Bigotry, the BBC, Language Campaigners

I had intended writing something similar to this post a while back, when I heard that Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) was launching a new campaign. For those who’ve missed it; the ‘campaign’ has started, but seems to consist of nothing more than small groups chaining themselves to the gates of out-of-the-way governmCyIGent buildings where the chainees are ignored, by the media and just about everyone else. As campaigns go, this exercise in futility is going nowhere.

Having originally decided that CyI and the non-campaign wasn’t worth the effort of a post, I have changed my mind over the past few days for reasons alluded to in the title. The bigotry is that exhibited by the sad git working in some Cardiff shop, who said on Facebook, “I love wales and it’s beauty, but the welsh language gets right on my fucking nerves. Two girls in the shop at the moment speaking to each other in welsh. I’ve had to turn bobby womack up to 8”. As the piece in Daily Wales, and the comments it attracted show, there were attempts to explain or laugh off the outburst. One comment even tried to justify the bigotry by claiming that Welsh is not a “mellifluous” language. In which case, neither is German, or Russian, or countless other languages. While on the other hand, French is very ‘mellifluous’, but that never stops those who share Shop Boy’s anglo-insular views from detesting Johnny Frog and everything about him and his culture.

So, we start with a clear and indefensible case of bigotry, which should have been followed by apologies all round, apologies accepted, end of story. But, no; for this morning, the radio station misrepresenting itself as BBC Wales put out a phone-in programme asking why so many people are upset by the sound of the Welsh language. (AvailaOliver Hidesble here.) Note that the ground of the debate has now shifted significantly. In less than forty-eight hours it has become an established fact that the sound of the Welsh language is irritating; and this elevates Shop Boy to the status of martyr, standing up to tyranny on behalf of the silent majority!

Proving yet again that whatever independence the BBC once had is long gone. What’s more worrying is that the Beeb isn’t even being run by Tory central office, it’s being run by the intelligence services. Alex Salmond has a lot to answer for. Keep it up, Eck!

I wasn’t able to hear the whole show but one woman I did hear made cogent points about expenditure on the Welsh language. Which I think is where language campaigners have got it very badly wrong. It boils down to psychology. Put yourself in the position of someone who does not speak Welsh, is not hostile towards the language, but one day – maybe low on funds – has a revelatory moment when he receives his bilingual council tax demand or electricity bill, and says to himself, ‘How much am I paying to have my bill translated and printed into a language I don’t understand?’ At that point he switches from ambivalence towards the Welsh language to hostility. And there are hundreds of thousands like him. And it’s all so unnecessary.

It happens because CyI has, for decades, pursued the strategy of recognition and visibility. In essence, this demands – in addition to pointless tokenism – that the Welsh language must have equal legal status with English, and must be seen and heard, everywhere in Wales on a par with English. Which is fine . . . up to a point. That point being that Gwynedd is not Gwent, Maenchlochog is not Manorbier. While the most virulent bigot living in Gwynedd cannot reasonably object to expenditure on a language he hears spoken all around him, no one should be surprised when an otherwise proudly Welsh anglophone in Abergavenny questions similar spending in his area. Without I hope sounding like an Adferwr I think we have to accept these differences.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg’s refusal to accept them has had two consequences. First, comprehensive bilingualism, across the country, in every aspect of life, does not establish a bilingual country – it just pisses off too many people unnecessarily, few of them bigots. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, by quixotically pursuing this policy of national bilingualism Cymdeithas has left Y Fro Gymraeg undefended, and seriously damaged the language’s chances of survival.

For where was Cymdeithas yr Iaith a few years ago when Tesco opened its new store in Porthmadog and shipped in an English workforce of over 100? And what of the other retail chains and businesses doing the same thing in Gwynedd and other Welsh-speaking areas? Are we to believe that this doesn’t affect people’s ability to use their mother tongue in their everyday lives? That this doesn’t deprive Welsh speakers of jobs in their own communities? How can anyone argue that the survival of the language is better ensured by demanding ‘Talu Yma’ signs in Cardiff stores, or insisting that the proceedings of Merthyr council’s sub-committee on rat infestation are published bilingually? This begins to sound less like a strategy to save one of Europe’s oldest languages and more like job creation for those CyIG members and former members with translation businesses.

And don’t answer me with the old nonsense about ‘dividing’ Wales along language lines. Wales was already divided, and enforced bilingualism across the board is only exacerbating the problem. Worse, by turning people against the language you risk turning them against all things Welsh and losing them entirely. (Plaid Cymru being a good example.) To the point where a cynic – no, not me – could argue that Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg has, over the past thirty-odd years, failed miserably at what it claimed to be doing, yet has successfully queered the pitch for many others.

What is needed is a strategy to, firstly, defend what remains of Y Fro Gymraeg. Then take the fight outside of the heartland to those who want it. For example, by getting involved in any struggle for Welsh language education; or any fight against the overdevelopment of a community where the language is still relevant. Finally, reach ouCyIG 2t beyond these areas and groups to those who identify with Wales and are proud to be Welsh, make them see the language, not as a threat, or a waste of their money, but as a vital and desirable part of our shared heritage.

From now on, campaigners for the language need to be more realistic in their ambitions, they need to understand contemporary Wales better (perhaps by moving outside their own circles a bit more), and they need to be a lot more hard edged in their approach. Forget the idiots on radio phone-ins, they are not the real enemy, they are just ammunition for the enemy. The real enemy is those you hope to persuade with the reasonableness of your demands, the virtue of your case. Those who smile and sound sympathetic but are not the reasonable and fair-minded people you want (and they want you) to believe they are.

That is because every survey ever conducted has shown that Welsh speakers are more likely to want greater devolution and independence than English speakers. That being so, only a simpleton would believe that the UK government (or its civil servants who run Wales) will allow – let alone welcome – an increase in the numbers and percentages of Welsh speakers; or think that an anti-Welsh Labour Party down Cardiff docks – knowing that Welsh speakers are less likely to vote Labour – harbours anything but ill-will towards the language and those who speak it.

Understand that the UK Government, the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party, and many, many others have a vested interest in seeing the Welsh language dead. With a nice headstone erected . . . in Welsh, of course. (Translation available from the nice English lady at the desk, her with the CADW badge.)

44 thoughts on “Bigotry, the BBC, Language Campaigners

  1. Anonymous

    I agree with pretty much all of this, and to my mind there’s an interesting comparison to Scotland in that I think that one big reason the SNP have managed to get a bigger proportion of the Scottish population on side is because they don’t have a language issue to put people off being tagged as “nationalists”

  2. The fact is that any attempt to save the Welsh language is probably going to fail, so it’s easy to judge any attempt as a failure. I don’t believe that, as suggested above, the majority are somehow anti-Welsh despite CyI’s emphasis on bilingualism. I do think that the language needs a better PR department, and that most of the hate directed at the language is due to ignorance rather than malice. That’s why I set up http://whywelsh.wordpress.com/ although I should do more to update and promote it.

    The problem with retreating to the ‘Fro Gymraeg’ is that the whole of Britain and then Wales used to be the ‘Fro Gymraeg’ and we’ve been constantly retreating since then. Why would this attempt to retreat and ‘man the barricades’ (what barricades?) work when so many others have failed? The Gaeltacht hasn’t worked.

    It you want to find out what killed the Welsh language, you have to look not at the present day but at the middle ages when the Anglo Saxons invaded Britain. We don’t know whether they killed the native population or just outbred them (evidence suggests the latter). But the end result was that the native Britons occupied a swampy, mountainous, barren piece of land on the West of the British isles, while the Anglo-Saxons occupied the large, fertile, flat tracts of land to the East. Since that time the economic and technological disparity between the Welsh and the English has been largely inevitable, and that has driven all the changes we’ve seen since then.

    The only thing that could stop this inevitable decline in the use of Welsh is the ‘Noah’s Ark’ approach – you round up a few thousand Welsh speakers, sail off to some uninhabited corner of the globe, and hope to set up a working civilization before English, Spanish or Chinese makes a surprise visit.

    Sorry if this sounds defeatist. I’ll probably feel cheerier and more hopeful tomorrow when I’m not in the grip of man flu! 🙂

    1. Jac

      I’m not suggesting going into laager, I’m arguing for a secure base from which to expand.

      And the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain in the Dark Ages, not the Middle Ages.

  3. Great post Jac. Why or why can’t Cymdeithas yr Iaith confront the reality of modern-day Wales and argue for a pluralist vision for promoting Welsh in Wales, in a way that can make sense to Welsh-speakers and Non-Welsh speakers alike?

    I really think Cymdeithas would be more likely to engage the sympathies of our non-Welsh speaking compatriots if they were to explain to people that the main focus has to be on maintaining Welsh as a living community language in the north and the west. This to be allied with a secondary approach to develop the language in more anglicised areas and encourage the gradual take-up of the language in these areas.

    I can only think that the reason for this linguistic myopia from Cymdeithas dates back to the struggle with Adfer from the seventies/eighties, as so many of Cymdeithas’s stalwarts from that era are still influential within the movement and loath to give up a point of principle from that era. Sad but true.

  4. E

    Agreed, when it comes to our language the focus needs to be on protecting what’s left of Y Fro Gymraeg and expanding Welsh medium education in the South/North-East.

    In my opinion we need to formally designate Y Fro Gymraeg and set a target to for all public sector workers within the area to be able to work through the medium of Welsh by 2034. New doctors, teachers, police officers and so on could be recruited from the Welsh medium schools of the South. The English language doesn’t need government support in western Wales. The Welsh language is our most potent economic weapon and we should use it to our advantage!

  5. Jane

    So are you saying that Ianto sould get his bill in welsh when he lives in a welsh speaking area but not if he does not? If so how will that save any money as the company has had to spend the money on a software engineer to write the welsh version anyway… how would you legislate for it? By street, by town, by postcode? What if our mythical Ianto moves into the next village because the no of welsh speakers has increased? Would you have to amend legislation? Or would he just have to get his bill in english and lump it?
    Looking back 30 years i can remember seeing people on Wales Today who could NOT speak english, now that situation does not exist any more, perhaps we should look at the current situation which is exacerbating this. Assuming our mythical ianto, is born in his village and finds a well paying job and wants to stay there for all his life. It used to be the case that he could do everything he wanted in welsh, now he cannot.
    Perhaps what we should be looking at is the insideous creap of english into evrything… Just go to a supermarket it may say bisgedi above the shelves, but if you want a chocolate digestive you have to know the words in english…
    What i find more appalling, is the institutions that are offering lip service to the language, a quick comparison of the newyddion section and the welsh news sections of the bbc news website will illustrate the point. Yesterday the main headline in the news secion was NHS concerns, the was the seventh item in the newyddion section. Am i less concerned about the NHS if i am reading in welsh? The Cymdeithas protests were on the newyddion site, but despite sending someone to the demos to take photos there was no news article on the english language site. How will english speaking welsh people know we are having problems, if that sort of story is only addressed in the medium of welsh? As welsh speakers we cannot hope to get support from others in Wales if they never hear about it. It is now possible to be in Wales without knowing anything about the welsh language, except when it is seen on a bill, and this is what we need to address.

    1. Jac

      This is not simply a question of cost, it’s about unnecessarily alienating people, from the language and much else besides. Your mythical Ianto should be able to get his bill in Welsh no matter where he lives in Wales, or even England for that matter. As should someone who wants his bill in English, or wants it bilingual. I’m advocating freedom of choice. When someone today opens his bill in Welsh and English in Presteigne or Portskewett he does not smile benignly at this reminder that he lives in a bilingual country, instead he gets rather angry. Not least because he doesn’t hear a word of Welsh from one year to the next.

      Language campaigners need to move on from abstractions and unattainable ideals. Doing so would serve the Welsh language a hell of a lot better. The realities are that one size fits all is a load of self-injurious nonsense, and that occupying the moral high ground (so beloved of language campaigners) simply means that you become divorced from reality, and ignored, while the real Wales carries on below.

      1. Jane

        Agree that language campaigners need to move on from abstracts, but the bill issue is a legislative and legal minefield. Bialongual for all is the only way to go. What if a company makes a mistake and sends welsh bills to Fred Smith in Cardiff? Or worse what if Fred Smith is a fraudster and deliberately asks for bills in welsh and when the company comes to cut him off claims that he didn’t understand what would happen when he gets to court?

        1. Jac

          In the situation you envision, the onus would be on Fred Smith to ask for an English bill. It should be written across every Welsh bill, ‘If you would prefer this bill in English please contact (Freephone number, e-mail address)’. Equally, on English bills to ask for them in Welsh.

          1. Jane

            It would be nice, but unfortunately the law appears to be set to the premise that one should not have to demand a bill one can understand, rather that the company should send one out that can be understood.

            1. Jac

              How does the company determine what langauge the customer can understand? It is up to the customer to inform the company of his preferred language. If this is covered by EU legislation then there must be allowances for this. In Belgium I guarantee that many francophones would object to half their bill being in Flemish, and vice versa. And how does it work in Switzerland – all bills in German, French and Italian?

            2. Jane

              Am not a lawyer, but to the best of my understanding this is covered by UK law. Everyone in UK is deemed to understand english, any translation services provided by councils etc into other language are a courtesy. It was a senedd amendment which granted welsh ‘equal status’ which means companies etc should produce bills and documentation in both languages. However, to produce bills in a single language would run the risk of falling foul of the UK law. I suspect that the best we could do would be to get english only or bilingual bills. And companies TBH find it easier just to produce one type of bill. Not saying its right, but is a fact of life.

  6. nyth

    I think I agree with you a lot Jaco despite supporting CYI, cannot support all their campaigns because they are completely naive and living in middle class cuckoo land and behaving like headless chickens chasing every so called insult to the language rather than choosing their battles strategically

    1. Jac

      This “middle class cuckoo land” is firmly located on the moral high ground. Maintain this position and victory is assured . . . or, rather, retain possession of the moral high ground and delude yourself that it’s a substitute for victory.

      Someone else commenting here argues that the media is not reporting the current CyI campaign, especially in English. Which may be true, but it’s easy to easy ignore what CyI is doing. The way to guarantee publicity is to do what the media cannot ignore.

  7. Tarian

    The big problem is that Adfer was right about the fact that Welsh needed a secure territory where Welsh was the dominant language of community and commerce. Time has proved them right and there are still too many people who are too stubborn to admit it. If efforts had been concentrated on the Fro thirty years then there is every chance that we would have a large territory where Welsh was secure: this could then act as an attraction for those Welsh speakers from the Welsh medium schools of the rest of Wales who wanted to live in Welsh speaking communities. While a secure base exists in the Fro there remains a potential for the language to grow in the rest of Wales. Without these communities it is hard to see how any regeneration could occur. While there have been increases in the number of young Welsh speakers in the south-east the supply of Welsh medium education lags far behind demand due to the intransigence of Cymrophobic councillors. Added to this it is difficult to find many social opportunities to use Welsh in the South East and very few work opportunites. That leaves the family, but given the social and linguistic balance there are fewerr instances of Welsh as a family language. A welsh speaker may marry/partner an english speaker and while they may send their children to a Welsh medium school the language of the home will mainly be english. So in what sense can they said to be living their lives through Welsh? Only the very determined and committed can achieve such a thing. I only have to look at the history of my own family across four generations to see the patterns.

    The problem now is that the task of saving Y Fro is huge compared to the potential thirty or forty years ago. It’s not impossible but it needs a huge coordinated effort. It needs strong leadership, everyone pulling together, more positivity about what can be achieved rather than carping, and real life normal everyday people actually doing something constructive rather than expecting someone else to do it for them. There is massive latent potential out there amongst Welsh speakers – we are far too easily knocked off course by negativity and pessimism (a national malaise). We need to create a positive narrative which can inspire and mobilise people – we need to recognise the severity of the threats we face but not wallow in self pity and despair.

    As far as CyI go they have undoubtedly campaigned on the wrong issues at times and have pursued some ineffective strategies. However, way they have been ignored by both media and politicians illustrates the humiliating futility of begging your enemies for crumbs. Campaigns have to be so big and threatening that they cannot be ignored or you have to stop asking for favours or permission and start doing things for yourselves.

    1. Jac

      I agree with you about Adfer. But later there came Cymuned, which started off with massive support and goodwill, proving that many concerned Welsh speakers in the Fro had given up on CyI. Yet Cymuned soon imploded in suspicious circumstances. (I’d love to know the full story.) It could even be argued that Meibion Glyndŵr arose in 1979 because of the incompetence and inaction of Cymdeithas yr Iaith.

      The Sixties were fantastic, with Wales making advances on all fronts, but then the British State recovered from its shock and got its act together. By the Eighties both Plaid Cymru and Cymdeithas yr Iaith had been ‘neutralised’.

    2. Jane

      What a lovely idea… However, it cannot possibly work. No one will move into a welsh heartland, however lovely it is, however good the schools are, however good anything else is… UNLESS THERE ARE JOBS… And equivalent jobs to those they can get if they moved to Cardiff…
      IIRC that was why heartlands were not put in place and actively campaigned for … As they would condemn people who wanted to live through welsh to a lower standard of living.
      I fully appreciate the problem of moving to the SE and not even hearing welsh any more, that has been precisely what happened to me. I sometimes think if it wasn’t for S4C i’d not hear welsh at all.
      There are no easy answers to this, if there were politicians would have found them by now; and i don’t have the answers either, but i do know i dont want to live in a ghetto. Esp as i also feel it will run the risk of demonising me more if i speak welsh outside of that ghetto.

  8. Tigi-dwt

    See the item on Blog Glyn Adda (March 21) about a case at Caernarfon Crown Court brought last week against a Pen-y-groes (Gwynedd) man for speaking Welsh in a shop – and that a charity shop he wished to support! The defence won his case; not guilty on the three counts of 1) aggravated racial harassment, 2) common assault (on the shopkeeper) and 3) common assault (on a policeman).

    It is a sad reflection on the position of the Welsh language in Wales that if one goes into a shop and greets the assistant in Welsh with ‘Bore da’ or ‘Sut mae?’, only too often the assistant not only cannot reply with grace, but goes into paroxysms of outrage. If I was greeted in France by ‘Bonjour’ I would naturally reply with the same.

  9. Lewis

    I’m friends with quite a few who are/have been active campaigners in recent years and have had many a discussion over a pint with them regarding their aims and objectives. Their undoubted passion for the language and their drive/determination for positive change is admirable, however on too many occasions they waste it all by concentrating their energies on the wrong target, often displaying a serious lack of knowledge of the bigger picture.

    Their recent campaigning over S4C’s funding cut/change is a prime example. Obsessed with defending S4C’s budget yet completely oblivious to much more alarming issues of poor and stagnant content, falling viewing figures and horrific haemmoraging of funds.

  10. daffy2012

    The FM’s speech today about the Welsh language tells you all you need to know about how concerned he is about Cymdeithas’s campaign.

  11. It would be a bit rich of us Welsh speakers to complain about how others feel about the sound of Welsh, when one of the names for the English Language in Welsh is “Y Fain” (The Shrill)!

    I use to be a member of the executive of Adfer, many years ago. Adfer’s policy was one language for y Fro Gymraeg, but complete bilingualism in the rest of Wales. Your contention that Adfer would have opposed bilingual forms in Gwent is wrong; we insisted on bilingual forms in Gwent but wanted mono-lingual ones in Gwynedd; which might have been a problem for you as an Anglophone Welshman living in Gwynedd.

    The battle for a Welsh speaking Bro Gymraeg was lost, probably because the campaign started 50years too late.
    i.
    Remembering Adfer as a means of creating a Fro Bilingual and an Anglophone Wales is an insult to what Adfer tried to achieve!.

    1. Jac

      I used Adfer as a means of explaining separate treatment for different areas (and groups), nothing more. But as you say, Adfer, like every other language campaign over the past 60 years came to nothing. Apart from bilingualism on road signs, etc., which, when compared to the threats overwhelming the language, is just pissing in the wind.

      My position on the language is consistent. 1/ It has damaged the wider, political struggle. 2/ It was never defended strenuously enough. 3/ I detest the ‘high moral ground’ argument of doing something very trivial then handing yourself in to the police in the hope of ‘martyrdom’. 4/ Joining CyIG seems to have become a rite of passage for many young middle class Welsh speakers, because their parents or grandparents were in Cymdeithas. 5/ Too many of those who’ve been prominent in language campaigning over the years seemed – with hindsight – to have been in it for themselves. 6/ It’s all failed, the language is on its last legs and Wales is further from independence than she was 50 years ago.

      1. Marconatrix

        That’s a pretty depressing prognosis, shall we all just curl up and die quietly?

        I appreciate this is a very difficult problem with no easy answers, so all you can really do is allow people to work in the way the feel is best, which is probably all they’ll ever do anyway, and just hope that someone, or some group, manages to get it right in time.

        I think the language is ultimately the essence of Welsh identity, and therefore central to any drive for independence. Unlike Scotland, Wales was absorbed into England before it had developed into a recognisable early modern state. Scotland has always been multilingual and multicultural, but joined the union as a single distinct political entity, retaining its own laws, church, education system etc. Although there was a lot of dirty dealing and bribery involved, technically it entered into a voluntary union of parliaments with England.

        Not so with Wales. Wales was conquered piecemeal, the Normans having in modern terms privatised the conquest of the more profitable parts. After which it was left to the king to finish the process by dealing with the less profitable ‘wild Welsh’ of Gwynedd. Once that was done, the marcher lords were a bit of a pain in the butt with their little private kingdoms which no longer served as buffer states, so the whole lot were swept up by the Act of Union which simply annexed all of Wales to England. Whatever rights the Welsh now acquired they acquired as ‘Englishmen’.

        Wales as a political entity no longer existed. There has never been a modern Welsh state or parliament, with the possible exception of the few years of Glyndŵr’s rebellion. Devolution is fragile, Westminster can abolish the whole show whenever it wishes, constitutionally it’s just another tier of local government. The only thing that has kept Wales distinct from England is the language. Without it you would have become English, West Anglia. Only the language enabled Wales to retain its distinctive culture and so its separate identity.

        So while Scots nationalism is essentially political and civic, the restoration of a once separate nation state, Welsh nationalism is of necessity cultural. That is why the language is essential, without it you are just an English region with a ‘funny’ accent, one among several.

        To adapt a Breton slogan, Heb y Gymraeg does dim Cymru!

        1. Jac

          I can’t disagree with what you’ve said, especially about Scotland. Though I might have mentioned the Lowland / Highland divide, and perhaps the religious division, exacerbated by the Ulster connection, and the Orange-Rangers element.

          But let me say that the lack of national institutions did not deny us our identity, nor did the loss of the language. I grew up in a working class area of Swansea which, by the early ’60s, was overwhelmingly English speaking. Yet among my friends there was never any question about our national identity. So there was always a Welshness to build on that was not narrowly cultural. (Or, rather, there was a culture, but it didn’t involve the Welsh language.) Yet this chance was lost because the only political party promoting Welsh interests had grown out of a movement seeking to preserve an essentialy rural, Welsh-speaking way of life. Plaid Cymru has unsuccessfully tried to get this monkey off its back for decades.

          By comparison, the Welsh-speaking heartlands are being lost today not because Welsh people are switching from Welsh to English (though that does happen) but because the whole region is being swamped by a new, English population. When this process is complete there will be areas of Wales that – unlike my childhood neighbourhood – will not just have switched language while retaining national identity, they will have switched completely to being outposts of England, the sort of places we see today on the north coast. In a couple of decades Porthmadog and Pwllheli will be no different to Rhyl and Prestatyn.

          Turning to Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg and other language campaigners, for what they’ve achieved over the past 50 yes, they might as well curl up and die quietly.

          1. Marconatrix

            Genuine question, not a wind-up. How was your Welshness any different from the local identity of say a Yorkshireman, or a Geordie. In what way, without the language can you claim to be a nation rather than just a region of ‘England’. What about the Cumbrians or the Cornish, they were ‘Welsh’ (in the broadest sense) once too but lost the language, so now for many people they’re just parts of England. Cornish of course is known and taught, but it has never been possible to establish any focal points, any communities of speakers beyond the occasional family. Indeed if you want to see how things will look if or when you lose the Bro, just take a trip down to Cornwall.

            1. Jac

              I’m surprised you didn’t spell it ‘Welshness’. Your question is predicated on the belief that national identity is determined solely by the language a person speaks. If you were right, then Ireland would today be united and part of the United Kingdom. Spanish-speaking Basques would be handing over their Basque-speaking neighbours, and Plaid Cymru might as well pack up now. And how do you explain the muslim extremist born and raised in a Western society, or a Jew of the Diaspora?

              You seem too intelligent not to realise that identity is a complex issue, determined by a host of interacting factors. And despite what you said of Scotland being (unlike absorbed Wales) “an early modern state” what drives the desire for independence in Scotland now is not the existence of the Kirk but the sense of alienation, of having different values to England; not St. Andrews but oil and the sense of exploitation. And even though Scotland has the national institutions we lack, we still have recognition, for example, in international sport – especially rugby and football – denied to Basques, Catalans and countless other submerged minorities. (So condemn the WRU for not using Welsh, but also see behind the pink cowboy hats and other get-ups.) It may elicit the wrong kind of short-lived patriotism but it’s better than nothing. It is certainly more effective than the language in telling most Welsh people that Wales is different to England. In this regard, even the Notional Assembly plays its part.

              Language as a unifying factor, a determinant of identity, might work in other situations, but not here in Wales. It is spoken by too few to unite us, and by too many to be completely ignored. Maybe that’s the real problem.

            2. Thank you, I appreciate the difficulty Wales has. If you emphasise the language and Y Fro, the danger is that you’d split the country in half rather like Belgium, otoh while you can cobble together other symbols of Welshness they don’t have the force of the language to mark you out as a distinct nation. Maybe it’s only people’s perception, but somehow your own language would seem to make your national status undeniable in most people’s eyes, while all else is debatable. Look at some of the English regions that see themselves as would-be nations, and in most folks eyes they’re just a bit of a joke. Clearly the very first thing you have to do is ditch Labour, but where is the alternative, given that Plaid does not appeal to a lot of English speakers, and honestly doesn’t seem too inspired at present.
              What perhaps you may not realise, since the London media don’t really understand it, is that there is a completely different political culture and social outlook in Scotland these days from England (or at least London/Westminster), and this really is what’s driving independence. Essentially a positive drive for a better and fairer society, not hatred of the English or ‘grievance politics’ as it is often misunderstood south of the border. Does Wales share a similar more European ‘social-demorcatic’ culture, or has it all gone down the tubes with the decay of Labour?

            3. Jac

              Listen, pal, I don’t know who you are, though from some of your comments to other blogs I see you have an obsession with language, even dialect, for one comment I found dealt with Ulster Scots! If I had to guess I’d say that you’re Cornish. (Or pretending to be.) As for your latest contribution, it only proves that you reject everything I’ve said, so I see little point in you coming back to this blog.

              But afore ye gang (is that acceptable?), Scotland is not alone in having a “different political culture and social outlook” to England. So your ignorance of Wales is another reason to discourage any further input. Goodbye.

  12. Daley Gleephart

    Although I can speak and read Welsh at basic level, the thought of being confronted by language fanatics puts me off learning more.

  13. David Thomas

    I don’t agree with your analysis about Cymdeithas yr Iaith or your general defensive approach. The idea that the Welsh language is relevant to every part of Wales is not Cymdeithas’ agenda, but was the agenda of the Welsh language. If you want to confine Welsh to just some parts of Wales, like the Irish have tried to do unsuccesfully is a matter for you, but I hope Cymdeithas yr Iaith don’t follow your foolish approach.

    If you want to read something about Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s current campaigns they are available here:

    http://www.cymdeithas.org/6things

    There is an explanation of some of their recent and historical successes here:

    http://cymdeithas.org/node/2123

    They also launched an alternative Planning Bill recently, which combines protecting the Welsh language in its traditional heartlands and an attempt to expand it to other areas. I believe they are running a consultation on their Bill:

    http://cymdeithas.org/dogfen/bil-eiddo-chynllunio-er-budd-ein-cymunedau-drafft-ymgynghorol
    http://cymdeithas.org/sites/default/files/bil%20cynllunio%202014%20Saesneg%20-%20CMYK.pdf
    http://cymdeithas.org/node/4888

    1. Jac

      You are of course free to disagree with my analysis. Though I’d appreciate a translation of your second sentence.

      I am not arguing for ‘confining’ the Welsh language to one part of Wales, merely suggesting that ‘one size fits all’ is a self-defeating delusion. And believe me, once people in other parts of Wales realise there is no heartland left, then one of the biggest incentives to learn Welsh will be gone.

      You directed me to the successes of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, so let us look at them. https://jacothenorth.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/CyIG-successes.png

      1960s – Bilingual road signs. Can’t argue with that. Makes the language more visible, but what did it actually achieve beyond that? Did it halt the influx of people taking over Welsh-speaking communities? At the end of day, road signs are worth no more than ‘Ar Werth’ signs. Bilingual estate agents, hooray! – yet does it mean English people don’t buy properties with ‘Ar Werth’ signs?

      1970s – Welsh language TV channel campaign. CyIG may have campaigned, but then the Tories said, ‘Piss off, we don’t have to listen to you’. At the end of the day it was Gwynfor Evans threatening to fast that got S4C, or rather, the knowledge that there would be violence if he died.

      1980s – Campaign for a Property Act. Yes, I see the success of this campaign in my travels around Wales.

      1993 – Welsh Language Act. And what has this achieved? It’s just more official / visibility bullshit that changes nothing on the ground.

      2000s – Campaign for New Welsh Language Act, Campaign to keep local schools. Another Act (yawn). As for schools, Plaid-controlled Gwynedd is closing village schools left right and centre. So are other councils.

      2010 – Official Status for the Language under the Welsh Language Measure. Official status – so what! Norman French still has official status in the Westminster parliament. We could give Latin official status – would it make people start speaking Latin? Welsh survived and thrived for 2000 years without official status, that was never the threat, and it will never be the solution.

      2011 – Welsh-medium higher education college ‘Y Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol’ established. This must be so important and far-reaching that I’ve never heard of it.

      There’s not much there to crow about for an organisation that’s been around for over fifty years. And you say that CyI is launching an ‘Alternative Planning Bill’, but will anyone notice, pay it attention?

      The biggest problem for Cymdeithas has always been its elitism. Having studied the organisaion from afar it often put me in mind of some unbearably smug religious sect, ‘We are going Heaven, and you are not!’ Always taking about the werin, and communities but choosing to exist on a different plane. Preferring to deal with politicians and broadcasters – making contacts no doubt – rather than the ordinary people in Welsh-speaking communities. (I know most of your members are now living in Cardiff, so it’s difficult.) Do you ever go out to meet these people, in communities where the language is in retreat, trying to encourage the people, get a feel for the real world?

      Fifty years of Cymdeithas yr Iath has achieved next to nothing for the Welsh language and 95 per cent of its speakers. God knows how many Welsh-speaking communities have been lost since CyIG came into existence. I’m not saying it wouldn’t have happened anyway, but that’s the fact. Can you you name any community – Cardiff apart – that has become more Welsh speaking over the past 50 years?

      Face it, the only people who have benefitted from what CyIG claims to have achieved – basically, legislation, broadcasting, the need for translations, etc., – are a section of the Welsh-speaking middle class . . . many of whom have been members of Cymdeithas yr Iaith. (And then there’s Rhodri Williams and a few others.) Otherwise Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg has been an abyssmal failure. In fact, it may have done more harm than good.

  14. David Thomas

    Sorry, above should read “agenda of the Welsh language Board and many others as well”.

  15. Lurker

    Great post. Controversial, but someone needs to say it. Loud and often. Might wake people up. The demands and politics of language campaigners in Wales are incredibly frustrating. Actually, the way language campaigners all over, not just in Wales, ignore sociolinguistics is frustrating. Yes, it’s not mathematics or chemistry, but it’s pretty damn reliable. Minor fluctuations and exceptions are possible, but there are many rules, which language campaigners should take into consideration. E.g.: no matter the language they’re taught in, kids revert to their first language as soon as the classes are over; anything less than 70% of minority language speakers, is the beginning of language loss in a community; there’s never been a case of a successful minority language comeback into majority language status; a language cannot survive as more than a hobby unless it has a base where it’s the majority language… None of this is to disparage Welsh medium education outside Y Fro, just to frame it in a realistic context. It’s a very good thing, but it won’t linguistically transform English-speaking Wales, nor is it any use independent of Y Fro. All of this has been known for many, many years. Language campaigners seem either ignorant of basic sociolinguistics, or feigning ignorance. Either way, protecting Y Fro is not optional. If that fails, all other language activism is simply pissing in the wind.

  16. Lurker

    P.S. I should add that the case of Hebrew doesn’t count in this context as a minority language replacing the dominant language. There was a set of circumstances not applicable to Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Breton, Basque, etc. – lack of a language already common to all (many, but not all, Jews moving to Israel spoke Yiddish), massive state support for the langauge as the only language of the state (something that will never happen in Wales, Ireland, or even Euskadi), almost universal good will due to historical circumstances/nation-building/etc. (again, not happening in the countries mentioned).

  17. daffy2012

    From the BBc web site today:

    “Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) said the response of ministers to the “state of Welsh language communities” was “a complete farce”.

    The group’s chair, Robin Farrar, said: “They continue to delay and refuse to make important changes.

    “They have chosen to ignore or reject any recommendations that would make a real difference – tinkering with the Mentrau Iaith’s administrative arrangements will not ensure growth for the Welsh language at grassroots level.”

    “Carwyn Jones continues to delay, and ignore the fundamental changes needed – it’s high time he took the Welsh language seriously,” Mr Farrar added.”

    I wonder if they will write him a letter.

    1. Jac

      As I’ve said somewhere else, every survey ever undertaken tells us that Welsh speakers are more likely (than anglophone Welsh) to want greater devolution or independence. That being so no UK government will do anything to defend or promote the Welsh language. Carwyn Jones is just a puppet of the London government, reading out what’s been written for him by the English civil servants who really run Wales. This means that he should be treated as nothing more than a conduit through which to deal with those who really make the decisions.

      It follows that those wielding power over Wales will ignore petitions, representations, suggestions or low level protest asking for measures to defend the Welsh language. Because they are intent on slowly, and as painlessly as possible, kiling off the Welsh language. This is what they have been doing since the national awakening of the 1960s. They have done it so well that they have attracted little or no resistance from within Wales and no adverse publicity on the international stage. (The second invariably follows on from the first.)

      Consequently, and unless they are simply engaging in self-indulgent theatricals, those claiming to be committed to saving the Welsh language need to up their game. If they read their history they’ll know that England concedes nothing without a fight. The dream of a thousand years or more is within the grasp of England’s rulers today – the end of the Welsh problem.

      It is being achieved through a bloodless form of ethnic cleansing. Yet this tactic has always flummoxed our language campaigners. Being socialists, further debilitated by political correctness, and with one eye on their career prospects, they have consistently refused to face up to the social engineering rural and Welsh-speaking Wales has suffered for almost 50 years. Instead they have directed their energies against those evil English-only road signs, and the inability to use Welsh when checking on snow conditions at Klosters, with the predictable result – Welsh is all but dead as a community language.

      If language campaigners are serious about defending and saving the Welsh language then they will need to start getting serious, using methods they have never employed before. And there is support out there just waiting to be organised. Because almost everyone knows what is happening, and they resent it; but they feel helpless and abandoned because no political party and no organisation is prepared to speak out against them becoming strangers in their own country. So be imaginative in your actions, generate publicity (publicity outside the UK is what our masters fear most), and those who run Wales will no longer be able to ignore you. Then they will have to make concessions.

      But if all you’re going to do is pointlessly chain yourselves to railings somewhere, and delude yourselves that Carwyn Jones has a patriotic side to his nature, or that you can influence legislation, then you might as well fuck off now and stop wasting everybody’s time.

  18. Keith Parry

    !7.35 BBC News sites in Welsh 300 protest about Welsh language and planning this afternoon. BBC English language news site, demo not mentioned. What is BBB Wales agenda?

    1. Jac

      The agenda is to make the audience think everyone is happy with their lot.

      UPDATE: It is the second item on the BBC Wales website.

  19. Jane

    I have already made a complaint to the bbc about this, am awaiting a response. Am wondering if more people complained would it be less easy to brush under the carpet? If people think it would, could you please take ten minutes to use the contact us, complaints web form to make your voice heard?

    1. Red ²

      Remember all the complaints sent to the BBC from Daily Mail readers about a Radio 2 programme that they didn’t listen to? Well, don’t expect Dacre’s dogs to treat a BBC Wales phone-in with the same fake seriousness.

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