BBC’s Jeremy Bowen backs ‘rational’ letter claiming public policy ‘favours’ Welsh speakers
Veteran journalist Jeremy Bowen has backed a letter, in which it was claimed that public policy in Wales favours Welsh speakers.
The Cardiff-born BBC Middle East Editor, suggested that the missive, which was published in the Western Mail, is “rational” and “absolutely correct”.
It was written by Jean Silvan Evans from the Vale of Glamorgan, who defended Bowen from what she described as an “outpouring of denigration” in response to his BBC Radio 4 programme This Union: Being Welsh.
In the letter, she also suggested that defining Wales “by the language” is a “relatively new concept.”
Bowen came in for fierce criticism for claiming that the “determination” of the Welsh Government “to spread” the Welsh language “risks devaluing” his identity.
His sharing of the letter defending him on his Twitter account prompted a fresh wave of criticism, with Welsh academic Dylan Foster Evans accusing him of basing his argument on an “unproven assumption”, adding that the journalist’s documentary did not give “any examples” of public policy favouring Welsh speakers.
He also accused Bowen of a “lack of rigour and introspection about its own assumptions”, and said that the documentary “falls down” because of “contradictory” and “rigged tropes”.
Welsh comedian Elis James responded to Bowen, saying: “2% of public sector jobs in Wales list fluency in Welsh as being essential.”
The letter said: “The outpouring of denigration on the broadcast by Jeremy Bowen on Being Welsh shows just how politically unacceptable it has become in Wales to talk about the place of the language in any rational discussion. This is so sad. Because we do need to discuss these things. Not just dismiss them.
“Public policy favouring Welsh-speakers affects the majority non-Welsh-speakers, too. And, as we all know, it’s good to talk. It seems more and more that the nation needs to be ‘defined by the language’. But that’s a relatively new concept.
“In my changing pattern of family and friends over long years, the many native Welsh-speakers have never depended on language to define them as Welsh – any more than the majority monoglot-English. I have learned Welsh off and on for years. Never learned to speak it.
“But learned to love the language. Still despair at the politics of the language – which should be a joy to us all, irrespective of the ability to speak it. It has been claimed Bowen’s analysis is based on past attitudes. But it is part of life for many English-speaking Welsh people today.
“The official favouring of Welsh-language-speakers can seem hurtful to non-Welsh-speakers living, educated and working in Wales. Now a writer in France is in the headlines for calling the language ‘moribund’.
“Such ridiculous statements cannot be allowed to be the level of debate. Welsh is securely fixed in the legal, cultural and social life of Wales.
“But we need to consider the impact of the nuances of Welsh-language policy on the wider non-Welsh-speaking Wales, too. It would be good if we could just talk about it it with trust and goodwill. The oldest language in Europe deserves better than to be a taboo subject.”
Bowen shared the letter, saying: “A rational letter, and absolutely correct. Thank you.”
‘The problem with this’
Dylan Foster Evans said: “The problem with this ‘rational’ argument is that it’s based on an unproven assumption, namely the supposed existence of ‘public policy favouring Welsh speakers’.
He added: “None of,” Jeremy Bowen‘s “three Radio 4 programmes on Wales gave any examples of such policies.”
“It’s in the lack of rigour and introspection about its own assumptions that the series (which has many strengths) falls down when it comes to Welsh.
“Contradictory & rigged tropes, e.g. Welsh has low numbers of speakers so is exclusionary (= Welsh is bad); increasing numbers of speakers damages (?) others’ identity (= Welsh is bad). So whether it’s low numbers, or increasing numbers: Welsh is bad. (We’ve moved beyond this now)”.
Videographer Greg Caine said: “Exactly. Jean says in her letter ‘Public policy favouring Welsh speakers affects the majority of non-Welsh speakers too.’ Jeremy thinks this is ‘absolutely correct’. But this idea of favouritism is categorically untrue.”
Musician Gareth Bonello said: “We can’t keep having the same discussion though. The debate has to move beyond the prejudices of the last century at some point.”
Colin Williams said: “I’ve just listened to the third part of your documentary, and to be honest I found it disappointing. Your attitude to Wales seems based on a 1970s, ‘we’re defined by rugby vibe’.
“I think modern Wales is very different to the one that exists, not only in your programme but in your imagination. Unlike you, I didn’t have my upbringing in Wales, but in England to Welsh parents. I moved home 7 years ago and barely recognise the injury you describe.”
Ian Mackay said: “It’s not absolutely correct though is it. I’m a non-Welsh speaker and I know plenty of both non-Welsh and Welsh speaking people in Wales. I have at no point been personally or seen others be negatively affected because others can speak Welsh while they can’t.
“What I have seen countless times is people having to defend the fact their language exists even on something as simple as a road sign.”
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