Why Good Morning Britain presenter’s Welsh language vowel comments are so tedious

Ben Shepherd on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Friday.

Gareth Ceidiog Hughes

It’s just tedious more than anything.

Is not having to hear banal tropes about the Welsh language really too much to ask? Would it really be an imposition on those who engage in such inanity to desist?

It appears that it is in the Good Morning Britain studio, because Ben Shephard, one of the show’s presenters, made derogatory comments about the language whilst discussing I’m a Celebrity, which is being filmed at Gwrych Castle in North Wales.

He used an old trope that the Welsh language does not have any vowels after he and follow presenter Kate Garraway struggled to pronounce the word gwrych.

He said: “I’ve suddenly realised, they’ve put the name of the castle where they’re filming the new I’m a Celebrity – it’s got no vowels in. It’s Welsh. It’s spelt g w r y c h. We need some help.” Well at least he’s right about one thing. He does need help.

It was like watching the Welsh language being explained by David Brent. Shephard decided to blame the language for his inability to say the word, despite the fact that children are perfectly capable of doing so in Wales. As the Americans like to say – go figure.

I’m not even angry about it – just incredibly weary. This type of thing is just incessant. To be a Welsh speaker is to have to deal with a constant barrage of noxious untruths.

We really should not have to explain that the claims are incorrect. We should not have to explain that the Welsh language has more vowels than English. We should not have to explain Shephard embarrassed himself in front of Welsh speakers because the word gwrych in fact has a vowel in it. We shouldn’t have to explain that the unjustifiable confidence with which he made the claim does not change that. The fact this needs to be said is exasperating.

It reminds me of the ridiculous myth that Welsh speakers only switch the to language when someone English walks into the pub. It has absolutely no basis in reality. It is a tin foil hat conspiracy theory that has been weaponised against a minority community.

 

Attitude

We should be clear about what the purpose of comments like this is. The purpose is to put us down. It is punching down at a minority community. It isn’t big and it isn’t clever.

The purpose is to create the impression that the Welsh language is of lesser value than the English language. It adds to the attempted delegitimization of the language.

You might think, well so what. It’s only a joke. Yes, a crap and unspeakably stupid joke. But a joke, nonetheless. Well I disagree for the aforementioned reasons and many more besides.

This matters because Good Morning Britain has a huge audience. Shephard was shaping people’s perception of us with falsehoods. How the Welsh language is perceived has implications for the rights its speakers have, or in many cases don’t. It has implications for how many people might want to take up the language.

If a language is seen of having little value, why bother sending your child to a school where it is the medium of education? Why allow that school to exist in the first place? Why fund a TV channel for a bunch of vowel-less hicks babbling away in weird and impenetrable tongue? Why put that gobbledygook on road signs? Why give them access to public services through the language? Why treat them as equal when they are so obviously inferior? This kind of attitude is intolerable, and it cannot be allowed to stand.

Thankfully, more and more people in Wales are rejecting the kind of attitude that leads to such prejudice. But this did not happen by accident. It happened because campaigners fought against it. We will not allow the progress towards the Welsh language attaining its rightful status in our society to be rolled back and that means fighting the perceptions and the attitudes that would enable it.

When you imply that a language has little worth you aren’t merely traducing something abstract. You are traducing the people, the community that speaks is, and for whom the language is an integral part of their identity. You are seeking create the impression of elevating yourself, not by climbing, but by putting others down.

Part of the problem arises from being part of a pervasive monoglot anglophone culture. The global nature of the English language has ironically led to a peculiar kind of parochialism. It is a world where you don’t have to make the effort to understand others because they’ve made the effort to understand you. Having your language being a lingua Franca has many benefits. However, it can be a breeding ground for ignorance, and ignorance can lead to prejudice.

I find it baffling that many people think Welsh should conform to English language patterns.

But then again, the prism of only a singular language with which to view the world is a narrow one. It can lead to distortions if one does not have a certain self-awareness. Bilingualism is the norm throughout most of the world. It is the UK that is different. I really haven’t got the patience right now to humour those who look down their noses at me and my fellow Welsh speakers on the basis of delusions of grandeur.

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