The ‘liberal’ view of the Welsh language is British chauvinism in disguise
The Guardian recently published an article regarding Welsh education; an inflammatory article with no real depth, nuance or understanding of Welsh culture or language policy.
The article was written by two residents of Bristol; Louise Tickle and Steven Morris, who probably assumed they were writing about Welsh language through a ‘liberal’ lens and thinking of the right of the individual in the face of what they see as an ‘imposition’.
Yet, all this article truly is, is British chauvinism dressed as liberalism.
It creates an image of the Welsh language as a dangerous other in the face of English medium education, as a stubborn rear-guard in the face of English language ‘progressivity’.
These are antiquated ideas born from the Enlightenment by scholars such as John Stuart Mill in the 19th century and should be discarded to the dustbin of history.
You only have to read his words to see that the ideas expressed in the Guardian article have been with us for over a hundred years:
“Experience proves that it is possible for one nationality to merge and be absorbed in another: and when it was originally an inferior and more backward portion of the human race the absorption is greatly to its advantage.
“Nobody can suppose that it is not more beneficial to a Breton, or a Basque of French Navarre, to be brought into the current of the ideas and feelings of a highly civilized and cultivated people — to be a member of the French nationality, admitted on equal terms to all the privileges of French citizenship, sharing the advantages of French protection, and the dignity and prestige of French power — than to sulk on his own rocks, the half-savage relic of past times, revolving in his own little mental orbit, without participation or interest in the general movement of the world.
“The same remark applies to the Welshman or the Scottish Highlander as members of the British nation.”
Similar views were articulated in the infamous ‘Blue Books’ on the 1840s’ which attacked Welsh language education on the grounds that it was a “barrier to moral progress and commercial prosperity”.
There have always been attacks against the Welsh language and culture by right-wing British nationalists.
Yet it is also clear that we must watch out for attacks from so-called ‘liberal’ multiculturalists who assail the language on the grounds of openness and progressivity.
In their minds, British multiculturalism means that there are different ways of being British, and these should be valued and accepted.
But a Welsh identity, as an alternative to this, needs to be vanquished.
It is evident that British liberals have a very thin understanding around the nuances of multiculturalism and the Welsh language doesn’t neatly fit into their definition.
It’s frightening that obviously illiberal thoughts and perspectives (i.e. the destruction of a language) can be articulated in positive terms; in defence of the English language rather than against the Welsh language.
The collective forgetting of British or English commentators with regards to Wales and other minority nations in Britain is staggering.
The assumption that the Welsh language is dying is stated as fact with no understanding of why this has historically been the case.
This exact same chauvinism is why the majority of Brits are proud of the Empire in all of its disgusting guises. This is a mindset that must be extirpated with all the vigour we can muster.
No grounding in reality
The Guardian article itself is full of misconceptions.
Firstly, the idea that schools are becoming ‘Welsh only’ is an absurdity. I myself had a Welsh-medium education in Cardiff and contrary to popular belief this has in no way affected my English language ability.
English language and literature are still studied in ‘Welsh only’ education and through the complete submersion of English language TV, films and books from an early age everyone will be more than capable of speaking English.
Welsh medium education is an argument for bilingualism or trilingualism (I for one was taught four languages at school), which is something so-called ‘liberals’ should be in favour of.
If Welsh medium education truly meant ‘Welsh only’ education I would have been saved the hassle of reading this awful Guardian piece.
Tickle and Morris suggest that “children’s education is being sacrificed for politics.” Yet, this statement has no grounding in reality or fact.
The Welsh Government have a colour coded system to judge the progress of schools where ‘Green’ means outstanding and ‘Red’ means special measures have to be placed on the school.
There are currently 53 High Schools in Wales that are considered ‘Green’, of which, 20 are Welsh medium schools.
This means that 38% of ‘Green’ schools in Wales are Welsh medium, even though they make up only 31.9% of the total schools in Wales. On this basis, how can it be argued that “education is being sacrificed”?
In large, urban areas, Welsh medium and English medium education will be available which will not lead to any friction.
But Wales is a rural country, based on towns, villages and hamlets. In these more rural areas, there may not be a calling for two schools, it is in these places that disagreement over the language of education will be most fervent.
A truly progressive state will ensure and enshrine the rights of minorities, even if these decisions may be unpopular.
The English language is not under threat in Wales, England or anywhere else where it is widely spoken.
There is a duty on Welsh policy makers to defend the Welsh language against this so-called march of progress.
To quote the great Ceri Evans: “to all who claim that this amounts to compulsory Welsh we should respond: no to compulsory English! For positive action in defence of the Welsh language and communities.”