The Times still wants the Welsh language dead


Ifan Morgan Jones

The knives have been out once again for the Welsh language, after the Welsh Government announced its strategy for a million Welsh speakers by 2050 yesterday.

The Welsh language has always bugged the Times newspaper and so it was no surprise to see the paper weighing in again this morning.

This is the newspaper that declared the Welsh language “dead” back in 1866. Annoyingly, the Welsh language has refused to comply!

“The Welsh language is the curse of Wales,” it declared back then.

If only The Times had taken the view that ‘the people of Wales should be encouraged to speak whatever language they like’ when the majority spoke Welsh in the 1860s, eh?

Its attitude towards Welsh hasn’t changed much in the meantime, even if the language used to express it has been tempered slightly.

It now calls the language “rich and beautiful” in order to get the cautious reader onside, before once again expressing its dearest wish that it disappear altogether.

The truth is that attacks on the Welsh language always fall within a few set categories. I’ve catalogued them all, and a reply to each, on the Why Welsh website.

The line of attack chosen by the Times this time is ‘why don’t they learn a useful language?’

This is always a ploy – the truth is that the author doesn’t give a toss about French, Spanish, or Mandarin. What they want is that the children don’t learn Welsh.

The truth is that Welsh is a more useful language to learn in Wales than French, Spanish, or Mandarin because Welsh is a living language here.

It’s a language you can actually speak, from day to day, at home, in your community, and your workplace.

The Times’ inability to recognise this betrays a continued incredulity that Welsh is actually a living language at all. It can’t be – the Times declared it dead back in 1866, after all!

State the case

But it’s only when we get to the last paragraph that we see what’s really bothering the Times here.

The Times says: “The tensions pulling the constituent parts of the United Kingdom in opposite directions are powerful enough.”

As it was in 1866, this is still all about ironing out any linguistic and cultural differences in order to encourage integration within the British state.

It also shows how much of a nonsense the Times’ declaration is that “Wales lives, from Pontypridd to Patagonia, because it is loved”.

Welsh lives, despite the Times’ and others’ best efforts, because it does now have support from the state.

But Welsh is in such a precarious position because the British state, including the Fourth Estate, tried so hard to get rid of it from the 16th century onwards.

There is nothing ‘natural’ about the spread of languages. There is nothing natural about the spread of English, French, Spanish or Mandarin.

Languages can be supported or killed off by the state. By suggesting the state shouldn’t do the former the Times continue to lobby for the latter.

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  1. To be fair to the Times, it is a British newspaper and believe in the union. This attitude is no surprise.

    Having taught Welsh myself, I am very apprehensive of the increasing linguistic divisions in Wales. Criticising Welsh-language policy and the Welsh language are two very different things, and they are conflated too much.

    While the Cardiff Highs, Stanwells, Radyrs, and Friars of Wales will have no issue with increasing WM provision, the reality of the classroom shop floor in Newport, Swansea, the valleys etc will soon highlight just how futile this target is.

    • The irony being that Swansea, the Valleys and even Newport are nowhere near as Anglicised in speech and spirit as Cardiff!

    • A new Welsh medium secondary school has opened in Newport this school year, after underprovision and a 20 year campaign. If adequate Welsh medium schooling to meet demand had been provided in recent decades to maximise growth, instead of suppression and delay, then perhaps we would already be much closer to the million. Welsh medium provision is a huge success despite huge disadvantage and inertia. Imagine where we might be if it had received unequivocal support with provision leading demand to maximise growth. Newport, and areas like it offer huge potential for growth, but we have to take the brakes off: there must be unequivocal support.

  2. I must have been reading a different article to the editor of this piece.

      • Because no where in it does The Times refer to the death or potential death of the Welsh language.

        The editorial actually encourages people to learn a second language.

        I don’t really care what The Times may or may not have said in the 1860s the editor of this piece clearly does and the fact that he lets it bug him in 2017 is just sad.

        • The author never denies that, but is criticising the fact that the Times says it is a wasteof learn welsh, wgile living in Wales.

          I sadly can’t speak it myself,but have spend a couple of years livung in Wales and it is a commonly used language, so for non welsh speaking children to learn it is perfectly natural, the same way that swiss children having to learn french, german and Italian.

          One thing I found rather funny though, was that The believes children can only learn one language at a time. A very British attitude towards language.

  3. Capitalist and Welshnash

    The Times has not apologise for any anti-Welsh comments along the years by the way.

    The argument children should learn French, Mandarin, etc… is the old argument of utility against beauty. It was used to eradicate traditionalism in art and architecture schools and it will be used to eradicate Welsh too if we are not careful.

  4. Welsh Citizen

    Umm this article seems to be a critique of the Times in 1866 and not the picture above from 2017. The Times’ points are valid ones. Shame there can’t be a discussion about this in Wales without anyone who raises it being accused of being anti-welsh or even a racist.

  5. It looks like another piece by a monoglot English speaker who doesn’t understand what bilingualism really is.
    As someone who speaks six languages, I know that gaining fluency in a language is not the same as bilingualism. With the best will in the world, children learning French or German in Wales or England are not going to become true bilinguals, because it is not part of the society around them. It will be confined to the classroom.

    In Wales (unless the parents speak another language and pass it on to their children), only Welsh can give that opportunity.

    The benefits of bilingualism are so great that it is foolish not to take advantage of it where we have such an opportunity. The English, who will never have the chance, are poorer for it. But they should mind that chip on their shoulder.

  6. When the Guardian did this it was “the liberal press hates Welsh”, and some of the comments said the Tories wouldn’t do this. The reality is none of the English papers can be trusted on Welsh language.

  7. “Why spoil something by making it compulsory?”

    O my giddy aunt! I suppose the writer needs to be congratulated on the sneaky way he managed to build up to the anti-Cymraeg at the end as if he was in his old school’s debating society. The bigot’s money shot, coming at the end of a shaggy dog story! It aims to be a plea for tolerance like the “every lives matter” campaign tries to draw attention away from the US police force’s hobby of shooting black people. Or those who complain about the politicisation of the dispossessed and disenfranchised from the sunny patios of their second homes.

    Bolycs i gyd mae hwn. Cymerwyd 400 mlwydd i goncro Cymru yn filwrol ac er gwaitha 400 mlwydd o geisio cael gwared o’r Gymraeg mae pobl yn dal ati. Mae’n gweud bod pobl yn siarad yr iaith oherwydd dŷn ni yn ei charu a hynny yn wir. Beth mae’n anwybyddi ydy’r ffaith bod y gallu siarad Cymraeg wedi tynnu oddi wrthom ni. Os bu dewis yn y broses, wel dewis peidio chael dy daro fel plentyn oedd hi.

  8. “‘why don’t they learn a useful language?’”

    This line almost made me stop reading. If anything angers me the most in the term of languages is when someone (no matter who) claims no matter what language is useless! I’m comming from the country where we had to fight for our language – Slovene – for centuries too and this for I’m even more angry when I hear/read such things. Every language is useless in the country where it’s not sopken and every language is equally useful in the country where it’s alive and spoken on the daily basis. There’s no superior language – not even English is that, no matter that 3/4 of the people of the World is speaking it.This attitude I hold for very ignorant and rude in deed! Come to the country where people do not speak English and you’re in not so comfort zone at all anymore, and you have 2 options, or learn at least a bit of that “useless” language people are speaking there or turn around and go elswhere.

    Welsh language is the part of the culture and when it dies, an enormous part of the culture dies with it. (Yes, I know this is what many ignorant people would like to happen though).

    So, in tearms of Times I’m learning useless language which is actually dead according to them too. It can be “useless” in my country – Slovenia, but when I come to Wales I WANT – no I DEMAND! I would be able to speak this beautiful and ancient language. That’s why I learn it – to be able to speak, to be able to understand, to be able to help keeping this beautiful language alive!

    However one thing would maybe be very useful for Wales and Welsh people at least regarding their language: The past must not be forgotten and all should learn from it and charrish what it brought to the present days, but too much looking on the past I’d rather turn into looking into the future! Not how it was and for how long the language was forbidden to speak and denied but rather what the nation can achieve now and keep the language alive for centuries to come. We, non-Welsh people who learn the language can help to make that happen, but the Welsh nation is the one who will enable for the language to live or to die within the future. People are those who make the culture, history, language, not the state. The assembly can help but if people of Wales are not eager to keep the language alive, not one assembly or rule can do that instead…

    Dw i’n mwy na hapus i ddysgu ac siarad Cymraeg a dw i’n anrhydedd i helpu!

    Cyfarchion o Slofenia!

  9. Alun James

    Could somebody please tell the Times that Wales is a country, not a principality.

  10. Just to state my credentials, I am English but have spent the last 20 trying to become fluent in Welsh and have raised 4 children in Wales who have all gained a GCSE in Welsh. However non of us are fluent Welsh speakers despite all this effort because we like the majority of the population of Wales, live in an area where the language isn’t spoken much. As one of the contributors above states you need to use the language to become fluent.

    One of the unfortunate consequences of compulsory Welsh language education to GCSE level is that it is very difficult for children to fit in another foreign language when they choose their options. It would be far more sensible to have it compulsory to year 9 and then allow space in the curriculum for morr languages to be taken at GCSE.

  11. There is some sense in Ian’s suggestion. I might be persuaded to go along with it, provided that English is also only compulsory to year 9 (age 13).
    Maybe in the more Welsh speaking areas, Welsh could be compulsory through to GCSE, with English optional (as with any other foreign language), and in less Cymraeg areas such as Brecon, Radnorshire and Monmouthshire (perhaps areas with <15% Cymraeg) there could be a choice: either English or Welsh must be continued beyond year 9.
    If a child is not bilingual by the age of 12, they are not going to be bilingual. That's to do with the way that children learn languages, and changes in the brain as children enter their teens. The focus for teaching Welsh has to be in the younger years.
    This could be reviewed as the percentage of Welsh speakers rises, as is the aim of the 1 million policy.

  12. Welsh was the first language I learned then I learned a whole host more. It made things easier to learn.

    When will people learn most people in Europe speak 3 at least we have two in Wales. In the Netherlands many people speak upto 4 fluently. Maybe start early with the lot? I would love more languages taught.

    Ironically it just shows we value having more languages as well as a havig a deep understanding of language as culture that we even have two.

    This idea of English language being so important they dont need to learn any others does no anyone favours.

    I think the Times article writer honestly needs to pluck the hay bale out their own eye before reaching around for the straw.

  13. It has been policy to eradicate Welsh from the face of the earth since the 1500’s. No other language in the world has to constantly defend itself for merely existing. It is the oldest living language in Europe, going back so far that nobody is really sure when it started. It still persists and flourishes in many parts of Wales and still people are prepared not only to see it die but to actively take part in trying to kill it off. It beggars belief. It is older than any castle or monument that we try to preserve in the British Isles and still that is not enough for people to see its value and beauty. It has been a part of the British Isles since way back before Christianity and they want it to die, banished to the sands of time like Hieroglyphics, and the culture it represents along with it. At a time when the Irish and Scots are trying to resurrect their languages (as well they should), with Irish and the place of it in Ireland being the sticking point in forming the government in Stormont at the moment, the fate of Welsh is not cared about except by those of us considered fanatics of some sort, still working on ramming the language down people’s throats as if they were geese and we were trying to make paté de fois gras out of some poor living creatures and they should be saved from such torture. How dare we?! The Welsh are constantly insulted because insulting the Welsh is the last acceptable form of bigotry and the language fares even worse. Welsh speakers have been seen as second class peasants since the Act of Union in 1536 decreed that no person should hold high office unless it was through the medium of English. Anyone, therefore, who could not speak English was poorly educated and destined to be kept down in terms of class and wealth. Then we had the Welsh not where Welsh children were forced to wear a wooden block arount their necks and were beaten for daring to speak Welsh in their class. But, oh, doesn’t it annoy the hell out of people that it still exists?! ” Er waetha pawb a phopeth r’yn ni yma o hyd!”. So the knives are always either out or being sharpened. Where are the cries of “genocide”? They are trying to keep Catalan from dying because they realise how much they are losing, but Welsh? Not even our “prince” who learnt Welsh once, whether he still remembers it or not, has spoken in its defence. He speaks out for plants and the environment, but a language and its accompanying culture is important too. I could go on and on but I fear that people don’t want to listen. A nation without a language is a nation without a heart. Cenedl heb iaith, cenedl heb galon!

  14. Dom Griffiths

    Anon and many others.. Dwi’n cyntuno!! My gran was beaten at school for speaking Welsh and was bullied into believing the crap spouted by the British establishment of the time .. she brought up her two sons English speaking and so we lost a connection to centuries of language , poetry, literature and drama.. both my dad and myself decided to relearn Welsh as adults…this has been a wonderful journey of rediscover and connection…
    I was at uni in Aberystwyth in the early 80s and as well as experiencing a warm welcome as a dysgwr (Welsh learner) was able to plug into the vibrant Welsh music scene…a scene that still places Welsh as a language of youth and future…furthermore, it is great to see new arrivals in Wales from other countries who are comfortable with bilingualism engage with Welsh and access to a key part of living in this nation…I also know some friends from England that ‘get it’ and who have taken the plunge !!! Don’t be scared … have a go.. learn to laugh at your errors… join the party !!

  15. Hopefully The Times will die out instead! Fed up with the attitude towards other languages in the UK. I grew up and loved learning languages and have been living abroad since my early 20’s – being multilingual has nothing but enriched my life. It always seems to be that the attitude of many Brits is to hate what they don’t understand and it’s so unfair for parents to force their narrow-minded views on their kids. I have been trying to reconnect with Wales and the Welsh language and have been shocked at some of the stuff that is said and written.

  16. Dafydd Aflonydd

    The Times have since published the following:

    We must protect the Welsh language before it is too late
    Oliver Kamm
    August 8 2017
    In some Welsh schools in the 19th century, any child heard speaking Welsh was made to carry a small piece of wood, which they passed to the next child thus overheard. Whoever was left holding this badge of shame (known as a Welsh Not) at the end of the lesson was severely punished.
    Times revert. A branch of Sports Direct, the sportswear retailer, in Bangor, North Wales, told staff last week that English was the company’s official language. It menacingly added that its employees “must speak in English at all times when they are at work, in order that they can be understood by all members of staff”. The sanctions were left unstated and Sports Direct has prudently said that the ban is not company policy. Even so, it’s unsurprising that Britain’s benightedly monoglot culture should have elicited so gross a violation of personal liberty as prescribing what language consenting adults may speak among themselves. Sports Direct is merely translating into corporate policy the insinuations of politicians that to fulfil your civic duty you must speak English.
    This pernicious myth is championed by all main parties. Sir Eric Pickles, communities secretary in the coalition government, said in 2012 that it was unacceptable for anyone to leave a British school unable to “speak English like a native”. The same year Ed Miliband said that a Labour government would introduce English-language proficiency tests for public-sector employees whose job involved communicating with the public.
    What baloney. English is not the official, sole or even oldest language of this country. The earliest language we know of is Welsh, or rather its ancestor Brittonic Celtic. The notion that, of all languages in the world, English is endangered by people’s obstinate refusal to speak it is beyond preposterous. Almost every young person everywhere aspires to speak English, the closest thing there has ever been to a global language.
    The greatest linguistic danger in Britain is not ignorance of English. It’s the diminution and potential extinction of its other native languages, all of which are fully the equal of English in grammaticality, complexity and expressiveness. There are about 500,000 Welsh speakers in Wales and another 30,000 in Patagonia in Argentina. Rather than expecting everyone to speak English, government and civic society should be giving every encouragement and incentive to the preservation and extension of Welsh. If not now, it will be too late.

  17. I’ve just now come accross this article and its comments… I’m Swiss, my mother tongue is the fourth national Swiss language called Romansh and spoken by only 0.4% of the population, a fact which obliges our minority to learn a second language, German in most cases. As often mentioned here, being bilingual from early on opens the door to learning other languages, in my case I speak 9, of which English was my third language when I spent some time around London between 1971-1973. In 1971, I also spent some time in Wales (Newtown), but my English was still poor so Welsh was an outlandish idea at that time, but now at my age of 70 I’ve started to seriously study and practice Welsh, the northern version. I’m really writing here to comment the situation in Spain – I master Spanish and Catalan, I lived some time there: the Spanish government is trying to reduce the use of Catalan in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands. It’s disgusting what happens there – I don’t feel well. I’m reading some Castilian newspaper comments every day and what is most obvious is the fact that the Spanish/Castilian speakers feel immensely superior to the Catalan speakers, result: they want the Catalan language dead.

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