Scotland, England, Wales

Drowning Welsh-Speakers In The English Language

A few days ago I highlighted a story from Wales where an anglophone lobbyist in the village of Cynwyd, a majority Welsh-speaking area in the north-eastern county of Denbighshire, had secured legal backing in her campaign to force the local community council into adopting a policy of full bilingualism, supposedly to meet the demands of the village’s minority English-speaking residents. Despite the fact that no such demands emerged from anyone else in the locality the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales waded into the argument on behalf of the anglophone complainant, strongly criticising the wish of the local councillors to continue conducting their business largely through the region’s native language. Unfortunately it seems that official intimidation and the bullying of the right-wing British press has done its job and yet another island of the Welsh language is likely to succumb to the rising tide of the English language in northern Wales. From the Denbighshire Free Press:

“A COUNCIL at the centre of a row on language is to become bilingual.

Cynwyd Community Council was labelled “intransigent” by Public Services Ombudsman for Wales Nick Bennett for refusing to co-operate with his investigation after resident Karen Roden complained it was excluding non-Welsh speakers by conducting meetings and publishing documents such as agendas in Welsh only.

A discussion was held and members ultimately agreed all agendas and official documents would be posted on the village notice board in English and Welsh with translation being provided for non-Welsh speakers at meetings from January 1.

Ms Roden, who attended the meeting with a number of other residents, said: “I’m pleased at the council’s decision, not only for myself, but for other people from Cynwyd and its surrounding area who are non-Welsh speaking.

“Having a bilingual agenda ensures that everyone, regardless of what language they speak, can feel that they can attend the meeting and that their views and concerns would be listened to.”

The notion that this hectoring crusade had anything to do with democracy or concerns over local government is preposterous. The end result of what is being hailed as a “…victory for common sense” is an actual victory for the Welsh-deniers in Wales. The end – and frankly desired – result will be the further eroding of the Welsh language in one of its former bastions through a process of creeping Welsh-English bilingualism, followed by English monolingualism, followed by Welsh death. You can write the script already…

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17 comments

  1. The Welsh language survived a damn sight better in the UK than did irish outside of it. Very few people in the industrial – perhaps more accurately post industrial – South Wales would be fluent Welsh speakers: probably cos few of em are pure blooded Welsh, the industrial revolution boom having brought in so much labour from England Scotland Ireland, and indeed the Continent. There is a big cultural divide between the North and South in Wales.

    1. Not very accurate comment John – the industrial revolution created great opportunities for Welsh, especially in the industrial South, as many incomers learnt Welsh and assimilated. In 1911, there were more Welsh speakers than there ever had been. It was from then on, as industry declined that the language did as well, so the industrial revolution was a mixed bag, but ultimately meant that Welsh people didn’t have to emigrate for work – they could stay in Welsh speaking Wales. there is Welsh in every community in Industrial South Wales, some more than others.
      You’re wrong about the cultural divide between the North and South, that’s a myth – especially as Welsh is mostly spoken all across the West of Wales, not just the North.
      Ability to speak Welsh doesn’t have much to do with blood. In South West Wales you’ll see thousands of people with English or Irish surnames who are first language Welsh, and in Cardiff, where the language is booming, you’ll hear people of every colour speaking it.
      But still 19% isn’t enough, the battles no where near over.

    2. The main period during which Irish lost speakers (through negligent almost-genocide) was within the UK (the 19th century).

      1. The more I think about this the odder it seems. Wales was joined to England long before Ireland, and is still under London rule. There is no part of Wales that is all that far from English (and anglicised Welsh) population centres and the political border is mostly arbitrary, whereas Ireland, especially the West is over the sea and far away. An English family from say Manchester, Birmingham or Bristol can easily make a day trip to one of the Welsh language heartlands, or think it worth their while to rent or buy a summer cottage or caravan there. This hardly applies to Ireland. Even given that Irish cities have long been English speaking, they’re smaller and the Gaeltachtaí more remote than in the England/Wales case.

  2. Off topic, but how come Pearse McCauley got away with 8 yrs? Why wasn’t he charged with attempted murder?

  3. Actually if you look at the census returns the post-industrial bits of South Wales have the highest percentage of Welsh-born residents of anywhere in Wales. They’re one of the few places where Welsh birth doesn’t generally equal ability to speak Welsh. The cultural divide isn’t between North and South, it’s between Welsh speakers, English speaking Welsh people, and non-Welsh speaking English incomers.

  4. John Cronin – bit of social history for you mate

    The famine….the genocide caused by the UK killed off Irish ultimately, this happened while Ireland was part of the UK.

    The Welsh unlike the Irish never really uprose (ever since Glyndwr), so their language was let be….until repression by the Victorians (beating children in school for speaking Welsh) arose due to a report down by English monoglots wondering why the Welsh had started fighting for chartism (democracy/labour rights/unions) – Welsh was blamed.

    Its got nothing to do with “blood”….this way of thinking holds us back.More people speak Welsh in South Wales than North.

    Lack of bilingual schooling (as bilingualism was seen as bad for the brain), coupled with teaching children English might was right and yes the fact Wales received a huge number of incomers that refused to speak Welsh were factors……yet some English incomers were some of the greatest fighters for Welsh culture and language.

    Best not stereotype to much on that point mind 😉

  5. Not true John. Parts of the industrial Welsh valleys are majority fluent Welsh speaking, along the western edge of the coalfield in eastern Carmarthenshire. Then in the valleys above Swansea and Neath there are tens of thousands of speakers. There is even a modest but important Welsh speaking tradition in the valleys further east nearer to Cardiff as well (Rhondda and Cynon). So speaking Welsh goes from about 65% (of all residents!) in the Dyffryn Aman, to about 15% in Treorci or Treherbert (Rhondda valleys communities) nearer to Cardiff. We had Welsh speaking coal miners in the south and everything.

    It is true that Welsh has done better than Irish. It’s just not a matter of being “pure blooded Welsh” and we don’t tend to bring those kind of notions into things.

    I fully endorse the blog’s sentiments regarding Cynwyd.

  6. I was born in 1964, only 5 miles from Dinas Abertawe / City of Swansea, a small little village called Felindre – was taught in Ysgol Gynradd Felindre, (through the ‘Cymraeg) , went to the first Bilingual Comprehesive in West Glamorgan – ‘Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera’ = ‘Cymraeg Hiaeth gyntaf (Mamiaith) – saesneg yn ail’ – My mother tongue is Welsh – therefore the foreign English was/ is forced upon me 😉

  7. bilingualism between a major world language and a lesser used language invariably results in the demise of the lesser used language.

  8. “Very few people in the industrial – perhaps more accurately post industrial – South Wales would be fluent Welsh speakers: probably cos few of em are pure blooded Welsh”

    Many people migrated to the south Wales coalfield but the majority were assimilated into the Welsh-speaking culture. The majority of people in places like Merthyr and the Rhondda were Welsh-speaking a hundred years ago. Nobody is “pure blooded”. Anyone can learn a language. If you take time to learn our language then you are a Cymro/Cymraes in my eyes.

    Our challenge today is to get English migrants to learn Welsh – they are welcome to retain their English culture, identity and heritage if they wish but I wish they would show respect and learn our language in addition to their own.

  9. Don’t forget us incomers to Wales (I am a Scot who spent most of my life in England) who learn the Welsh language, love the culture and make an effort to find Welsh-speaking people to talk to. I live in South Wales so that is not easy. Sure there is plenty of Anglophone arrogance around and I counter it when I can, but also there are plenty of Welsh natives who don’t give a damn about the Welsh language and get angry when their kids have to learn it in school. It’s a complex problem, not solved by polarisation – we need to be canny and cunning, I reckon, to make sure the Celtic tongue survives. There are some heartening signs like the Welsh drama, ‘Y Gwyllt’ being sold overseas and lots of young musicians singing in Welsh, plus a new Welsh-language film called ‘Y Llyfrgell’ out soon… and the network of Eisteddfodau, large and small, survives and flourishes all over Wales.

  10. I may be wrong but I get the impression that the decision referred to here is probably the result of pro-welsh official policies backfiring — the law of unintended consequences!

    That is, bilingualism has been strongly promoted throughout Wales, including areas that have been mainly English-speaking for centuries. So, the argument goes, if councils in mostly anglophone places have to work bilingually, the same should apply to mostly Welsh-speaking areas. Which is all very tidy from a legalistic/administrative POV, but entirely ignores the unfair contest between the two languages.

    No one seems to have asked the question, “Is wall-to-wall bilingualism actually helpful or indeed harmful to Welsh?” I.e. The effect of bringing English into the remaining majority Welsh-speaking areas may do more damage than trying to plant Welsh in long-established English areas does good. It may simply produce an unstable situation to the detriment of Welsh, or one where there are many with ‘learners’ Welsh’ but ever fewer true native/traditional speakers.

    OTOH the alternative would be to split the country into language zones, like Belgium, which probably wouldn’t work, or even be seen as acceptable either, although this was the aim of the movement for a Bro Cymraeg at one time.

  11. I agree that the consequences of pushing welsh policy in english speaking areas has left the welsh speaking areas open to what happended in Cynwyd. I’m Irish have learnt Welsh for a few years and believe ideally that all Welsh should speak Welsh. However i have come to the conclusion that the welsh language policy should be policies to sustain Welsh in the Fro Cymraeg welsh speaking Wales only and maybe Cardiff and forget about english speaking areas who could have promotion 24/7 and still no increase in speakers daily use a waste of time.Likewise for Irish. Also note Welsh is not a success story as a minority language as people keep pointing out because the influx of English people means traditional welsh speaking communities are decreasing. These are offset by the hobby speakers of Welsh in the large towns and cities such as those who go to welsh schools but never speak it after and conversation circles or learners doing Wlpan courses but never mastering Welsh to any extent.Oh and English speaking Welsh are Sasanachs.

  12. Quite an interesting debate has picked up. I really disagree with some of the sentiments though. I strongly disagree with “Liamo” in the comment above. A territorial division does kind of exist in that we have a Fro Gymraeg of sorts, but there can be no question of “forgetting about English speaking areas”. It is possible for the state, via the education authorities, to create new Welsh-speakers in areas that are “English-speaking” (the notion of categorising areas as Welsh or English speaking is fairly blunt IMHO). Whether those new speakers wish to use the language is usually not in the state’s gift, although it can be encouraged, but creating the potential new speakers is still important in order to equip them with the choice. An increase in a use of daily speakers is going to be quite hard to achieve in those areas due to the lack of activities in the language, granted. But that in no way justifies ceasing promotion.

    Welsh is a success story but only relative to other minority languages in the region. It has survived to some extent and now has a guaranteed future and prestige. Publishing, cultural events, online activity and music all have a guaranteed future in Welsh. But it is tough and the sense of crisis will be permanent because of emigration of Welsh-speakers to Cardiff and still to England. We have to be very careful about giving a false impression that Welsh is doomed, because that will stop people from bothering to learn.

    Also it is quite odd that only in-migration is mentioned. Emigration is far more damaging in my experience, though equally unstoppable. I have six Welsh-speaking friends who have moved to England, even though they could enjoy a relatively “Welsh” city life in Cardiff. London still pays about double to what Cardiff does.

    “Oh and English speaking Welsh are Sasanachs.”

    No they are not. They are consistently viewed as being other Welsh people. ‘Sasanach’ is not a Welsh word. The term ‘Sais’ is used but is not particularly disparaging.

    A point that is often lost in Wales, and that might be relevant in Ireland too, is that young people like living in cities.

    All the best to everyone in the new year – Blwyddyn newydd dda.

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