Ifan Morgan Jones
Any Welsh speaker who has been on social media over the past few days will have probably been aware of the tide of vitriol towards the Welsh language.
It was all set off by the Welsh Government’s launch of a strategy to create 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050.
The announcement clearly made a lot of people, from newspaper editorial writers, to random Twitter trolls, very unhappy indeed.
Many people’s first instinct was to engage in debate with these people and try to win them over with logical reasons why teaching kids the Welsh language is a good thing.
I love a good logical argument, and have taken the trouble of cataloging pretty much every objection to the Welsh language and replying to them.
And I’ve been told off for doing so. Jason Morgan, among others, has advised me that the best thing to do is tell them to ‘fuck off’.
I wouldn’t use such language personally, but sadly, they’re probably right that it’s futile.
Perhaps our need to argue logically and retain the moral high ground in these arguments is a sign of our post-colonial mindset.
We feel the need to prove to ourselves and others that we’re not barbarous and stupid – in fact we’re more moral and just as clever as them – and therefore deserve to exist.
But the sad reality is that logical argument doesn’t work against people who hate the Welsh language because ultimately the sentiment has nothing to do with the Welsh language.
It’s about nationalism.
I try to avoid getting too ‘academic’ on this website, but bear with me.
Nationalist sentiment is the feeling aroused when people are either satisfied that the nation-state and its culture are in alignment, or dissatisfied that it’s not.
So, if you feel that your nation-state and the culture within it – your culture – are ‘at one’, so to speak, you’re satisfied.
But if you feel that there is an ‘alien’ element within your nation-state, the culture of your nation-state has changed to one you don’t recognise, or even that your nation-state has expanded to include alien cultures, your nationalist sentiment is aroused.
We saw this with Brexit. It ultimately happened because:
- People felt that the culture of their own nation-state was becoming alien to them, because of immigration.
- People felt that their nation-state was being replaced by another nation-state (the EU) which didn’t align with their own, British culture.
Hate towards the Welsh language is driven by the same factors. It reminds British nationalists that the nation state and its culture aren’t in alignment.
That the British nation-state is actually a complex thing with many different cultures within it.
The natural reaction to the feeling of displeasure aroused when one’s nation-state and culture aren’t in alignment is to attempt to bring them into alignment.
However, people are very bad at ‘seeing’ their own nationalism. British nationalists never call themselves nationalists.
They can’t explain why the Welsh language bothers them. It just does! Therefore, they try to concoct ‘rational’ arguments against the language as cover.
So ultimately, engaging in ‘logical’ arguments about Welsh language probably won’t do much good as the root cause behind the objections has nothing to do with them – it’s British nationalism.
It would be great if we could remove the language from its national context and weight up its pros and cons from a purely objective standpoint. But ultimately, we can’t.
So, is arguing logically completely pointless? Well, yes and no.
You’ll probably never convince the die-hard British nationalist that the Welsh language is a good thing.
But there are a lot of people in Wales whose identity is in flux, who see themselves as Welsh and British.
They’re not the people who get into arguments. But they do eavesdrop on these arguments.
And perhaps arguing logically and politely can shift the scales of opinion one way or another.
I’ll keep tellking myself that!