English writer Jonathan Meades brands plan to increase Welsh speakers ‘totalitarian’
The English writer Jonathan Meades has branded the plan to increase the number of Welsh speakers as a “totalitarian project”.
The author and film maker made the claim about the Welsh Government’s target for a million speakers of the language in a column for The Critic.
The policy is supported by every political party with democratic representation in the Senedd, and has widespread public support according to opinion polls.
In an article littered with derogatory comments about the language, Meades branded it “moribund”.
He also claimed that it is a “tool not only of communication but of identity and exclusivity, thus of self-harm and curtailment”.
The writer also complained about the move to give Welsh and English “equal” status in Wales, and claimed that the Welsh Government has a “splendid breeding programme based on lebensborn: women will be paid to bear children so that they can be brought up Welsh”.
He suggested that the policy for a bilingual Wales was putting children in a “linguistic straightjacket”
The Welsh comedian Elis James responded to the article, saying: “I suppose I shouldn’t give this the oxygen of publicity, but it never fails to amaze me how many of these articles get written.
“The UK must be one of the few places in the world where bilingualism is somehow seen as a negative. And it’s dismissing hundreds of thousands of people.”
In his column for The Critic, Jonathan Meades wrote: “Kingsley Amis in The Old Devils: “’A sign used to say Taxi and now said Taxi/Tacsi for the benefit of Welsh people who had never seen a letter X before.’
“Whatever officious authority erected that sign was merely boasting about Wales’s precious particularity, its specialness, its not being England. Further, the populace was patronised as if it was comprised of children, to be bossed about by Cymraeg 2050.
“This is the Welsh Government’s totalitarian project which aims to have one million people speaking Welsh by that date. That’s twice the (much exaggerated) number that is currently claimed to speak the language. What, in this context, does ‘speak’ mean?
“The capacity to make a simple purchase? Or the ability to discuss why R.S. Thomas, a fundamentalist nationalist whose politics could be ugly and naive but whose poetry is thrillingly harsh, seldom composed in Welsh (which he had begun to learn in middle age) and then with a certain trepidation. Thomas wrote of his compatriots: ‘An impotent people sick with inbreeding.’
“In an effort to maintain that sickness, a minimum of 60 extra ‘Welsh-medium nursery groups’ will be opened by 2026. Why? Why teach a moribund language whose survival depends on ‘initiatives’? Policy decrees these speakers are needed. Needed for what? For the sake of Welshness perhaps, to give the bogus bardic tradition new legs?”
He added: “Despite the folly of Brexit, English, thanks to America, remains the global lingua franca. An approximation of it is spoken and partially understood by billions. Welsh is spoken by a few hundred thousand people, less than a fifth of Wales’s population. Yet the government intends to make ‘Welsh and English equal’.
“So long as it’s a hobby language it is as harmless as a Sunday painter. But in pockets of Snowdonia and mid-Wales it is a tool not only of communication but of identity and exclusivity, thus of self-harm and curtailment.
“Imagine the lot of a child brought up monoglot Welsh by parents who, likely as not, were anglophone and possess the sinister fervour of the converted — more Welsh than the Welsh.
“This child is condemned by a linguistic straitjacket to a lifetime in Caernarvon or Blaenau Ffestiniog. In the former, a few years ago, a shopkeeper affected not to understand English. Similarly in Antwerp (Anvers) a barman refused to serve a drink ordered in French. Such vain Canutism doubtless exists the world over, creating divisions, fomenting tribalism, feeding delusions.
“The Welsh government evidently has an appetite for acting like a prefect. Its linguistic authoritarianism is not its only current exercise in social engineering.
“It has a splendid breeding programme based on lebensborn: women will be paid to bear children so that they can be brought up Welsh. The daftest of many daft proposals is that ethnic minorities should be encouraged to learn Welsh — and thus be burdened with a double handicap.”
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