Unexpectedly, today I have to ask what the best way is to respond when people say negative things about Welsh.
Over the weekend, a clip from earlier in the year of someone trotting out that old chestnut about ‘they all switched to Welsh when I walked into the pub’ was run on Jeremy Vine’s highlights show.
Naturally, Twitter got a little hot under the collar about it – that bit is predictable enough! – but what followed certainly wasn’t…
Along with the shoutier responses, there were a lot of unhappy but calm contributions – and to his credit, Jeremy Vine started engaging with them.
He didn’t get off to a pitch perfect start – asking if France was in the UK when someone said ‘Yeah, I’ve walked into bars in France where they just suddenly start speaking French, too’ – but from that point on, instead of becoming defensive, he actually seemed to be listening to people.
That’s not something you see often on Twitter – particularly not from someone with a serious platform.
But then he started going up through the gears.
First, he re-tweeted the excellent overview that Ifan Morgan Jones wrote a few years ago explaining why this myth is nonsense. https://whywelsh.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/welsh-speakers-are-unwelcoming/
Then (to my considerable surprise) he followed my personal account, and the next thing I knew we were having a chat in DMs about learning Welsh.
Now, here’s the thing:
At this point (nature of the beast and all that) he was still getting plenty of flak on Twitter – including, inevitably, some pretty nasty stuff.
So on the one hand, he’s giving some genuine thought to learning Welsh – on the other, he’s reading Welsh people hurling abuse at him.
That’s not going to end well, folks.
I understand the people who lose their tempers – I really do – there isn’t a single ‘Welsh is bad’ trope we haven’t heard hundreds of times before.
But we really, really need to know when to turn the love on.
We need to make friends with people (when it’s possible), and to help them understand what being a Welsh speaker is like – and even help them learn a little of the language.
And here’s a thought – maybe if we spend more time spreading the love and making friends, inviting people in to our unique and fascinating language and culture – maybe we’ll have fewer attacks to fend off.
Not to mention more friends to help explain what is good and valuable and interesting and beautiful about Welsh.
I don’t listen to much English language media, but I knew the name Jeremy Vine (via a quick check to make sure he wasn’t the same as Jeremy Kyle!). I could easily have believed that he had the kind of dismissive, scornful attitude to Welsh that we’re all familiar with.
But now I know he can be polite and sincere and humble under serious fire, and I admire that hugely.
He seems to me like the kind of friend the Welsh language could really do with.
So maybe we should stop shouting at him.
Aran Jones is CEO of SaySomethinginWelsh