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BBC’s Jeremy Bowen backs ‘rational’ letter claiming public policy ‘favours’ Welsh speakers

11 Feb 2022 5 minute read
Jeremy Bowen at a meeting with Jon Snow organised by the Olive Tree Programme at City University. Author, Nick from Bristol (CC 2.0)

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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Andrew Thomas
Andrew Thomas
7 months ago

It’s extremely galling to have someone who hasn’t lived in Wales for nearly 50 years telling us what we’re doing wrong seems to have completely sold out to the establishment

Richard
Richard
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Thomas

I think Dr Jean as a retired journalist and Uni lecturer needs to team up with JB and invite him to Swansea to face and debate the students.

Perhaps ‘ news reporting of minorities across the Middle East and how they are viewed ‘ might be a good topic.

Rhosddu
Rhosddu
7 months ago

This woman is raking over old coals. The consensus of opinion in favour of promoting and safeguarding the Welsh language implies that her and Bowen’s argument of “favouritism” is not one that is held by the majority, whether Welsh speakers, Welsh learners, or di-Gymraeg. Sad to see that the Blue Books still colour the opinion of a minority in our country.

Marc
Marc
7 months ago

Why is it always the ex-pats who complain the most about changes at ‘home’ and the longer they have lived away the louder they winge

Tewdrig
Tewdrig
7 months ago

Rwtsh llwyr.

Llefain
Llefain
7 months ago

The idea that this man’s personal insecurity in his identity has had to become a national discussion is ridiculous. Ironically it seems to be Jeremy who is basing his identity in the language, or lack of it, and that is nobody else’s problem. The fact that such a privileged man keeps doubling down in this idea that he is some kind of victim if others’ are no longer victimised is ridiculous. Sir, you don’t even live here. You moved away before I was born and I am not young. The world moves on. You are not in touch with Wales… Read more »

Gareth Wyn Jones
Gareth Wyn Jones
7 months ago

Can anyone list here on the comment section or propose an article to ‘the nation’ on how the rights of no welsh speakers is affected by the promotion of welsh learning by the welsh government please?

George
George
7 months ago

There are two sentences in that letter which I don’t recognise from my experience and, on basis of Elis James’ tweet about 2%, the facts as they are: “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…” Remove those two sentences and you’re left with a letter that says there is need to ensure Welsh language is for everyone, that Wales has two official languages, we need to be able to have grown-up discussion about how that plays going forward and… Read more »

Arwyn
Arwyn
7 months ago
Reply to  George

Very good comment. There is much we can agree on in the lady’s letter. I too would like to see the language less politicised, at the same time thriving as a community language. Much of that is up to us speakers too. One part I disagree with is her comment on defining the nation by the language. It’s in the very name Cymru. It was our language and culture that set us apart over a thousand years ago as the Nations of England and Wales slowly grew out of the old Roman province of Britannia. What is relatively new is… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
7 months ago
Reply to  Arwyn

I think anyone in their right mind would love to see the Welsh language de-polticised, but sadly we’re still a long way from that. The reason why Welsh speaking communities are disappearing and are under constant threat is deeply political. Calls to de-politicise the language right now would merely undermine all attempts, relatively weak as they are, to stabilise the situation of the Welsh language. The very fact that only 2% of public sector jobs require fluency in Welsh tells its own story, and an indication how far there is still to go before anyone can even begin to consider… Read more »

Arwyn
Arwyn
7 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Agree to a very large extent with that Padi. There is a solution to the second home problem and that is to make second home ownership a change of use requiring planning permission. That would equip communities with the power to put a stop to it. I’m not anti tourism – happy to build holiday accomodation where appropriate. So far as the target for public services is concerned, such a move can only go hand in hand with educating people so that they can make use of the language. The recent free lessons announcement is a step in the right… Read more »

Arwyn
Arwyn
7 months ago
Reply to  Padi Phillips

Can anyone explain why my comments regularly require approval? Is it a software thing?

Malcolmrj
Malcolmrj
7 months ago

Just ignore the Welsh language traitor i don’t speak Welsh but i marvel how the language has survived against everything that has been thrown at it from the English government over hundreds of years.even survived the Welsh knot. Bowen you don’t live in Wales stay up in england. you have been listening to the English people that say that they walked into a Pub in Wales and they were all talking in English and then they All started talking in Welsh they must have a sigh on they’re head’s saying I’m English what a load of utter rubbish.how stupid they… Read more »

Mark
Mark
7 months ago

our Jezza does like digging holes.
It makes you wonder how on earth people cope in countries like Belgium, where they have 3 official languages, Flemish, French and German,

Last edited 7 months ago by Mark
hdavies15
hdavies15
7 months ago

Is Jean Silvan Evans from the Vale of Glamorgan a member of the blue rinse, true blue loyalist falange that looks down on all things Welsh, craves to be Totally English ? Plenty of them lurking around in those parts and elsewhere in Wales. Saddest cases of self loathing in need of gentle corrective therapy.

Richard
Richard
7 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

A fellow journalist and Uni lecturer background from just outside Cardiff …..mmm 😕

Conscientious Objector
Conscientious Objector
7 months ago

Imperialists remove cultural identities, autonomy, language to disempower a people. What other culture(s) have endured this masochism for 800+ years? Ready to heal yourselves Cymry?

I.Humphrys
I.Humphrys
7 months ago

It’s quite clear that initial suspicion founded on experience, that Bowen is a classic
reactionary, is now confirmed by him doubling down. Time to move on with our Indy drive.

GW Atkinson
GW Atkinson
7 months ago

The only link this gimp has with Wales was that he was born here. When was the last time he lived here and what the hell does he know all the way from London?

Huw Rees
Huw Rees
7 months ago

Since when has anyone working for the BBC provided any kind of neutral reasoned discussion beyond the desire for sound bites and column inches??
He has tried to learn Welsh and still can’t speak it?!? That says more about him than any promotion of the native tongue.
It’s a fairly simple explanation as to why government and council departments need to have employees that all speak Welsh, it’s so they can speak to all of their “customers”, it’s a bit like a driving instructor not having a driving license. Would that be discriminatory against those that can’t drive!?

Mawkernewek
7 months ago

In the letter, she also suggested that defining Wales “by the language” is a “relatively new concept.”

It is relatively recent, it only goes back to the Middle Ages, when Cornwall, at this time majority Cornish-speaking, was often known as West Wales in English sources, I don’t know exactly when this usage stopped, but it looks to me very much like defining by language.

<a href=”https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:British_isles_802.jpg”>commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:British_isles_802.jpg</a>
<a href=”https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Public_Schools_Historical_Atlas_-_England_1065.jpg”&gtcomment image</a>

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