We need more people to treat the Welsh language like Ant and Dec did
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
As a Welsh speaker, you’re often on the receiving end of a fair few slings and arrows.
So, when the news broke that I’m a Celeb was coming to Wales because the covid pandemic meant the programme couldn’t be filmed in Australia, a fair few Welsh speakers braced themselves.
Would we be on the receiving end of a barrage of trite rehashed jokes? Would ridiculous and pernicious topes about our language be beamed into the homes of millions of people?
In the lead up to the series, when the Good Morning Britain presenter Ben Shephard shared the bonkers, tedious, yet widely-believed nonsense that the Welsh language doesn’t have any vowels, many Welsh speakers were braced for the worst. We were braced for snide jibes that would portray us as somehow inferior. Oh, here we go again, or so we thought.
Thankfully, our fears were not realised. Instead of disparaging the language, it was positively embraced by I’m a Celeb.
ITV got off to a good start by making the announcement that the show was coming to Wales in both Welsh and English. “Noswaith dda” or good evening in Welsh, became a feature of British primetime television. It was the nightly greeting from hosts Ant and Dec. Said greeting was greeted warmly in Wales.
It is reminder that the small things do matter. Gwnewch y Pethau bychain, as our patron saint liked to say.
Former BBC Wales journalist and TV executive Garffild Lloyd Lewis, who lives near Gwrych Castle, where the show was filmed, gave them a helping hand. According to Mr Lewis, this follows calls from the chairman of the Gwrych Castle Trust for the programme to give the Welsh language “sensible attention”. Those calls seem to have been heeded.
This attention to the Welsh language included putting up bilingual sings up around the castle. This means for example that alongside signs for ‘Ye Olde Shoppe’ is a sign for ‘Yr Hen Siop’.
Garffild also gave Ant and Dec help with their Welsh pronunciation. Audio clips and phonetic instructions were supplied. They focused on a short list of key phrases and words to be used on the show.
The programme also used the Welsh language song Gwenwyn (Poison), by Alffa in its opening titles. That rock duo already has a worldwide audience after that song notched up over a million hits on the Spotify streaming platform. It’s a cracking song, so why on earth shouldn’t it be played?
If you go to Greece, on the radio you will hear songs in yes Greek, but also English, Spanish, French, and many others. Being restricted to a bland monoculture is not inevitable.
This kind of normalisation of the language is incredibly important. It helps legitimise a language that has been systematically delegitimised for a long time.
But I do want to add one negative note to an otherwise positive tune. The fact that we are pleasantly surprised when the language is accorded its due respect tells us about where we are. It tells us something about just how much the language has been othered. It is an indication of how much and how often the language has been treated as alien. The status of the Welsh language is still not just assumed in many spheres as it is for English.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. The way I’m a Celeb has embraced the language is an indication of that. There are many others. The Welsh language has been embraced by a German football team. More people are deciding to send their children to Welsh medium schools. Polls indicate that most people in Wales support measures to boost the language. Welsh speakers now have rights that are written into our laws.
The old prejudices remain in places, and we cannot shy away from that, but they are being eroded. I’m a Celeb has helped erode them even further.
We should celebrate the small wins, and we should show our appreciation when the language is embraced, to encourage more of the same if nothing else.
This is another small step forward for the language and it should be acknowledged as such. It shows what can be done with a bit of thought and consideration.
But I do look forward to the day when celebrities who visit Wales accord the language the respect it deserves is no longer a pleasant surprise. I look forward to the day when it is no longer a reason to rejoice.
I look forward to the day when it is the norm and that the status of the language is just assumed.