Ifan Morgan Jones
The knives have been out once again for the Welsh language, after the Welsh Government announced its strategy for a million Welsh speakers by 2050 yesterday.
The Welsh language has always bugged the Times newspaper and so it was no surprise to see the paper weighing in again this morning.
This is the newspaper that declared the Welsh language “dead” back in 1866. Annoyingly, the Welsh language has refused to comply!
“The Welsh language is the curse of Wales,” it declared back then.
If only The Times had taken the view that ‘the people of Wales should be encouraged to speak whatever language they like’ when the majority spoke Welsh in the 1860s, eh?
Its attitude towards Welsh hasn’t changed much in the meantime, even if the language used to express it has been tempered slightly.
It now calls the language “rich and beautiful” in order to get the cautious reader onside, before once again expressing its dearest wish that it disappear altogether.
The truth is that attacks on the Welsh language always fall within a few set categories. I’ve catalogued them all, and a reply to each, on the Why Welsh website.
The line of attack chosen by the Times this time is ‘why don’t they learn a useful language?’
This is always a ploy – the truth is that the author doesn’t give a toss about French, Spanish, or Mandarin. What they want is that the children don’t learn Welsh.
The truth is that Welsh is a more useful language to learn in Wales than French, Spanish, or Mandarin because Welsh is a living language here.
It’s a language you can actually speak, from day to day, at home, in your community, and your workplace.
The Times’ inability to recognise this betrays a continued incredulity that Welsh is actually a living language at all. It can’t be – the Times declared it dead back in 1866, after all!
State the case
But it’s only when we get to the last paragraph that we see what’s really bothering the Times here.
The Times says: “The tensions pulling the constituent parts of the United Kingdom in opposite directions are powerful enough.”
As it was in 1866, this is still all about ironing out any linguistic and cultural differences in order to encourage integration within the British state.
It also shows how much of a nonsense the Times’ declaration is that “Wales lives, from Pontypridd to Patagonia, because it is loved”.
Welsh lives, despite the Times’ and others’ best efforts, because it does now have support from the state.
But Welsh is in such a precarious position because the British state, including the Fourth Estate, tried so hard to get rid of it from the 16th century onwards.
There is nothing ‘natural’ about the spread of languages. There is nothing natural about the spread of English, French, Spanish or Mandarin.
Languages can be supported or killed off by the state. By suggesting the state shouldn’t do the former the Times continue to lobby for the latter.