I was told I was ‘showing off’ by speaking Welsh. This is how I responded

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Gareth Ceidiog Hughes

Not too long ago I was told that I was showing off by speaking Welsh.

Ostensibly it was said in jest. But some things that are said in jest have somewhat of a nasty undertone, and this distinctly appears to me to be one of them.

It was very odd in more than one regard. To be accused of showing off my speaking the language I use with my mum is frankly just weird. I might as well have been accused of showing off by speaking full stop. It is as if I had called him a show-off for speaking English. The very idea reeks of absurdity.

Another strange aspect was that I didn’t even know the guy who made the strange accusation. I was merrily chatting with someone and he just chimed in as if his views were actually of worth or of interest to me or anyone else. I hadn’t spoken to him before, and I haven’t done so since either. Nor do I particularly want to.

I must admit, it did raise my hackles. But you may have cottoned on to that already.

I rather loftily responded to the peculiar outburst with: “Well it is the language of the heavens after all.” I then carried on with my conversation.

It did, however, get me thinking about attitudes towards the Welsh language and what the comment might say about them.

In one sense it says something positive. If someone is showing off by speaking Welsh, then clearly speaking Welsh is something to show off about. That certainly beats people not thinking the language has any worth at all, which unfortunately is an attitude still held by a not insignificant minority of the population to this day.

But there is another aspect to the comment that is not quite so positive. That is because it questioned the legitimacy of speaking Welsh in any sort of run-of-the-mill work context, be it social or work-related. No one would have dreamed of questioning the legitimacy of speaking English in a similar situation. It would not have elicited an unwanted response. Not a single eyelid would have been batted.

That is because English is viewed as the norm. Welsh meanwhile is viewed by some as an oddity that sometimes intrudes into the aegis of the English language. That is because it has been delegitimised to the point of near-destruction for centuries. We’re still engaged in the gruelling process of clawing its status back.

To call speaking the Welsh language ‘showing off’ suggests that people’s motives for speaking Welsh are impure. It also suggests that the language is an indulgence; that it is not a normal part of people’s lives. If these things are true about the language and those who speak it, then it would be senseless to grant equal linguistic rights.

Such attitudes have real implications and lead to real cases of discrimination. Though it is now actually illegal, Welsh speakers still have to endure the indignity of people trying to prevent them from speaking the language in the workplace. Just imagine being told by some jumped up cretin that you are forbidden from chatting in the language you speak with your mum.

 

Fundamental

There are instances where people do use language to show off of course. For example, someone probably is showing off when if they pepper their orations with Latin phrases. It is often a way of signalling elitism; that they went to private school and received a classical education. But that really is a dead language, that has no real day to day application. Well unless you’re Mary Beard.

To suggest someone is showing off by speaking Welsh is to imply that it is somehow analogous to this. It is to imply that it is superfluous. It’s pretty damn insulting.

Of course, I do use Welsh to signal things too. For example, I use it to signal when I would like a cup of tea, and that I take milk, but no longer take sugar. You see the truth about the Welsh language is far more banal than he had assumed, and it is all the more wonderful for it.

Don’t get me wrong. The Welsh language is rich with fine literature, poetry, music and all that good stuff. It is certainly not incompatible with the highfalutin. Far from it. But that is only made possible by a language that lives and breathes the day to day stuff. The exalted is only made possible by the mundane.

To be a Welsh speaker is a fundamental part of who I am. To exist is not to show off.

So, no I was not showing off by speaking Welsh. But considering how thoroughly awesome the language is, perhaps I should.

Jokes aside, Welsh speakers are not looking to be treated as special. We merely want to be accorded the same dignity and respect as English speakers. To characterise it otherwise is pernicious and deeply unfair. It beats the language being treated as totally inferior. But this the scantest of consolation.

The idea that Welsh speakers are up themselves or are looking to be treated as better than others is weaponised to deny basic linguistic rights. For this reason, it is an idea that we cannot accept. We’re really not asking for all that much.

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RhosdduJill o the SouthEsmereldaTudor ReesIan Gardiner Recent comment authors
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jr humphrys
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jr humphrys

“Welsh is of this soil, this island, the senior language of the men of Britain; and Welsh is beautiful.”
J.R.R. Tolkien.

Neilyn
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Neilyn

How dare you write an article in the global language defending your use of Britain’s native language; typical bloody bilingual showoff!

Why don’t you use just lose your authentic, ancient British (ie. Welsh) identity and become disconnected like your cretinous, anglicised colleague? After all, the evidence suggests it does seem to breed a better sort of person, does it not?

Jenny
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Jenny

I sometimes feel I am showing off when I speak Welsh because it’s not my first language and I’m proud of myself for all the hard work I’ve done learning it!

Margaret H
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Margaret H

Feeling like a “show off” was one of the hurdles I had to overcome in order to start using Welsh outside the classroom because it’s not my first language either. Especially for older women, “you’re being a show off” was one of the cutting put-downs people could use against us if we stepped out of line in any way, for example by dressing differently or revealing our knowledge or skills in anything from playing a musical instrument to speaking a langauge. So how about in future we all try to “show off” our Welsh as much as possible and ignore… Read more »

Gareth ap Rhisiart
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Gareth ap Rhisiart

Cytuno’n llwyr. Dysgu Cymraeg ydy digon galed, ond rhaid i ni dysgu pryd i defynddio’r yr iaith hefyd oherwydd dyn ni ddim siaradwyr iaith cyntaf. Hefyd dyn ni arafach yn symud rhwng yr dwy ieithoedd felly gaethon ni mwy cwynion am dewisiadau iaith

Philip
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Philip

If I could speak another language I would use it as often as possible. I live and work in Wales and have worked abroad in the past. I am not naturally good at picking up languages but I always try. I make the effort to learn at least pleases and thank yous as its respectful I think its a height of bad manners not to. Especially when those around make the effort to comunicate in my mother tongue.

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

It’s probable that the dullard who made the “showing off” remark was motivated by envy, plus resentment. The solution is in his hands.

I agree with those other second-language speakers who say “Yes, I AM showing off, but I’m showing off only to myself”. For first-language speakers like Gareth Ceidiog Hughes, it’s patently absurd to suggest that they’re showing off.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Still better than someone saying ‘stop using that mongrel monkey rubbish’ ‘stop spraying your welsh language mucus over everyone’.
I think I would have just pretended to be an exiled east European aristocrat, put on my best Bela Lugosi accent and said ‘Fi don’t speak to you British peasants’.

Clark Gwent
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Clark Gwent

Probably wouldn’t say it to someone speaking Urdu for example, because that would be “racist”

Sibrydionmawr
Guest
Sibrydionmawr

It would be. But then Welsh speakers are actually protected from harassment by the same laws. It’s just that most people from ethnic minority or Welsh speakers don’t make complaints because we have other things to be getting on with in our lives, and if we were to make those complaints we’d spend most of our time making them. And Welsh speakers usually only have to contend with these slurs and insults when we open our mouths and Welsh words come out. Most people who speak Urdu are more often targeted for abuse because their skin is a different colour.… Read more »

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

So , referring to Gaynor’s comment about the linguistic concentration camps run by Mr Urdd, if we started calling the language Urddu, would people stop making racist comments clearly intended to discourage any use of Welsh?

Esmerelda
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Esmerelda

Clark: people speaking Urdu are subjected to abuse all the time. It’s usually also connected to the abuser not liking the colour of their skin also. So yes, it is racism. Please desist from “whataboutism”. It’s not a competition.

Aled Gwyn Job
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Aled Gwyn Job

Great article. I’ve always thought that we need to box clever when it comes to Cymraeg and its relationship with English today. I’d like to see the term ‘Treasure Language’ being promoted as a way to frame the narrative around the language. That it not only contains all those treasures from our past, but that it’s also full of treasures for both today and tomorrow in so many ways. A treasure which is not hidden away anymore, but now in open display, that anyone can access. And if you have such a treasure in your posession- well you are duty… Read more »

Ann Brady
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Ann Brady

I am from Yorkshire and live in Cardiff Bay. I never find it wrong that people speak Welsh. That’s like saying people from other countries shouldn’t speak their language when talking to each other. And that of course would be classed as racism. Keep on speaking Welsh and if I don’t understand what you are saying and I want to know I’m out there enough to damn well ask you out right what you are saying; but in a nice way.

Penderyn
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Penderyn

What you describe is a form of micro aggression … and it should be called out in a charming way

Haularfryn
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Haularfryn

Great article. Something I’ve dealt with a lot and get very hurt by. It’s so strange to be so often misunderstood by the people around me.

Gaynor
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Gaynor

I’m not lucky enough to be fluent in my language, but I use the basics where I can and to whom I can. I hope the idiot who made that comment wasn’t Welsh, but I have a horrible feeling he was, which is worse! I was walking behind 2 men and a woman who were obviously English people one day in Porthcawl. There was a sign in Welsh strung up across the High Street. The woman said “I wonder what that says” and one of the men said “Nothing, its just letters randomly put together”. I regret not pointing out… Read more »

Jonathan Gammond
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Jonathan Gammond

It is not so dissimilar to the person who says ‘Smile, it might never happen’ to a total stranger. It isn’t starting a conversation. It’s a form of verbal abuse.

William Fearnley - Whittingstall
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William Fearnley - Whittingstall

Now retired and having moved to Newport, and my wife and I are both learning Welsh, in my case partly through hiraeth. My mother’s parents were both Welsh speakers though my mother and never learned the language.
I used to work in a garden centre. I remember the vividly being told by a colleague that it was disgusting and that I spoke French to a French customer with little English.
Part of the problem is that there is a very anglo attitude that to be able speak any other language is a betrayal of “Englishness”.

Ian Gardiner
Guest
Ian Gardiner

I am English, and learning Welsh. That could be considered showing off 😃. I am not sorry, I love the country, the people and the language.

While I am far from proficient, I refuse to be put off or deterred.

Jill o the South
Guest
Jill o the South

It could also show that we are too thin skinned and defensive about the language. When said gentleman said you were showing off, you could have produced some juggling balls or a unicycle. Now that would have been showing off! I recollect a similar article from you, where a Taxi Driver said something that offended you. Part of the challenge for any Welsh speaker is not to be so emotionally triggered when somebody makes a comment about your First, your Native and your Indigenous Language. It is not as if they are saying “Your Mam”

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

I don’t understand why you don’t understand why he was made mildly angry by the idiot’s fatuos comment. He seems to have kept his cool rather well, and gave a reasonably good put-down, with no loss of temper.

Jill o the South
Guest
Jill o the South

“I don’t understand why you don’t understand why he was made mildly angry by the idiot’s fatuous comment. He seems to have kept his cool rather well, and gave a reasonably good put-down, with no loss of temper.”

You don’t understand why I don’t understand? I understand why you don’t understand but to not understand why I don’t understand is not understanding at all. Was that fatuous enough for you?

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

Yes, thank you. Thoroughly fatuous.

Tudor Rees
Guest
Tudor Rees

Do a Google search of :–“Dylan Storer impressed the nation with his appearance on the Q&A High School Panel in September, 2018.”

Esmerelda
Guest
Esmerelda

I can understand how annoying such an ignorant remark might be, but you’re still doing better than my Nan, who was thrown out of school for speaking Welsh. In Wales. The French have an expression (call me a show off) “on répond aux imbéciles par un petit silence”. I am currently learning Welsh in honour of my wonderful Nan. It’s not easy, but it’s exciting and challenging…. I am very much a beginner and understand very little as I am still so slow. However, I love to hear Welsh being spoken in the ordinary course of the day – I… Read more »