attend those courses if there’s nowhere to actually use the language and everyone in Ireland speaks the world’s lingua franca – English anyway? A Chicken-and-Egg problem…

    2. After the collapse of the USSR we not only tried to promote the use of Latvian language and made it the 1st and only state language. We also did everything we could to marginalise Russian and make it completely optional.
      In the USSR Russian was compulsory. Everyone had to learn it in order to finish school and to find work. But not any more.
      In Latvia we have to learn at least 3 languages at school. The 1st one obviously is Latvian which is compulsory and it’s required to pass its exam in order to be able to study at state funded colleges or universities.
      The 2nd one can be chosen by students and/or parents and almost always it is English – it starts from the 1st grade and also is compulsory.
      And the 3rd one also is compulsory, but it’s final exam is not. It starts from the 6th grade and is chosen by students – it’s usually Russian or German or like in my case – both – I studied Russian for 3 years and then switched to German.
      My brothers didn’t study Russian at school at all and that’s why they’re unable to have a conversation in Russian – and they don’t even try to improve their skills, because it’s simply not necessary – English is far more useful to us.

      Other Baltic states had similar policies and that’s why English has now displaced Russian as the lingua franca of the Baltic region.

      But the Welsh and Irish simply can NOT do the same thing as we did. You just CAN’T remove English from your educational system simply because there’s no replacement for it – it’s the world’s lingua franca – everyone is learning it nowadays. You also can’t raise your kids as Welsh or Irish monoglots or teach them some other language as their 2nd language – it must be English like it or not.

      That was what I had in mind when I said that the policies that we have in the Baltics can’t be applied to Wales or Ireland.

    3. Agree with the second part of your comment but as an incomer who’s learnt the language, the first part doesnt ring true for me. The problem is immigration, undoubtedly. The vast majority of incomers are not willing to learn the language, many of them aren’t even aware that another language is spoken here. The classes are not expensive and whats inconvenient for one is great for another. There are all sorts of courses, at just about everytime of day and night, and to suit all types of pockets. Welsh learner provision is pretty complete. Saving the language would be easy, its just a matter of marketing, but while we have a Labour government in Caerdydd and a Tory govt in London it’s going to die. Welsh speakers tend to vote Plaid, they have no desire to create more Plaid voters.

  8. Janis: I have a challenge for you. Many of your comments do ring true and, of course, your examples about Latvia do make sense. Can you add a positive recommendation as opposed to just pointing out why various ideas and articles are wrong? You sound quite passionate about minority language issues. Do you have some insight to offer that helps build up the case for Irish, Welsh, and the other languages that are frequently mentioned on this blog? I think that you are right when you make the point that the Latvian situation should not be compared to others. So what is the next point in your argument? You often stop at this first point.

    In fact, many people in Ireland and Wales stop at the same spot: this is why the situation with the language is bad.

    1. Well – I’ve already mentioned that the govt should stop wasting money on things that are supposed to help the language, but actually don’t.
      Like compulsory education – it’s a waste of time and money. It works in Latvia, because Latvian already is our native language. We consider it the centre of our identity and we don’t hate it.
      The money and resources should be spent on people who actually DO want to learn the language and speak it.
      And as I said – the linguistic environment is built from the bottom up not the other way around. The government bureaucracy will not revive the language.
      It’s ultimately up to the Irish speakers themselves to make their language interesting to others and attract new learners. You can’t do that by force – British soldiers didn’t come to my house and beat English into me. I myself voluntarily spent countless hours studying and improving my English skills and I still do. And the reason I did that is because there’s a lot of interesting content available in English and it’s very widely spoken. I could not even make a living without English, because I’m a programmer.

      So yeah – there are no easy solutions. But the most necessary thing is to have a passionate group of speakers who generate interesting content in the language and try to attract as many new speakers as possible.

      1. In terms of getting a variety of content, blogs are a very useful resource, especially when they’re collected together as ‘blogs of blogs’. There is one for Welsh ‘blogiadur’ and a more limited one for Scottish Gaelic, ‘tirnamblog’ (Google them). If there’s an Irish one please let me know, or maybe clone the software and start one, that’s apparently how Tìr nam Blog happened. And afaik no government funding was involved in any of this — LOL!

  9. I am welsh and i dont speak the language. It doesnt make me any less loyal or devoted to my roots. Its not the easiest of languages to learn or converse in. I found this with all languages i have had the opportunity to try… Please dont penalise welsh people for only being able to speak english id you want to keep tourism alive in wales then things need to be bilingual. By only having one language Wales you are severing its ties with diverse communities and opportunites.

  10. “Do English-speaking British expatriates in northern France or southern Spain expect the French and Spanish governments to become bilingual to serve their needs?”

    Quite probably they do!

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