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The Welsh Language: Living with Welsh and its future

Most people I meet find the fact that I speak Welsh entertaining. If they’re British they tend to ask me to pronounce the longest place name in Europe; Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Others ask me to say a few words and then compare it to Elvish from Lord of the Rings.

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6 thoughts on “The Welsh Language: Living with Welsh and its future

  1. It’s critical to keep languages alive. I’ve got a few friends who speak Irish and a few who speak Basque. Both languages have small numbers of native speakers and have existed under governments who sought to end their usage.

    What is the relationship historically between the British government and the Welsh language? Did they pass laws against it’s usage like the Spanish did with the Basque language?

    • no but they set up state funded engliah language schools where it was policy to beat bloody the kids who dared speak welsh.

      • Actually yes they did pass laws, after Wales’ annexation everything had to be done in English. Until very recently the only official language in Wales was English. In contrast there is no official language in England.

        During the 1950s Eileen Beasley and her husband Trevor refused to pay Llanelli (they used the anglicised ‘Llanelly’ back then) council unless they had a bill in Welsh. They were in and out of court for much of the next decade until the council caved in. In the meantime bailiffs had raided their home many times and taken almost everything, even the carpets.

        The teacher’s attitude doesn’t surprise me as I was schooled in Swansea and there were many Welsh hating teachers back then. Most are simply ignorant and have had their parents / teachers ignorance passed onto them and some might have simply been scared of Welsh as they couldn’t speak it and were worried about becoming obsolete.

        There was a huge effort to ‘English’ the Welsh out of us. In the 1840s the English sent inspectors into Wales. Their report concluded that speaking Welsh made people ignorant, lazy and immoral which of course led to children being beaten if they spoke Welsh. This practise is not unique to Wales and happened through the colonies. Around that time the English were also stealing boatfulls of food from Ireland at gunpoint whilst the Irish people starved to death.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eileen_Beasley
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treachery_of_the_Blue_Books
        http://www.irishholocaust.org/

  2. Interesting post, its good to get a perspective from someone who grew up on in such a strong Welsh speaking area, and interesting to hear that even there English has quite a dominant presence. Which fits in with a study I recently read that many primary school pupils even in Gwynedd prefer English.
    Unhinged, to the best of my knowledge, Welsh had no political or administrative status in Wales from the 16th Century onwards. However, despite this, the vast majority spoke Welsh as a first language until the end of the 19th century.
    However, in the 1800s there was a lot of English immigration into cities like Cardiff and Swansea. This, coupled with the lack of official status for Welsh (in the courts etc), led to the language’s decline. Also some Welsh speakers in the south deliberately didn’t pass the language on to their kids, because, as in some parts of Ireland, they thought that it would hold them back in terms of opportunities in life.
    Though, it must be admitted that for much of the late 19th century and early 20th century, children were forbidden from speaking Welsh in schools, a policy known as the welsh not.

  3. Interesting article and good hear your account of the different attitudes you encountered growing up. I am in a similar situation as to the loss of Welsh. In the ’70’s many Welsh speakers moved away from Wales for better job opportunities causing a sharp language decline in that decade. Now that we have a global economy this is going to happen more and more in every part of the world. So, we need to accept that situation and work with it. However, other things do need to change if the language is to survive. Elitism is certainly a problem which excludes people who would otherwise like to speak the language. Older people are dying and young people are not taking up the language. For some, it is seen as having no relevance. for others the Welsh language has not been a pleasant experience and that second group are likely to be lost forever. Some people have had really horrible experiences and won’t talk about them because they’ve never been given a voice to do so in the first place. I think elitism has changed over the years and the protest years and the National Assembly has had a hand in that despite both probably having the opposite intentions originally.

    I had a couple of friends who used to speak Welsh to me when I came to Swansea and in those days if you spoke Welsh then you were a Welsh speaker, or you spoke a bit of Welsh. Yes, there were the Cymru Cymraeg who kept themselves separate but even that situation was not as pronounced as now. The word learner didn’t exist back then. Now, this word is used for no other reason that I can see than to draw a distinction between those who’ve grown up speaking Welsh at home (both parents, of late) and those who haven’t particularly those who’ve come from England. The question “O ble ych chi’n dod?” really translates as “Are you English?” People who come to Wales and learn the language get a really bad deal. They learn Cymraeg Bwy, a form of Welsh no one speaks and which is difficult to learn. They are taught by people who are inexperienced in language teaching – believe me I’ve got the Wlpan teacher’s certificate and it’s a terrible method and not in the spirit of the original “Ulpan”. And I’ve met plenty of these teachers, some of them senior academics. I’ve seen some really good examples of language teaching, but not in Wales. There is a large dropout rate because they do not get enough classroom hours and it’s difficult for them to find people to speak to: Welsh speakers who revert to English for learners are pretty common knowledge. The ones who do attain a sort of fluency after five years (which is far too long, but then again it makes financial sense to keep them in the system that long) find that they are singled out as learners in every situation including the workplace. That’s fine for some but not appropriate or helpful to all. However, use of Skype and people who can put better material on the web this may this.

    To get people to speak Welsh it has to be made attractive – and especially for the young. S4C has nothing for younger viewers or much for anyone else, in sharp comparison to Gaelic which has excellent material out there. I remember the early days of S4C and seeing programmes that were enjoyable and well made. With the online community and social networking perhaps we will see the end of S4C when people start youtubing stuff people actually want to watch – for free. It has to be made safe. The current strapline of “We’re going to be nice to learners now.” is just patronising. There are plenty who would rather not admit they speak Welsh than risk being labelled. So more Welsh is lost. A real understanding that there are different groups of Welsh speaker rather than the current speaker/learner divide needs to be established so that all groups get resources that are tailored to their own needs. After the Assembly, I found there were less and less opportunities to speak Welsh. There were suddenly more learner groups and resources but to fit in with them you had to speak like everyone else in the group. Code-switching, slang and “wrong” mutations were all verboten and if you did this in the siop siarads you got corrected, regardless of the fact that this is how you and plenty of others have always spoken.

    The elistist attitude is killing the Welsh language so the answer should be to scrap all of the funding that has brought this about. This will level the playing field and allow younger and more diverse groups to start producing media and proper educational output. It might not even be a bad idea to ship some of this outside Wales itself to break the current stranglehold of a few groups. Perhaps social networking can readdress the issue for people who have moved outside of Wales and would still like to use their Welsh.

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