The ‘liberal’ view of the Welsh language is British chauvinism in disguise

The Blue Books and the Guardian newspaper: Spot the difference?

 

Samuel Parry

The Guardian recently published an article regarding Welsh education; an inflammatory article with no real depth, nuance or understanding of Welsh culture or language policy.

The article was written by two residents of Bristol; Louise Tickle and Steven Morris, who probably assumed they were writing about Welsh language through a ‘liberal’ lens and thinking of the right of the individual in the face of what they see as an ‘imposition’.

Yet, all this article truly is, is British chauvinism dressed as liberalism.

It creates an image of the Welsh language as a dangerous other in the face of English medium education, as a stubborn rear-guard in the face of English language ‘progressivity’.

These are antiquated ideas born from the Enlightenment by scholars such as John Stuart Mill in the 19th century and should be discarded to the dustbin of history.

You only have to read his words to see that the ideas expressed in the Guardian article have been with us for over a hundred years:

“Experience proves that it is possible for one nationality to merge and be absorbed in another: and when it was originally an inferior and more backward portion of the human race the absorption is greatly to its advantage.

“Nobody can suppose that it is not more beneficial to a Breton, or a Basque of French Navarre, to be brought into the current of the ideas and feelings of a highly civilized and cultivated people — to be a member of the French nationality, admitted on equal terms to all the privileges of French citizenship, sharing the advantages of French protection, and the dignity and prestige of French power — than to sulk on his own rocks, the half-savage relic of past times, revolving in his own little mental orbit, without participation or interest in the general movement of the world.

“The same remark applies to the Welshman or the Scottish Highlander as members of the British nation.”

Similar views were articulated in the infamous ‘Blue Books’ on the 1840s’ which attacked Welsh language education on the grounds that it was a “barrier to moral progress and commercial prosperity”.

‘Progress’

There have always been attacks against the Welsh language and culture by right-wing British nationalists.

Yet it is also clear that we must watch out for attacks from so-called ‘liberal’ multiculturalists who assail the language on the grounds of openness and progressivity.

In their minds, British multiculturalism means that there are different ways of being British, and these should be valued and accepted.

But a Welsh identity, as an alternative to this, needs to be vanquished.

It is evident that British liberals have a very thin understanding around the nuances of multiculturalism and the Welsh language doesn’t neatly fit into their definition.

It’s frightening that obviously illiberal thoughts and perspectives (i.e. the destruction of a language) can be articulated in positive terms; in defence of the English language rather than against the Welsh language.

The collective forgetting of British or English commentators with regards to Wales and other minority nations in Britain is staggering.

The assumption that the Welsh language is dying is stated as fact with no understanding of why this has historically been the case.

This exact same chauvinism is why the majority of Brits are proud of the Empire in all of its disgusting guises. This is a mindset that must be extirpated with all the vigour we can muster.

 

Attacks on the Welsh language are nothing new

No grounding in reality

The Guardian article itself is full of misconceptions.

Firstly, the idea that schools are becoming ‘Welsh only’ is an absurdity. I myself had a Welsh-medium education in Cardiff and contrary to popular belief this has in no way affected my English language ability.

English language and literature are still studied in ‘Welsh only’ education and through the complete submersion of English language TV, films and books from an early age everyone will be more than capable of speaking English.

Welsh medium education is an argument for bilingualism or trilingualism (I for one was taught four languages at school), which is something so-called ‘liberals’ should be in favour of.

If Welsh medium education truly meant ‘Welsh only’ education I would have been saved the hassle of reading this awful Guardian piece.

Tickle and Morris suggest that “children’s education is being sacrificed for politics.” Yet, this statement has no grounding in reality or fact.

The Welsh Government have a colour coded system to judge the progress of schools where ‘Green’ means outstanding and ‘Red’ means special measures have to be placed on the school.

There are currently 53 High Schools in Wales that are considered ‘Green’, of which, 20 are Welsh medium schools.

This means that 38% of ‘Green’ schools in Wales are Welsh medium, even though they make up only 31.9% of the total schools in Wales. On this basis, how can it be argued that “education is being sacrificed”?

Duty

In large, urban areas, Welsh medium and English medium education will be available which will not lead to any friction.

But Wales is a rural country, based on towns, villages and hamlets. In these more rural areas, there may not be a calling for two schools, it is in these places that disagreement over the language of education will be most fervent.

A truly progressive state will ensure and enshrine the rights of minorities, even if these decisions may be unpopular.

The English language is not under threat in Wales, England or anywhere else where it is widely spoken.

There is a duty on Welsh policy makers to defend the Welsh language against this so-called march of progress.

To quote the great Ceri Evans: “to all who claim that this amounts to compulsory Welsh we should respond: no to compulsory English! For positive action in defence of the Welsh language and communities.”

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18 Comments

  1. It was a quite disgusting article. But in fairness to the Guardian, I think the uproar caught them by surprise, and they published two subsequent articles to redress the balance.
    This, by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett:
    https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jun/22/sad-english-parents-afraid-children-taught-welsh

    And one on the benefits of bilingualism in general which I have lost.

    The letters pages show a mixture of support for the language, ignorance and what I term “chip on the shoulder” syndrome (Welsh people who don’t speak Welsh, being against the language). Sadly the ignorance and “chip on the shoulder” syndrome will have only been enhanced by the original article.
    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/23/the-long-struggle-for-the-right-to-speak-the-welsh-and-irish-languages

  2. The concept of supporting Welsh language and culture within Britain is very much a minority sport. I am now in my seventies and living in Scotland, and I regularly meet people, intelligent and left leaning, or liberal, who are very much opposed to the recent encouragement of Gaelic medium schools, on the grounds that it is a waste of time. My brother-in-law, who is a person I like very much and whose views I share on many subjects, is one such, and I find it very difficult to discuss Welsh matters at all with him. He regards Wales (if at all) as a part of England, and is scathing in any discussion of the Welsh language, which he equates to Gaelic, being unaware I think of the difference of usage of the two languages. He is of course a proud Scot. Nevertheless Gaelic medium schools are flourishing in Scotland, so things are changing slowly there.

    I was brought up in the valleys as an English monoglot, but I still had a lot of exposure to Welsh in school (we said the Lord’s prayer in Welsh in assemblies) and there were many Welsh-speaking teachers there. I really wanted to learn Welsh but was told it would be a waste of time. Reluctantly I started German instead. The feeling at that time was very much that it was socially disadvantageous to speak Welsh, and indeed it was socially disadvantageous to identify as Welsh too. And as we all know it took a lot of determined effort and sacrifice to change things for the better, and we are all indebted to those who took on the establishment for the Welsh language and won, in Wales at any rate.

    I went from my valleys grammar school to Cambridge to study medicine, and I was unprepared for the culture shock. The dominant culture of public schools, with colonialism only just coming to an end, and a confident English assumption of superiority, was difficult to cope with. What made me able to survive it was studying social anthropology in my last year. There I was taught that all cultures, tribes and linguistic groupings have their own validity, their own place in the world and that each is as valuable and as worth preserving as the most modern western society is. So despite what I saw around me in Cambridge, I could rationalize my Welsh background as being equally important, even though no one else appreciated that!

    It is this sense of fair play for cultures that is missing from the left-leaning and liberal classes in Britain now. In Wales it is common for people to come from elsewhere and enthusiastically try to save the environment, but have no thought to or care about to their effect on the local culture. I also note that the authors of the original piece were Bristol based, and I have often heard anti-Welsh language sentiments there. My friends, liberal and progressive of course, in the rest of Britain have been totally unaware of the extent of Welsh teaching in Wales now, and I find myself explaining all the points in your article to them on a regular basis. It is very hard going, and I suppose at least the storm following the original article will help in improving understanding amongst Guardian readers!

    • Beautifully put. My appreciation of being first language Cymraeg came after being away from Wales in my late teens/early twenties. I’d always been passionately towards the language, but was influenced by the stigma attached to it – some psychologists refer as ‘inner duality’. Removed from Wales for a period, seeing other people’s interest & appreciation for it, most certainly strengthened my commitment to the language.
      To people who say Cymraeg is dying;
      – Cymraeg has been in space – its intergalactic. 🙂
      – Cymraeg is the second most used minority language on Twitter, after Basque, I believe.
      – Cymraeg gan never die -it is the British language, it lives with us. If you want to understand how Britain evolved, then you can’t overlook thousands of years of Cymraeg in all its forms.
      – survived the romans,military conquest, settlement, cultural assimilation, political subjugation, economic exploitation and racial discrimination. These liberals have to try a bit harder if they want to take our soul.

  3. Ben Screen

    Brilliant article but I need to point out something that not many hitherto have done: the recent evidence actually shows that the daily use of Welsh is increasing, with the numbers of people who know the language since 2011 stabilising. The 2011 census showed a drop of less than 2% in speakers, but more recently since the last use survey in 2006 (i.e not the useless census data), it appears as though the number of users has increased by 18,000. It’s always important in bilingual contexts to differentiate between those who know the language but don’t regularly use it and those who do know it and also use it. This comes from the recent (2015) Welsh Language Use Survey, carried out by the Welsh Government and the Welsh Language Commissioner. It can be found online. So no Tickle and Morris, the use of Welsh is not declining. It’s also impossible to use the census data about use because the 2011 census did not ask for such information.

    • Angharad Shaw

      That’s very interesting, diolch Ben. It concurs with my own experience. I use Welsh practically every day in some connect, spoken, whereas 10 years ago, I didn’t have so many opportunities. It’s as if people are prouder to speak the language these days. And also, far less bothered about speaking Welsh when it’s clearly not the first language of one of the participants (less likely to revert to English). Which can only be a good thing.
      That’s a culture shift.

  4. Henrietta Sandwich

    There is no mystery or paradox in this. These so – called “liberal” types are hypocrites, that is all. It is exactly what I have come to expect from the Guardian and its readers, whose “liberalism” is highly selective: it’s only for those on their Officially Approved List. We are not on that list. Independence now.

  5. The sooner we admit Wales is a colony…the sooner we can over it

  6. Elen- what I wonderful comment. I’d love to hear so much more about your life, especially experiences at Cambridge. I interviewed at Oxford, about 10 years or so ago. What a culture shock. It opened my eyes. I felt so inferior and was treated as much by several people. It took me many years to make sense of what I had experienced.

    Sam- great article! I think you went to Glantaf?

    • I’d like to mirror yours and Elens comments. I went to LSE and that experience I think is what has defined and shaped the way I feel due to the otherness I felt there. I couldn’t understand this very narrow definition of liberalism and multiculturalism.

      Do es i i Glantaf! Yn yr un blwyddyn a dy chwaer Dwin meddwl.

  7. Great piece-diolch yn fawr.

  8. Rhys thomas

    Welsh is the senior language of the British Isles and should be treated with respect and love .It is the senior language of many parts of England too and it really up to us who use the language on a daily or frequent basis to point out to people in England who choose to set the Welsh language against the global English language that they are discriminating against their own kith and kin.Welsh should have a place on the school curriculum in west Herefordshire schools and it should be pointed out that many thousands of Welsh monoglot speakers were displaced from their mother country in times gone by .To my mind those writers in the guardian should learn a little bit about the history of their own England before putting pen to paper

  9. Well worth a read for more on the background to llangennech (and some of the dubious characters involved in this concocted anti welsh charade) http://cneifiwr-emlyn.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/the-guardian-and-llangennech_25.html

    • Thanks for the link. I was particularly entertained by the woman who was so outraged at Welsh-language education that she was going to rent out her ‘6 bed house to refugees’ – continuing that proud colonial tradition of racist absentee landlords.

  10. Sibrydionmawr

    Good piece, but as I’ve already said in a comment elsewhere, why the duality of English/British when they are one and the same thing when expressed as attitudes, and not necessarily as identity. Somehow it seems to me that calling it British softens the blow, wheras calling it English has a much rawer edge that increases the impact of what is being said. I don’t think anyone decent would want to purposely throw the kind of comments made from behind the veil of liberal minded Englishness in the face of journalists like the two responsible for that awful Guardian article, but some people need to know how they are upsetting people, and exactly how they appear to others, as in Robbie Burns’ ‘O God gie us the giftie to see oursels as others see us’. Should it be like a smack in the face? No, more like being splashed with a glass of cold water, to wake them up.

    However, there are far too many for whom, in my view at least, who expose their fundamentally racist attitudes in what they express about us Welsh and our language. I use that as my yardstick when meeting English people, but I have been very pleasantly surprised on many visits to England to find that there are many who really do understand, or at least try, and are genuinely sympathetic. There are also many who are pig ignorant and hostile. as well as in the Welsh Labour Party. However, my ire is particularly great when I come across the many White Settle pseuds who colonise much of our country, acting as some kind of unwitting, (or perhaps not so unwitting) cultural shock troops for a particularly negative, virulent and arrogant manifestation of English culture that has convinced itself that it has come here to save the environment, that Wales would be a great place, apart from it being full of Welsh people!

    I am of the opinion that those very areas of Wales are where significant and radical interventions need to be made to halt the decline in the usage of Welsh in those areas through a policy of Cymricisation – that means getting rid of all the bilingual road signs, shopfront signs and replacing them with signs in Welsh only. The idea is not to discourage the use of English, but rather to promote the psychological priority of Welsh as the local language, thus creating an environment that puts English slightly on the back foot, and acts as a bit of a splash of cold water in the face to remind the newydd dyfodiad of exactly whose country this is! I might even persuade some of the buggers to learn our language, or else bugger off back to England if they can’t, or won’t adapt.

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