Opinion

Dumb column moaning about Welsh language on planes crashed and burned  

14 Apr 2021 4 minutes Read
Inset: Simon Calder. Picture by Holidayextras (CC BY 2.0).

Gareth Ceidiog Hughes

Being a travel writer does not necessarily make someone open-minded or worldly-wise.

Indeed, it seems you can travel all over the globe and take your ignorance and prejudices with you, along with the shirts, socks and boxers you’ve packed in your suitcase.

Nobody exemplifies this more than Simon Calder, who recently wrote a boneheaded column moaning about Welsh language announcements – in Wales of all places.

It’s not as if when you go to France, they speak French, or when you go to Spain, they insist on speaking Spanish. No, they all obediently set aside their languages lest they inconvenience travel writers who hail from Inglaterra.

I mean, who do those Welshies think they are? Do they think they’re equal or something?

Calder penned a column for The Independent, in which he appeared to suggest that bilingual announcements on aircraft compromised the safety of those on board.

His particular beef was with a “mandatory Welsh-language announcement about Covid”.

While he admitted that “passenger aviation is astonishingly safe”, he claimed there could be “unintended consequence” due to “an abundance” of ‘safety’ information.

He said that he doubted it “caused any harm” were the Welsh language axed, and added that including what he referred to as “more guff” in announcements was a “burden” on airmen and women as “they carry out their duty to fly us safely and professionally”. Ughhhh.

I will give him one thing though. The whole plane thing was inventive. It was a relatively novel take on an old trope.

‘Death by Welsh language’

Death by Welsh language has been around as a scare tactic for a good while. The absurd idea has been weaponised with nauseating regularity to try to justify diminishing the status of those who speak it, and as an excuse for trying to take away their linguistic rights.

Welsh speakers have for example, long endured complains that bilingual road signs cause car accidents.

There is no evidence that this is the case of course. But a lack of evidence is not usually sufficient to deter a troglodyte with a bee in his bonnet and an unjustifiable sense of linguistic superiority.

Implicit in such tropes is that the Welsh language is inferior, and that it can therefore be casually disregarded. Unlike ‘real’ or ‘proper’ languages, it is not essential. It is characterised as merely an indulgence, not as something fundamental to the lives of those who speak it. Instead, it is a ‘waste’ of resources or a as Simon puts it, a “burden”.

His article is an attack on the status of those who speak Welsh. He means to relegate us. He means to diminish us, to make it clear that we are of little importance.

‘Cover’

Right at the end of his piece he appears to try to give himself a little bit of cover. He insists that the principle applies to an “abundance” of information in “any language”

But what he wrote was not about every and any language. In his article he specifically picks on Welsh. He does not single out any others for the chop.

You might have thought that a travel writer would be rather used to multilingual announcements by now. They are after all the norm when it comes to international travel.

If one is perturbed by coming into contact with distinct languages and cultures, the choice of travel writer as a profession seems rather odd.

His attitude reminds me of a certain type of Brit abroad. You know, the type who calls himself an expat, when he’s really an immigrant. The type who retires to the Costa del Sol and steadfastly refuses to learn the local lingo. The guy who valiantly tries to overcome miscommunication with a waitress or a waiter by SPEAKING ENGLISH LOUDER.

Calder may be slightly more refined in the way he expresses himself. But the attitude on display is just as crude and ugly. I’m sure he wouldn’t like to think of himself as parochial – but he is.

So no, the Welsh language won’t be the cause of any accidents – unlike the absurd article by Calder, which has crashed and burned on take-off.

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Morfydd Jones
Morfydd Jones
6 months ago

What a well written article, I have not seen the Cader article however the arguments put forward here ring true with my experience as a Welsh learner.

Rick North
Rick North
6 months ago
Reply to  Morfydd Jones

I agree totally with the article. I am a spanish resident of welsh nationality but i have embraced spanish culture and have learnt spanish to the point I rarely speak english. I feel it is important and respectful to the people of the country that anybody lives in to follow these actions and behaviour. including wales.

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