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!“