Casual bigotry from Buzzfeed towards the Welsh language is a disgrace
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
I can’t begin to explain how tiresome it is to have to respond to another stupid and bigoted cheap shot at Welsh speakers in the media.
Yet here we are, and no doubt we will be here again in the future. Being a Welsh speaker is a bit like Groundhog Day, only this time Bill Murray has to put up with casual xenophobia from morons, one day after another.
This time the offender is Natasha Jokic from Buzzfeed, the venerable news organisation known for hard-hitting articles such as “What Is Your Inner Potato?”, “19 Things Worse Than Finding Out That Beyoncé Lip-Synched The National Anthem” and “Which Possible Illuminati Member Are You?”.
Buzzfeed has actually produced a lot of journalism that I admire. Unfortunately, the journalists that produced it in the UK have recently been axed; presumably so the organisation can focus on what truly matters; creating more eye-roll-inducing listicles.
Take that inanity and add a sprinkle of prejudice towards Welsh speakers and voila, you have “Is This a Real Welsh Village Or Just Me Mashing My Keyboard?”. Clickbait doesn’t get much worse than this.
It said: “The premise of this quiz is simple: For each question, you have to determine if the town name is a real place in Wales or a series of letters cobbled together by randomly mashing my keyboard. Got it?”
Oh, I got it alright. The premise is rooted in prejudice towards Welsh speakers. This ‘joke’ isn’t new. It is profoundly unoriginal. It plays to an old trope that the Welsh language is mere gibberish. For centuries, the Welsh language has been portrayed as being of a lesser value than English. Because this view took hold, it was marginalised and elided from our institutions. Welsh speakers were treated like second class citizens in their own country, and still are in many ways.
This marginalisation coupled with dramatic changes in demography eroded the language and then pushed it into freefall. Newcomers were not motivated to learn Welsh in a country where it was afforded little status. Generations of Welsh speakers decided not to pass the language on to their children.
There has been a fightback since, but the future of the language is far from secure. It yet might perish. That is why the drip drip of poison is so dangerous. Anything that delegitimises or undermines the language is a threat to its future existence.
We’re are losing Welsh place names in Wales. Newcomers buy up houses in Welsh speaking areas and change the names from Welsh to something English. Houses are just one example of this erasure. It is also happening in our landmarks, and our historic sites. We are losing our indigenous culture because far too many the people who move here do not believe it is of any value. They believe that it is of lesser value of their own. It shows scant regard for local communities, and a lack of awareness of the damage being done.
Articles such as Jokic’s contribute to the climate that makes this seem acceptable. Her article portrays Welsh speakers as an inchoate breed, as less sophisticated than their English counterparts. It’s not all that different from sneering Anglo-supremacist jokes about the Irish being thick. It is rooted in the same conceit. The Scots are also well-used to similar derision. But cheap shots like Jokic’s are not only prejudiced. They are also very stupid. Come to think of it, I’m being too kind there. They’re moronic.
According to the article Rhosllanerchrugog doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Well yes it does actually, if you can speak Welsh. It certainly rolls right off mine. The statement to the contrary is a prime example of the parochial nature of Anglo-supremacist chauvinism. It is an inability to conceive of a world that exists beyond your own little bubble. It’s doubtful that Newcastle upon Tyne rolls of the tongue if the only language you know is Spanish or Italian. I can’t imagine that Piddletrenthide does either. But that is immaterial.
The fact is, any language is a system of patterns. The fact that you are unable to discern the pattern does not mean it does not exist. It’s a bit like sneering at Bill Gates or Steve Jobs and making out they’re dumb because you can’t read code.
This odd notion is at odds with the facts as linguists will tell you. In terms of composition, the Welsh language makes a lot of sense. One of the reasons for this is that the Welsh language is phonetic. The most famous of these linguists is Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien. In a 1955 lecture, the Professor of English Language and Literature said: “For many of us it rings a bell, or rather it stirs deep harp-strings in our linguistic nature. It is the native language to which in unexplored desire we would still go home.”
It is safe to say that Natasha has found herself among a set with a different ethos to Professor Tolkien with regards to the Welsh language. With her attack on it, she joins a veritable pantheon that includes professional swivel-eyed trolls Rod Liddle and Katie Hopkins. Good for her. I hope she enjoys the company.
Speaking out against this sort of thing does make a difference. Buzzfeed deleted a Tweet with the offending article and amended the article itself following a fierce backlash. But it should have been deleted entirely, and I have yet to see an apology.
When something like this happens, you will always get people trying to gaslight Welsh speakers. Nothing to see here they declaim. They are either unaware of or do not care about the marginalisation of Welsh speakers.
But the impact of Anglo-supremacist ideology is a pernicious one. In some Welsh schools we had the use of the Welsh Not where children were subjected to physical and psychological abuse by their teachers for having the temerity to speak their native tongue. The premise that the Welsh language was of lesser value than English underpinned the rationale for doing this.
It is very easy to be loftily dismissive of attacks on the Welsh language when your linguistic community has not been marginalised. It is easy to do so when it isn’t your culture that is under real threat of extinction.
No doubt I’ll be writing about how tiresome about all this is in the future after something like this happens again. And so around it goes. The seemingly endless cycle of anti-Welsh attacks. The culprits usually have no conception of how they come across to Welsh speakers. So, let me explain. You come across like David Brent, the uber-cringey boss in The Office. The jokes are old, tired, awkward, inane, out of place, and ultimately not funny.
Yet there you are, thinking you’re being an “entertainer”; unaware of just how clueless and pathetic it really is.