When Zoe Williams calls the Welsh language pointless, she is sneering at those who speak it

Picture by Working Word (CC BY-ND 2.0)Gareth Ceidiog Hughes

When you call a language pointless you are not talking about something abstract.

A language in many ways, is the community, the people who speak it, so when you call it pointless, it is an attack on them and their way of life for conversing in a different tongue.

When Guardian columnist Zoe Williams, suggested that the Welsh language was “existentially pointless” she was trying to elevate herself at my expense, and at the expense of everyone else who speaks it, as well as those who do not, but believe ardently in the value of it. The sheer mind-numbing arrogance of it. It is infused with a sense of sneering Anglo-supremacism that Welsh speakers are well-accustomed to. If feel proud that I am able to express my contempt for this attitude in both Welsh and English. 

Unsurprisingly the comments caused somewhat of a firestorm on Welsh Twitter, with the likes of veteran broadcaster Huw Edwards, and countdown legend Carol Vorderman taking her to task. Vorderman has been learning Welsh of late, and even appeared on S4C as a weather woman. She was bloody good too by the way. I think it is fair to say that she can see the value to which Zoe Williams is blind.

 

Discrimination

There is a strand of liberal opinion that abhors most forms of discrimination, and belittling of minorities, but thinks that speakers of a minority languages such as Welsh is fair game.

This cognitive dissonance and stupefying lack of awareness comes from a deeply-ingrained sense of socio-cultural superiority. I’m pretty sure Zoe Williams abhors most of what the likes of racist alt right troll, Katie Hopkins, believes, and the same goes for the repugnant Rod Liddle.

Hopkins’ tweets targeting Muslims were so bad they were recently deleted by the platform. Both these mongers of hate have taken cheap shots at the Welsh language. When Williams does the same, she aligns herself with this ignorant and intolerant worldview, at least when it comes to the Welsh language. She should think very carefully about the company she puts herself in with her comments about linguistic minorities. That is not a team that I would like to find myself on.

Triggered

When Williams, who was privately educated at Godolphin and Latymer School girls’ school in Hammersmith, West London, defended her comments on Twitter she said: “I appear to have triggered a Welsh independence movement with my fitness column.”

It is interesting to note that triggered is a favourite word of the alt right. It is often used when they upset minorities they have attacked. What Williams says here shows a complete misunderstanding of the criticism of her, and an embarrassing lack of understanding of Wales. There are many people in Wales who do not currently support Welsh independence who will have found her comments abhorrent.

She went on to say: “I still think learning a not-very-widely spoken language is a lot of effort for low reward.”

She’s effectively doubled down and made herself look even worse. To describe it as cack-handed would be to shower it with undue praise. Well it’s nice to know that she regards my kind as low reward. I happen to find reading her columns a lot of effort for low reward, but there we go. 

She also suggested that those critical of her comments are “performative offence-takers”. The idea that criticism of her is some sort of performance is utterly outrageous. The lack of self-awareness on display is really quite astonishing. I don’t think much of performative ignorance-peddlers as it happens.

Welsh

Her comments were made in a column about keeping fit, and here they are so you know that they are not being taken out of context: “But when does the noise start? Right now! Exercise five, running on the spot for five minutes, doing 10 jumps every 75 steps. The jumps, I am more or less convinced, are there to keep you counting your steps, which distracts you from how hard and existentially pointless it is to run on the spot. All that energy spent, no distance covered: it’s like eating cottage cheese or learning Welsh.”

Now there are those who might think we might be overreacting by getting angry about such comments. Some might say that it is only a joke and so on. 

The problem with that view is that the idea that underpins the joke is no laughing matter. The view that the language is existentially pointless is an existential threat to us. If one insidious idea caused the decline of the language, it is that. It is poison.

It is the idea that was responsible for parents not passing the language on to their children. It is the idea that underpinned the use of the Welsh Not in schools, where children were physically and psychologically abused for speaking their native tongue. It is the idea behind the refusal of the state to provide Welsh medium education until the 1950s. It is behind the attacks on Welsh-medium education that exist to this day. It is the reason why many people don’t try to learn the language.

I’m so sick and tired of these relentless attacks on the language (because let’s face it, they happen all the time (that I really can’t be bothered going through the whole rigmarole of explaining what the value of the language is this time. I really should not have to justify my existence and explain to an arrogant ignoramus why I am in fact not pointless. 

The fact that Welsh speakers feel the need to so often says a lot about the attitude of many who share this island, and it ain’t pretty.

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Alwyn J Evans
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Alwyn J Evans

She’s not attacking the language, she is attacking people. Feeding into the dangerous stereotypes that we are limited, lovely but pointless, “failed in Wales”, only good for singing, we hear it dog whistling through the media as it has for decades.

A Prophecy is Buried in Eglwyseg
Guest
A Prophecy is Buried in Eglwyseg

What the British Left fears most is an indigenous British resistance. It forces them to see thh 1 specific truth they hate more than anything. They are the oppressor of an indigenous people – the Cymry Cymraeg.

The question is, will the Cymry evolve like Serbians did, or not?

Jonesy
Guest
Jonesy

usually amused by your oracle but being more like a Serb is def off my bucket list, unless i was interested in genocide of course

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

If I intepret the oracle correctly, it is advising the Welsh people to avoid letting their anger result in the kind of internecine strife that plagued the former Yugoslavia once the lid of Tito was off. I don’t think that’s the Welsh way, though.

Jonathan Simcock
Guest

I am on the ‘left’ but am well aware of the Cymry Cymraeg ( ac yn siarad yr hen iaith ar ol dysgu ers 1997).

David owen
Guest
David owen

Like many in Wales I am suck and tired of the London English media attacking the Welsh language and our bilingual country.
They believe they have the right to redicule all thing Welsh. At best they are Patronising, but in reality they are racist.
Would they dare to write articles about the Jewish, Muslim, West Indian, Africa communities in England attacking their culture and languages.
Make no mistake this is a cultural attack of racist proportions.
So we’re is the teeth of the race relations board in fighting this vile behaviour.

Ernie The Smallholder
Guest
Ernie The Smallholder

When Wales IS independent Wondering if the London English media will then respect us as they do for other ethnic peoples.
It is proof that as an independent nation Wales (and Scotland & Northern Ireland) will actually have better relationship with England on a more equal basis than we do now.

Walter Hunt
Guest
Walter Hunt

There are certain things that are criminal, but against which there will never be laws. One of those is attempts to trigger cultural suicide by encouraging people in minority cultures to see their culture as pointless. I do no know what perverse pleasures the likes of Ms Williams or Mr Liddle et al get. They are, however, paid well to produce what passes for wit among effete autocoprophages

Rage, rage against the dying of the light and believe our day will come!

Theresa Green
Guest
Theresa Green

If the language wasn’t thrown at us, if public money and resoource wasn’t squandered trying to keep it alive, there may be less cause to ridicule it.

Ieuan Evans
Guest
Ieuan Evans

You should explain that comment

Alwyn J Evans
Guest
Alwyn J Evans

Absolutely wrong. Demeaning, belittling stereotypes of this “useless Welsh” kind are not caused by the language, the revival of the language is another object to attack Welsh people with.

Your post is akin to saying Asian immigrants were attacked because they use a lot of spices in some food and if they stopped making food with strong aromas, bigots would accept them.

Jonesy
Guest
Jonesy

obviously you are a welsh speaker then if the language has been forced down your throat and your money thrown at it.. No? what just incredibly thick then?

Michael McGrane
Guest
Michael McGrane

Who said the language was dead? Why ridicule someone with a skill you lack? All languages are valuable. I bet you wouldn’t say it about any other native languages. Typical elitist attitude by a presumably monoglot English speaker.

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

I’m curious to know why, on a blog that covers all aspects of the condition of modern Wales, your only contributions relate to your irrational hatred of one of the two languages of the country in which you live. You are so out of sync with majority opinion in Wales that it’s almost surreal.

Simon Gruffydd
Guest
Simon Gruffydd

So Zoe Williams thinks the Welsh language is pointless. That’s her opinion and she is entitled to it. Kate Hopkins (since you mentioned her) feels that the Muslim gangs who have drugged, raped, and exploited countless English working-class girls for decades should be held to account. That’s her opinion and she is entitled to it. Both these issues and opinions may “trigger” some people. But is it really worthy of an article for a Welsh news website? I think not. But that’s my opinion and I am entitled to it.

Alwyn J Evans
Guest
Alwyn J Evans

The bigotry of a national newspaper, who claim hold themselves and others to a high standard of decency, isn’t worth reflecting upon?

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

I think in this instance the problem’s rooted in the instinctive and traditional worldview of the left . They’ve understood and have always been supportive of independence for the colonies and protectorates of the old Empire, which includes language rights.

But within Europe they’ve always viewed the campaign for language rights in minority community areas as a false distraction from the class struggle which for them carries echoes of Franco and Mussolini!

CapM
Guest
CapM

The sort of people who are “triggered ” by an opinion that men who’ve committed the organised rape of teenage girls should be held to account and the sort of people who are “triggered” by an opinion that their language is pointless seems to be a very strange lumping together. Unless you’re attempting to insinuate something nasty about Zoe Williams’ critics.

Dafyd
Guest
Dafyd

Bit dismissive but whatever

Ernie The Smallholder
Guest
Ernie The Smallholder

If you move to France – you will be expected to learn the French language.
If you move to Germany – you will be expected to learn the German language.

You need to learn the local languages and culture of the country you adopt as your homeland otherwise you cannot get full benefits of living in the country of your choice.

I moved to Wales – I am learning Cymraeg – the Welsh language and learning the culture.

Make the effort !

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

Da iawn and thanks, diolch

j humphrys
Guest
j humphrys

In the Guardian? My take on this is that there is something seriously wrong in England, where language learning is way down.
Get ready for more of the same if Brexit/ as Brexit nose dives…………………….
On the plus side, we have such as Ernie! If we can get a Jersey agreement, we get select Anglos who will truly enrich Cymru.
No apology for my elitism.

Phil Jones
Guest
Phil Jones

Its not just the Welsh she has contempt for – read what she thinks about the SNP. Just another blind english person who cannot understand why anyone would want to be anything other than a monoglot sax But one day……..

John Young
Guest
John Young

Here’s an interesting post I received earlier on Facebook. ‘I just had the great pleasure of annoying a little Englander (the accent was Essex or London)who has clearly retired to Wales, who whilst buying his copy of The daily Mail and some milk (I’m nosey) was ranting on to the poor girl behind the counter of the nearby shop that now we have Brexit people who come from other countries should have to respect the cultures of the country they are in and speak the native language of that land or go back to theirs. Girl behind the counter just… Read more »

John Ellis
Guest
John Ellis

Love it! Spot on …

Alexander van Rose
Guest
Alexander van Rose

For goodness sake! Get a sense of proportion. It was only a joke.anyonw who knows anything about Zoe Williams would recognise it as such – she is one of the most perceptive, eloquent, and fair-minded journalists around: the very last person to be discriminating.

Pob hwyl,
Alexander

Alwyn J Evans
Guest
Alwyn J Evans

So any joke is acceptable if the teller says “only joking”. Racist, homophobic, misogynistic all ok if it’s just a joke? Media like the guardian have waged a culture war on what many people consider just jokes. I think your term proportionate really means she’s a liberal, picking on an easy target and you like her, so she can’t cause harm. Just like chubby brown fans say, “its just a joke, paki is short for Pakistani, get it into proprtion”. Thick coloureds, stinky pakis, puffs and aids, don’t drop the soap. Just a joke, get a grip, no harm done,… Read more »

Dafyd
Guest
Dafyd

One day I aspire to be a guardian journo, and when I do I will pepper every article with sly attacks on every people England has harmed. Every article will finish with a “just kidding lol :)” so it will be okay.

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

Alex Stick to smelling the roses, don’t inhale that other stuff it damages your critical faculties. Your dearest Zoe has form for disliking anything that doesn’t conform to the bigoted orthodoxy she promotes. Sounds like you are cut from the same cloth.

Hilary
Guest
Hilary

She should be ignored! I spent 35 years working in London and many,many times people from all walks of life would ask me if I spoke Welsh (I have a strong Welsh Valley’s accent).They seemed disappointed that I didn’t.

Tudor Rees
Guest
Tudor Rees

“But when does the noise start? Right now! Exercise five, running on the spot for five minutes, doing 10 jumps every 75 steps. The jumps, I am more or less convinced, are there to keep you counting your steps, which distracts you from how hard and existentially pointless it is to run on the spot. All that energy spent, no distance covered: it’s like eating cottage cheese or learning Welsh.” The above appeared recently in the Guardian, where a columnist sees little value in the Welsh language. This is not altogether surprising in the increasingly English xenophobic, nationalistic climate that… Read more »

Simon Shepherd
Guest
Simon Shepherd

Our Acts of Union (Laws in Wales Acts) were in 1536 and 1542, it was the act of Union with Scotland that was 1707, Ireland’s was 1801.

Dafyd
Guest
Dafyd

In the grauniad of all places. Insert laughing emojis here.

Di
Guest
Di

As a frequent visitor to North Wales I applaud you for preserving and practising your language.

CapM
Guest
CapM

“We have better things to spend our energy on than petty ignorance. Like establishing a democratic Welsh Nation State. Like voting in a sovereign Welsh government …”

However isn’t Zoe Williams’ comment ultimately about foiling the establishment of a democratic Welsh Nation State and having us voting for a sovereign Welsh government.

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

I consider the need to object to such bigotry to be part of the independence struggle, a deud y gwir, albeit a very small one. And anyway, it would be simply wrong to let her make biggotted comments for the benefit of BritNat faux-liberal Guardian readers without people expressing their objection.

Alwyn J Evans
Guest
Alwyn J Evans

They are intertwined. Perception matters, how other countries view Wales is almost entirely dependent on a UK media. They are deciding who we are in relation to others. More devolution? No point, the Welsh are useless at anything. Independence? No point, we can’t even speak a proper language. That then seeps into our own self image.

Huw Davies
Guest
Huw Davies

Muslims, Jews, Welsh, Romany any minorities. Beware. Britain has begun an era of totalitarian English Nationalism

Linda Jardine
Guest
Linda Jardine

I love the Welsh language but I don’t like seeing comments about ‘Anglos’. Much of England is Brythonic, you may feel your language is under attack, my entire cultural heritage has been lost.

Klein
Guest
Klein

Diolch but England was a brythonic country but the brythonic speakers and peoples are not there anymore they was replaced by many anglos and others the only brythonic speakers and peoples who are left that we know for fact are the welsh and cornish also some individuals in scotland and northen england areas who most likely dont know they are or refer to them selfs as english or other

CapM
Guest
CapM

To Arwyn Lloyd David Buttress’ article is excellent and the reason it has less comments than this one on Zoe Williams is most probably because, either readers agree with it or those that don’t aren’t equipped to refute it. So how soon do you expect David Buttress’ article to feature in the Guardian? I suggest that we don’t hold our breath. If the Guardian is going to say something about Cymru it’s going to be a Zoe Williams type contribution and that goes ten fold for the Tabloids. I agree that we must not just respond to the Zoe’s out… Read more »

CapM
Guest
CapM

You’re obviously entitled to your opinion and I’ve not said that it is without merit. Not of course that you need any endorsement from me to validate it. What I’ve attempted to do is to develop your argument about the wider issue of how best to respond to the press and media ( and I suppose down to what might be said directly to our faces) when anti Welsh comments are made. First of all I don’t think there is one best way of responding and that ignoring the comment may well be the best response in some cases. Basically… Read more »

CapM
Guest
CapM

Arwyn Lloyd’s comments to which I’ve been responding to seem to have disappeared!

Moira Evans
Guest
Moira Evans

Mind your own business Zoe. All languages and cultures are important

Alun Huws
Guest

Learning Welsh would be a valuable use of time for anyone living in Britain where Welsh is spoken by sizable portion of the population. Particularly if you were to live in Wales itself. Looking at lower frequency languages would she have been as happy to say “as much use as learning swahili”. I doubt it as her racism would have shown though.

Carwyn James Wooldridge
Guest
Carwyn James Wooldridge

Cheeky B**ch, Fluent Welsh & proud, having went all through a Welsh School it’s classed as my 1st language & by god I’m proud. She wants to learn the full background of her surname, it’s a Welsh Surname for for. Rydw i yn eisiau cicio i fyny’r asyn ti Zoe Williams.

Cymro
Guest
Cymro

Yet another uninformed English person they know very little of the history of suppression by the English Crown and then Parliament to destroy Welsh heritage and language this journalist has just labled one of the most ancient European languages it has not changed like the English language for millennia ?
Therefore I question why she has made such comments whilst be ignorant of the brutal suppression of a minority race which would be headlines if we were Jews or Muslims

Jonathan Simcock
Guest

There are actually over 35 groups / classes in various parts of England where people meet to learn or speak Welsh .
In Derby we have the Derby Welsh Learners Circle ( http://www.derbywelshlearnerscircle.blogspot.com ) which meets monthly and our group hosts the Facebook group Menter Iaith Lloegr. We value the Welsh language and reject utterly the attitudes expressed in the latest London media attack on Welsh. The Guardian and the journalist concerned should apologise. Hir oes i’r Gymraeg.

Jodie
Guest
Jodie

Well I totally disagree! I’ve just come home from my Welsh class and I love it ♥
Dw i’n byw yn Cymru, dw i dysgu Cymraeg x

John davies
Guest
John davies

Yes that’s correct it is pointless.

Rhosddu
Guest
Rhosddu

That’s not enough. Explain why you think learning an official language is pointless. Failure to do so will be taken as an admission that you have no meaningful contribution to make other than the ramblings of a lonely troll.

John Frederick Rees
Guest
John Frederick Rees

Never heard of Zoe Williams but what an appalling comment from a journalist working for a newspaper such as the Guardian . Completely goes against all Guardian values. Her career would certainly benefit if she moved to the Sun newspaper . They she could enjoy her anti minority comments to a receptive audience .

John Frederick Rees
Guest
John Frederick Rees

Never heard of the racist, Zoe Williams but what an appalling comment from a journalist working for the Guardian. This is my preferred newspaper which is I find normally respectful of minority rights. Surely Zod Williams and her bigotry would be far happier working for The Sun newspaper and reach a responsive audience with attitudes similar to her own

Huw J Davies
Guest
Huw J Davies

On last week’s Richard Osman’s House of Games one of the questions was ‘How many people in Wales speak Welsh?’, or words to that effect. The answers from the four, apparently intelligent, panellists ranged from 20k to 200k. Two of the panellists were Scots but even they were way out, in spite of our biennial invasion of Murrayfield and years of Calon Lan and GWLAD GWLAD! Fred MacAulay estimated 200 thousand and Judy Murray was much lower. So much for Celtic solidarity! The English contestants both thought hardly anybody here speaks Welsh. It was, however, refreshing to hear Richard Osman,… Read more »

Mark
Guest
Mark

What an idiot she is pathetic our language is used daily it’s a great language to speak and the oldest in Eirope I say to her we are a growing nation where the language is concerned so back off and educate yourself about the history of the Welsh language you should be disgusted with yourself not even a proper jouneralist we can do without people like you hope you lose your column you are being racist