Contradictory arguments against the Welsh language show that the game is rigged

Evan Davis on Newsnight. Picture by BBC


Dylan Llŷr

Anyone who’s ever manned the barricades against attacks on the Welsh language will have noticed that the arguments against it are often contradictory.

This is because the game is rigged. It’s designed so that we can’t win.

The most common hostile claim is probably that the language is ‘useless’. There’s no point in speaking it, much less learning it, because it’s allegedly of so little practical value.

This argument is usually accompanied by the claim that Welsh is ill-equipped to deal with the modern world, as we supposedly struggle to come up with new words for the latest fancy gadgets and ideas.

These claims are false, obviously, but that’s not the point here. Rather, it’s that we also face complaints – often by the very same people who just argued the above – that Wales is run by a Welsh-speaking ‘crachach’ or ‘Taffia’ that saves the best jobs for those who are fluent in the secret code.

That isn’t true either, of course, but it’s also completely inconsistent with the previous idea that Welsh is pointless and primitive. After all, it’s hard to think of a more useful and relevant thing you could do with a language than run a country in it.

It’s common for defenders of the language to have to argue back on contradictory fronts like this. Another example is having to respond both to the claim that we can ‘all speak English anyway’ and also that teaching kids Welsh somehow harms their English.

These claims reveal that those making them are being disingenuous.

Imagine, in the first instance, that, for whatever reason, we could not, in fact, speak English. Would they then abandon their hostile position?  Of course not.

They would simply move the goalposts and deem such a scenario an educational emergency, blamed, naturally, on our persistence with Welsh at the expense of English.

Likewise, when we explain that Welsh-speakers’ English is just as good as that of the English themselves, they can simply pivot back to the ‘you all speak English anyway’ canard.

Our response to Argument A is countered with Argument B. Meanwhile, our response to Argument B is countered with Argument A. Heads they win; tails we lose.

It’s a loop, designed to be unsolvable, and shows that you can’t debate when the other side is insincere.

Already decided

Personally, I suspect that many young Welsh-speakers actually overstate how uncomfortable they feel using English instead of Welsh, because they want to show the pragmatic case for policies to protect the language.

The truth is that our English is perfectly fine, and usually much better than Julian Ruck’s (mine certainly is). It’s ridiculous that we should feel we’re undermining our own justification for existing by saying so.

The rigged system is even at work when the topic is something relatively straightforward like the numbers of Welsh-speakers.

On the one hand, if we point to more positive interpretations of the statistics to say that Welsh is quite healthy, then why does the language need help at all?

On the other hand, when we acknowledge that the trends are worrying and that the language is under threat, that just shows it’s dying anyway so, again, what’s the point?

The thing to remember is that these people have already decided that they’d prefer a world in which Welsh didn’t exist. All that follows is post hoc rationalising. They’ll use whatever argument is convenient at any given moment.

This is not to say that arguing back is pointless. It needs to be done, especially after last week’s Newsnight debacle showed the extent of the genuine ignorance about us.

If someone is using all of these arguments simultaneously, we can be quite sure that they’re just bigots who can’t be swayed. But there’s a good chance that there are other people reading who can be.

We should reject the very premises of these arguments. The aim should be to show precisely how rigged the game truly is.

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  1. So if English doesn’t need support, why are they paying for English to be taught as a compulsory and technical language in every school in England?

  2. Excellent article. Unfortunately today, numbers are the favoured tools to clinch debate, not logic.That’s where J Arghhhh and Co have got us – they can even put the £ sign in front.. We might try a counter attack to the effect that if Mike Ashley were to use one thousandth of his wealth he could benefit both the NHS and GIG and Football while still having enough in his left trouser pocket to pay for a week at Nant Gwtheyrn. Fat chance.

  3. I think this is the nub of the matter

    “The thing to remember is that these people have already decided that they’d prefer a world in which Welsh didn’t exist. All that follows is post hoc rationalising. They’ll use whatever argument is convenient at any given moment.”

    Which also means that any argument stemming from such an approach is irrelevant.

    Another ‘can’t win argument is the flip/flop between
    – Welsh is too much like English (ambiwlans, tacsi), and
    – Welsh is too dissimilar to English (ysgrifennu, darllen)

    There’s also the idea, that comes from only having one language, that every word used in the English language is an English word (anbulance and taxi, again for example), stated without having any knowledge of etymology.

    I agree with your conclusion

    “We should reject the very premises of these arguments.”

  4. With regard the actual piece; it is outrages that a Welshman could think and talk like that and that the BBC ensured no one was there to defend our language!

  5. Great article. Really enjoyed that.

    Basically we’re banjaxed! Like you say though, we’ve just got to keep going.

  6. Euros Lewis

    No, not keep going. Change direction. Shake the shackles away. The British Broadcasting Corporation is there for a purpose. It’s a British purpose. Its only purpose. Whatever language they’re talking about or broadcasting in. Even Latin: Divide et impera

  7. Why did English become THE international language of choice for the airways, seaways, the EU etc. Was it because it was easy to learn because it borrowed/adopted words from other European languages or is it easy to speak despite the odd spelling ?

    • I’d imagine it’s because the two most powerful nation-states internationally for the past two hundred years, the British Empire and then the U.S.A., have been English-speaking. As a result, a lot of people around the world have come into contact with the English language and have some basic understanding of it. The Welsh language has some elements that are easier than English – such as phonetic spelling – but some that are more difficult, such as mutations. – Ifan

  8. I used to frequent a forum which was UK wide. I would often cross swords with another guy on there who lived in Wales and was very anti-Welsh language and of course, hated those nasty ‘nats’. On one thread he said that all public sector jobs were going to Welsh speakers. Later on in that thread, he said that if you phoned his local council (which was Swansea) you would be greeted bilingually but that would be it as none of the staff could actually speak Welsh! 🙂 I did cut and paste to put both statements next to each other. He had made a fool of himself. But this man would often make quite intelligent contributions on other matters. But once the topic of the Welsh language or Welshness came up or he was able to bring it up, he would just ‘lose it’. This hatred of Welsh can be quite irrational.

  9. I am wholeheartedly of the opinion that the Welsh language should be used and taught in all schools at every level in all Welsh schools, to the eventual aim that everybody educated here will be bilingual. Having said that, what we have to overcome is the bigotry that exists on both sides of the language debate.

  10. I await Jacques’, Michaela’s, and Julian’s considered contributions to underline the points made in this excellent article.

  11. Have you ever come across those types face to face, where they are almost frothing at the mouth over the Welsh language issue. They are a peculiarly Welsh phenomenon, some of the Saeson Dwad can get a but superior, but don’t as rule become appopoleptic. They usually blame their unfortunate traumatised state over meeting a Welsh person who tod them that they were inferior because they didn’t speak Welsh – who in all likelyhood merely innocently mentioned that they were Welsh speaking.

    They then go on to explain, at length, how they are just as Welsh as any Welsh speaker, even if they don’t speak Welsh, and that they are the equal of amy Welsh speaker, despite the fact that the only person who doubts they are as Welsh as any other Welsh person, Welsh speaking or not, is themselves. All you did to start all this off was casually mention you spoke Welsh, or merely said ‘Noswaith dda’ to a Welsh speaking acquaintance.

    I don’t feel any animosity for this kind of person, even if they are possibly amongst the most difficult to deal with, mainly due to their obvious inferiority complex, immediately apparent in their claim to being just as Welsh as any Welsh speaker, even though they don’t speak Welsh. They’re suffereing from that peculairly Welsh ailment, the national scizophrenia . I don’t know what the cure this ailment is, but I hope that one is found soon, as it looks quite serious, and I’m sure must raise the blood pressure of sufferers to dangeorous levels, though I do believe that going and lying down in a darkened room for a couple of hours significantly reduces symptoms.

    It constantly amazes me how many still peddle that old chestnut about needing to be able to speak Welsh in order to get a public sector job in Wales. It’s a remarkably resilient myth, despite it being demonstrably untrue. It’s also quite long in the tooth, the first time I came across it was in 1984 when someone of my acquaintance had learned Welsh becuase it was the ‘only way to get a decent job in Wales’ at that time. The person making the claim was Welsh Labour to the core, and came from the Rhondda, and was seeking work there. They used to get quite upset when people vocally stated that they were inclined to diasgree ahout the need for Welsh language skills in the Rhondda in 1984 for any job in the public sector, bar that of Welsh teacher.

    One only wishes it were true that Welsh language skills were essential to be able to work in the public sector in Wales, instead of merely being desirable, which, in my opinion leaves the system wide open for abuse, as it allows the Welsh language to be used as a tie-breaker, which I think should be ruled out. I can understand the resentment of someone who feels that an otherwise equally qualified person gets a job over them purely due to being able to speak Welsh in situaitons where it’s not a specific requirement for the job. That kind of thing rankles, which is why I think that policies should be developed towards making Welsh the internal language of administration in all the public sector in Wales. It would massively boost the status of Welsh, and would put an end to the language being misused as a tie-breaker. Such a scheme would take a while to implement, but it is a very good fit with the stated intentions of the Welsh Government to ensure that all secondary scholl leavers are fluently bilingual.

  12. You were doing quite well in presenting your paint, then said everyone who opposes you is an ignorant bigot. And with that you have the audacity to claim other people have prejudged the situation and are closed to your arguments … smh.

  13. Well i dont like the fact they are trying to rid the welsh language all together sorry i am fluent in welsh and look what im doing typing in english too lol but i honestly think if people in england dont like the language do not come to wales then were happy with our language i think that im quite luck to be welsh its a beautiful language at least we are billingual for your needs thats all im saying and where i live there are loads of english people have moved here because they love the language so there we go

  14. Myfanwyapstiwart

    As a first language Welsh speaker, I must admit that artifical support for the language puzzles me. I’m assuming the million target is merely a PC exercise to raise awareness rather than a meaningful target.

    I’m fortunate to work across many national borders and what strikes me about returning here is the fanatical obsession that some have over the language. It is merely a single minority language, largely oral, and whilst it has many fine attributes, if it can’t sustain itself without some form of life support, it should be left to go.

    It won’t die out but we won’t be faced with some of the linguistic nonsense I hear from children in Welsh schools who literally have one register and only one form of positive response ‘Ie’

    I watched a programme a couple of years ago where the head of the language board was questioned about the quality of Welsh spoken by people – questioned by Caryl Parry Jones, and his response was their performance indicators were based on numbers and not quality or accuracy.

    The language, spoken correctly with natural dialect is a delight. I can literally tell my wife which part of the Swansea or Amman valley people are from based on their accents and dialect. My youngest daughter comes home from school using a mess of dialect if I hear another north Wales nose I’m everyday language! She’s lucky enough to have another source to modify her language but her friends have only the language they hear at school and whilst the quality us poor, vocabulary use is a mess.

    There is no need to artificially support the language – it’ll be a mess.

  15. Myfanwyapstiwart

    My last paragraph should read

    My youngest daughter comes home from school using a mess of dialect – if I hear another north Wales ism in everyday language I’ll throw a fit! She however is lucky enough to have another source to modify her language but her friends have only the language they hear at school and whilst the quality is poor, vocabulary use is a geographical mess.

  16. Tame Frontierman

    I quite like Evan Davis. He is a clearly a man of intellect with a keen, incisive, analytical mind. However, it doesn’t seem that he or indeed the Newsnight production team were sufficiently interested or enthused to present more than a superficial and frankly intellectually wanting treatment of this subject.

    Might it be better for current affairs programmes like Newsnight to career-develop some Welsh correspondents for whom the matters of Wales are genuinely interesting and allow them to take the reins for such pieces rather than an “A lister” who’d rather be exploring one of his or her pet interest or interviewing the PM?

  17. To be honest I welcome the outpourings from some of the peiple mentioned. Id far rather these views out in the open than the traditional sly ways of pretending otherwise.

    Over the years the people who have really done the damage to our economy and culture have been the silent ones who scheme and plan ways to undermine anything based on values they consider alien or a threat.

    These people are generally still muted and the ones we latch onto, who love to niggle and causr trouble are the least of our problems.

  18. Basically, the BBC article was a 21st-Century equivalent of Brad y Llyfrau Gleision in the 1840s, and Wales has not yet fully recovered from that.
    Sign the SSiW petition to have the Beeb’s policy towards the Welsh language placed officially under review (if it’s not too late to sign).
    The Guardian is just as bad, by the way.

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