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.
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.
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.
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.